With its somewhat unfortunate name and its infamous history, it’s difficult to fathom that the Bay of Pigs could be a hidden gem! Featuring pristine white sandy beaches, swaying coconut trees, and natural pools, the Bay of Pigs defies any preconceived notions one might have! Unfortunately, it’s also a region where tourism has, in certain areas, caused some negative impact.
What are the must-visit destinations in the Bay of Pigs? Which places should you avoid? Follow the guide!
💡 Planning Your Trip to Cuba 💡
🇨🇺 Visa: Before you depart, be sure to apply for your tourist card (which is your visa for Cuba). You can easily order your tourist card online through CubaVisa.
🛏️ Accommodations: To book your accommodations in Cuba, the Captain recommends Expedia.
📸 Activities: Snorkeling, day trips, vintage car tours… there’s plenty to do in Varadero. To book your activities, the Captain highly recommends Civitatis.
The historical backdrop of the Bay of Pigs: a tale of a failed invasion
In 1959, Fidel Castro assumes power in Cuba, forcing out the then-president Fulgencio Batista. While Cuba and the United States had maintained close ties until then, their relationship quickly deteriorates with Castro at the helm. The United States disapproves of Castro’s policy of land expropriation and Cuba’s close proximity to the archenemy of the Americans, the USSR. Consequently, the United States severs all diplomatic and commercial relations with the island.
In the early 1960s, during the Eisenhower administration, there is a plan to invade Cuba with the aim of establishing a pro-American government. A brigade of 1,500 Cuban exiles, known as “Assault Brigade 2506,” is formed and their training is entrusted to the CIA. However, Eisenhower’s protege, Richard Nixon, loses the 1960 elections to Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Kennedy inherits the operation but faces hesitation due to the USSR’s threat of retaliation in the event of an American landing in Cuba. To save face, he decides to send the brigade of Cuban exiles alone to attack the Bay of Pigs, without the support of US troops. Kennedy relies on a popular uprising that never materializes.
The Cuban counterintelligence is well-informed and aware of the American plans to invade the Bay of Pigs. Consequently, Cuban troops are prepared to repel the American invasion.
On April 17, 1961, the Cuban exiles land, but they are swiftly defeated. On April 19, they surrender to the victorious forces of Castro.
Getting to the Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs, known as “Bahía de Cochinos” in Spanish, is situated in the province of Matanzas on the southern coast of Cuba.
If you’re coming from Havana, you can take a Viazul bus that will take you to Playa Larga and Playa Giron. The journey lasts approximately 3 hours, and the fare is around 13 CUC per person. Another option is to check with your casa particular for a shared taxi reservation.
However, we recommend starting your visit to the Bay of Pigs from the colonial city of Cienfuegos instead. There, you can arrange an excursion with the Cubanacan or Havanatur agencies, or hire a private taxi. For 60 CUC, you can explore various places including Cueva de los Peces, Punta Perdiz, Playa Giron, Playa Larga, and even Boca de Guama, situated north of the Bay of Pigs.
If you’re staying in Varadero, you can also consider taking a day trip to the Cienaga de la Zapata, which includes the Bay of Pigs. Captain Ulysses recommends booking your tour in advance.
👉 More info: Guama and Hatiguanico River Trip
Getting around in the Bay of Pigs
Shuttle services are available to transport you to the main points of interest in the Cienaga de la Zapata, the Zapata Swamp, where the Bay of Pigs is located.
For a fee of 3 CUC per person per day, you can conveniently travel between Playa Larga, Playa Giron, Punta Perdiz, Cueva de los Peces, Caleta Buena, and Boca de Guama.
Activities and Experiences in the Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs is a place of intriguing contradictions! Sometimes enchanting, sometimes marred by unsightly Soviet-style buildings, it has, however, managed to preserve some idyllic spots away from the bustling crowds!
While Playa Larga may be one of the more renowned attractions in the Bay of Pigs, it’s not Captain Ulysses’ top recommendation.
Popular among both foreign tourists and Cubans, Playa Larga is unfortunately lacking in environmental consciousness. The beach is often overcrowded and unfortunately quite dirty.
Adorned with imposing Soviet-style structures, Playa Giron has suffered some disfigurement. However, there is a museum that presents the Cuban perspective on the attempted American invasion at the Bay of Pigs. While the museum may lack objectivity (a trait shared by many Cuban museums, with the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana leading the pack), it offers a captivating insight into the Cuban viewpoint of this pivotal moment in history.
Cueva de los Peces
Plunging to a depth of 70 meters / 230 ft, Cueva de los Peces is a submerged tectonic fault that forms a stunning natural pool some hundred meters / 330 ft from the beach – a true marvel!
You can snorkel or opt for diving. The beach in front of the cave is also quite pleasant.
For enthusiasts of snorkeling and diving, Captain Ulysses highly recommends making a stop at Punta Perdiz. For a fee of 15 CUC, you’ll have access to the beach, a buffet lunch, and unlimited drinks.
On-site, you’ll find a dive center, sun loungers, and volleyball courts.
Caleta Buena features a series of natural pools connected to the sea. Like at Punta Perdiz, an entrance fee of 15 CUC applies, which covers an all-you-can-eat lunch.
Caleta Buena is teeming with tropical fish that are unreservedly approachable! Additionally, there is a diving club where you can rent equipment or take diving lessons. You can even indulge in a massage for 5 to 20 CUC!
Activities and Experiences near the Bay of Pigs
Boca de Guama
Situated north of the Bay of Pigs, Boca de Guama is a sizable tourist complex. While it may lack some authenticity, Boca de Guama still offers an enjoyable excursion! Don’t miss the boat cruise through the mangrove forest in Laguna del Tesoro.
As the capital of the eponymous province, Cienfuegos stands as one of Cuba’s renowned colonial cities. Its city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the bay adorned with elegant mansions are definitely worth a visit.
👉 To learn more, explore our article on Cienfuegos.