Cuba is known as the island of beaches, but in Havana, finding a place to swim can be complicated. Thankfully, travel writer Lydia Bell knows a few good spots.

It’s summer in Havana. Humidity is nudging the 90s, and the air is stultifying. When the fierce months of July and August arrive, they will burn as hard as the red flame trees that are unfurling into incandescent bloom. Cubans will lurk inside, emerging only when the heat of the day has lost its bite. But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, and so I carry on.

On the sticky, ageing leather of the classic cars that transport me back and forth across the city, I sweat. As I tramp the streets lingering in any suggestion of foliage, I swoon in an oven of warmth. In my gym, rivulets pour off our bodies from weird places, like the backs of hands. I dream of walk-in fridges.

When all you can think about is cooling off, this coastal city in the Caribbean can be annoyingly, infuriating, maddeningly short of ablution spots. In Havana’s tourist heart—from Habana Vieja west to Vedado—the Malecón, Havana’s sea wall, both showcases the drama of the ocean and separates it from human life.