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Travel Guide Caribbean Cuba Varadero

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Introduction

Varadero is the main beach holiday destination in Cuba, with nothing more to offer than hotels, restaurants, beaches and some nightlife. The peninsula's shoreline offers the best beaches in Cuba, as well as one of its largest tourist destinations. It first gained popularity with American millionaires (before the revolution and embargo), and was apparently Al Capone's vacation spot. In the 90s a large hotel building campaign transformed Varadero into a mostly four and five star all-inclusive resort destination. These are primarily filled with Canadian tourists, with their all inclusive packages being one of the most accessible winter time beach get-aways from Canada.

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Neighbourhoods

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Sights and Activities

  • Parque Josone - A park in the middle of Varadero filled with birds, vendors, music and camel rides for the kids.
  • Tropicana Matanzas - Visit the newest Tropicana, the most famous cabaret of Cuba. An artistic production featuring Cuban dance, music and history. W-Su, 5 hours duration, 49CUC.
  • Varadero Museum
  • Hit the beach - The white sandy beaches of Varadero are considered the best in Cuba. All shorelines are open to the public and the beach generally gets better further out in the peninsula. So especially if you're staying at the base of the peninsula, find a way out to either the town center or by some of the nice resorts to enjoy the best Varadero has to offer. Free.
  • Delfinario - A dolphin show with the option to actually swim with the captive dolphins, 15CUC for the show and 85CUC for the show + swim.
  • Cuevas de la Bellamar (Bellamar Caves) - Visit the oldest tourist attraction in Cuba, open to visitors since the 1860s. The caves are extensive and impressive. There are quite a few steps down into the cave and it is slightly damp and rough underfoot, and also very warm. 5 CUC.
  • Seafari Cayo Blanco (excursion by catamaran) - Monday to Sunday, the excursion takes 7 hours. Snorkeling in a coral barrier reef, entertainment, music, lunch and open bar with Cuban cocktails in Cayo Blanco. There is the option to either swim with the dolphins or visit the dolphin show at Delfinario and enjoy a sunset party. 75CUC for the sunset party and dolphin show trip. 85CUC for the chance to swim with dolphins instead.
  • Villa Du Pont - Once the residence of Irénée Du Pont, the green-roofed hacienda style building built in 1928 is today the headquarters of the Varadero Golf Club. The golf course, just a few steps away, features 18 holes, the largest in Cuba. The visitor has the opportunity to admire the splendor of its mahogany furniture, floors made out the finest Italian marble, bronze candelabra and oil paintings. The basement offers Varadero´s most luxurious and expensive restaurant, "Las Américas". On the first floor there are 5 finely decorated and equipped guest rooms, plus a presidential suite. A few steps higher on the second floor, an attractive bar "Mirador" (open 24 hours), product of a mixture between art deco and Moorish style, will surely keep you there sipping tasty Cuban cocktails at sunset.
  • Skydiving - Varadero has a skydiving company located at the end of the peninsula; a great location for beautiful sandy beach landings. Around 200 CUC.

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Events and Festivals

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Weather

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Getting There

By Plane

Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport (VRA) offers numerous flights with about 25 airlines serving Varadero. Some of the main destinations are Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Munich, Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Warsaw, Milan, Rome, Amsterdam, Edmonton, Quebec City, Bogota, Frankfurt, Zürich, Brussels, Cancun, Moscow, London and Manchester.

By Car

The highway connects Varadero to Havana through Matanzas.

By Bus

Viazul Buses arrive from Havana and Matanzas three times daily. These buses also stop at the Varadero airport. They run a daily overnight service from Santiago de Cuba, stopping at Sancti Spiritus, Camagüey, and Santa Clara in the middle of the night. There is also a morning bus to Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad, returning in the afternoon/early evening.

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Getting Around

Many visitors do not stray far from their package tour hotel. Depending on how close to the town of Varadero your hotel is located, many opportunities to explore either on foot or with a vehicle are present. Visitors staying at Varadero beach hotels (pretty much from the Internacional Hotel or past) end up walking the beach. Any trip to town will require a ride. Those staying in Varadero town have many options on foot.

By Car

All hotels will have a taxi stand. Fares are either metered or set by distance. Some hotels, mostly the better ones, have car rentals available right at the hotel. There are also several rental outlets in Varadero.

By Public Transport

There is a double-decker open-on-top bus that runs on a regular schedule from the tip of the peninsula (up by the Barcelo Marina Hotel and Princessa del Mar) all the way into the town of Varadero, with stops at the International Centre (shopping mall with about 100 stores, and restaurants), the open-air marketplace, and most major hotels. Look for the blue sign-posts to indicate stops, routing, and schedules. 5 CUC gets you a day pass that you can use as much as you want to go along the whole peninsula.

Others

In town, there are motorized trikes with a round enclosure (think of a car-sized orange) that are available for hire, either for sightseeing or point-to-point travel. These are referred to as Coco Taxi.

There are also horse-drawn caleches (carriages) available for hire. They are more prevalent in town, but any hotel concierge or front desk can arrange one upon request.

Mopeds are readily for hire throughout town at a cost of 9CUC for one hour, 12CUC for two hours or 20CUC for twenty four hours. You'll need a drivers license to rent one, even a learners one will do.

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Eat

Many packages are "all-inclusive" at major resorts, especially those further up the peninsula. These cater primarily to North American tourists, who make up the bulk of visitors. Some of them do offer room/hotel packages (EP, or European Plan), but they are becoming harder to find. Most hotels past the golf course are all-inclusive by circumstance, as there are few nearby restaurants. There is a very good restaurant at the Marina, and several at the International Shopping Centre. The clubhouse at the Varadero Golf Course (this was the old Dupont Mansion) has an extensive menu and a lovely setting overlooking the ocean on one side, the golf course on the other.

In the town of Varadero, there is everything from open-air marketplace-type food stalls to the local version of fast food. In town you can find: Pollo Loco (pronounced Po-Yo Lo-Ko, or crazy chickens), hamburguesas con queso (cheeseburgers), sandwiches (surprisingly, pressed Cuban sandwiches are hard to find), and the odd pizza joint. There are also a few restaurants serving sit-down dinners and lunches. Chicken, pork and fish are the most frequent items, but beef is not hard to find. Menus are usually posted outside.

Visitors staying at any of the hotels in town have many choices. Many of these hotels are older and nowhere near as fancy as the beach resorts, and they cater to a different clientele.

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Drink

The Mojito is Cuba's signature drink. Made with freshly crushed mint, lime juice and white rum it is a unique delicious flavour. Second to the Mojito is the Cuba Libre, a combination of rum, cola and lime juice.

Cristal beer can be had for a dollar a can. It is a good tasting light pilsner. Mayabe is another good beer, not as light at Cristal and not as heavy as the much stronger Bucanero or Bucanero Fuerte. Most all inclusive resorts stock both Cristal and Bucanero.

Caney is made in the former Bacardi factory on the east end of the island. It is Cuba's premium brand of rum. It's available in Carta Blanca (white), or traditionally darker varieties of differing aging quality. Rum is called "Ron" in Cuba and "Ron Mulatta" is a cheaper brand often supplied to inclusive hotels (it tastes just as good). If you don't drink Rum you might want to stop into the duty free store on the way down and bring your favorite drink. Low quality Russian Vodka can be obtained in Havana, but high quality spirits are hard to find and expensive as it caters to Cuba’s tourists.

Wine made in Cuba is very sweet and not all that far from grape juice. It has its charms but true wine lovers may want to bring a bottle from home or the duty free shop.

Cubans also drink plenty of coffee, and they like to brew it strong. Order café espresso for a straight shot, or café con leche if you'd like it mixed with warm milk. Ask for café americano if you want a milder brew.

You can drink the water in Cuba but it is recommended that you purchase bottled water, which is available throughout the island in hotels and resorts. Another option is to buy a big bottle of water on your first days and keep refilling it at the resort drink fountains where water, cola and other soft drinks are dispensed.

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Sleep

Varadero has by far the biggest diversity of hotels in Cuba, you will find whole range of accommodation from little hotels to well known international chains like Melia, Sandals, Iberostar or the local Cubanacan.

Cubans can be found staying in Hotels of the Islazul or Horizontes brand. These hotels can be quite spartan if affordable. The experience may well be worth the inconvenience, although mingling is officially discouraged. The horseshoe shaped Hotel Islazul Herradura is a fine example.

Since 2012, casas particulares which can legally host foreigners have been in operation in Varadero. Apparently there is a wide variety in terms of the quality of the casas, from perfectly clean, nice and adequate to concrete blocks in the back of someone's house. Try to get a recommendation of a good casa particular from a trusted source.

View our map of accommodation in Varadero

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Work

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Learn

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Keep Connected

Internet

In many cities the only way for tourists to access the internet is through the government's communications centers. Look for buildings bearing the name "ETECSA", which stands for Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. ETECSA also has internet stations in some of the larger government hotels and resorts. The connection speed is comparable to analog dial-up speed in Havana or slower in smaller locations, at a cost of 6 CUC/hour. This is payable by purchasing a prepaid scratch card with a PIN code granting you access for one hour. The same card can be used throughout the country at any ETECSA terminal, allowing you to disconnect after your session and use the remaining time on the card further at the next hotel/city you go to.

WI-FI in hotels and restaurants is certainly uncommon if not non-existent and tourists should not rely on this being available when planning their means of communication.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Cuba is 53. To make an international call from Cuba, the code is 119. The emergency number is 116 and information number 113.

GSM cell phones will work in Cuba (900 MHz). Cuba is one of the most expensive countries in which to communicate. When bringing your own cellphone, incoming phonecalls to Cuba cost about $1/minute. Outgoing calls from Cuba are similarly expensive, and can be as high as $5 per minute for making international when roaming with your cellphone from overseas.

A better way is to rent cellphones, which is possible at several stores in Havana, including one in the airport. The rates are 9 CUC per day (6 CUC for the phone and 3 CUC for the SIM card), plus about 36 cents a minute for prepaid cards. If you bring an unlocked GSM phone operating at 900 MHz (or quad-band world phone) you can buy a SIM card for 111 CUC, plus your prepaid minutes. If you're staying two weeks or more it makes sense to bring a cheap phone, buy a SIM card and prepaid minutes, then give the phone to a Cuban friend when you leave. Cellphones are among the most desired items for Cubans (bring a case for the phone too, Cubans are very fussy about keeping their phones scratch-free). You will have to go to a cellphone store with your friend and sign a paper to give the phone to your friend.

Post

Correos de Cuba operates the Cuban postal service. They are generally quite slow, and delivery is never guaranteed. Mail is read by Cuba’s censors; avoid politically sensitive comments. Also, never send cash! Post offices (correos) usually are open weekdays 8:00am to 6:00pm and on Saturday 8:00am to 3:00pm, but hours can vary widely. Most tourist hotels accept mail for delivery as well, which might be a better option. International airmail (correo aereo) averages from at least 2 weeks to over one month, and even domestic posts might take 1-2 weeks. When mailing from Cuba, write at least the country destination in Spanish (as well). International postcards, cost CUC 0.50 to all destinations; letters cost CUC 0.80. Within Cuba, letters cost from 15 centavos (20 grams or less) to 2.05 pesos (up to 500 grams); postcards cost 10 centavos. Stamps are available in US dollars as well (if buying at hotels, this is actually your only option) and can be bought at hotels and blue and white kiosks labelled Correos de Cuba. Parcels from Cuba must be unwrapped for inspection. It is far better to send packages through an express courier service, like DHL or the Cuban local one (called EMS), although the same regulation applies.

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Accommodation in Varadero

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Varadero searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Varadero and areas nearby.

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This is version 4. Last edited at 9:18 on Aug 2, 17 by Utrecht. 9 articles link to this page.

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