VARADERO

Cuba

Varadero is a relatively exclusive part of Cuba, abundant with private hotels, gorgeous white beaches and the country's only full golf course. The fantastic beaches with clear turquoise warm water makes this an island lovers paradise.

Info Varadero

introduction

Varadero is a relatively exclusive part of Cuba, abundant with private hotels, gorgeous white beaches and the country's only full golf course. The fantastic beaches with clear turquoise warm water makes this an island lovers paradise.

Varadero is a resort town on the ~30 km long Hicacos Peninsula, off the northern coast of Cuba. 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.

info
POPULATION :  27,170
FOUNDED : Founded December 5, 1887
Established July 3, 1976 (Municipality)
TIME ZONE : EST (UTC-5)
LANGUAGE : 
RELIGION : 
AREA : 48 km2 (19 sq mi)
ELEVATION : 4 m (13 ft)
COORDINATES : 23°08′22″N 81°17′10″W
SEX RATIO :
ETHNIC : 
AREA CODE : 
POSTAL CODE : 
DIALING CODE : +53-45
WEBSITE : 

Tourism

Varadero is foremost a tourist resort town, boasting more than 20 km of white sandy beaches. The first tourists visited Varadero as early as the 1870s, and for years it was considered an elite resort. In 1910 the annual rowing regatta was started; five years later the first hotel, named Varadero and later Club Nautico, was built. Tourism grew in the early 1930s as Irénée du Pont, an American millionaire, built his estate on the peninsula. Many famous and infamous people stayed in Varadero, for example Al Capone.

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many mansions were expropriated from their rich owners. These mansions soon became museums. As a symbol of the new integrated tourism for Cubans and foreign visitors of all social classes, the Park of the 8000 Cubicles (Parque de las 8000 Taquillas) was built in 1960. Visitors could leave their belongings in the basement of the park, had access to sanitary installations and gastronomic services on the first floor, and could rent bathing articles and swimsuits. The surroundings of the park became the center of the city.

Between the 1960s and 1980s Varadero transformed itself into a cultural centre. During those years the central park (8000 Taquillas) (located between 44th and 46th Street) saw countless concerts, festivals and sporting events.

The 1990s brought the start of another hotel building campaign, mostly in the 4-star and 5-star segment. Many of the hotels are operated or co-owned by foreign businesses like Meliá, Barceló, TRYP, etc. (France's Club Med used to have a property but has since left Varadero.) As international tourism was opened up, the local population expanded with the arrival of people, some in key economic positions, from other parts of Cuba. As a consequence, Varadero has lost much of its social and cultural life and its traditions. The central park, the cinema and various cultural meeting places were neglected in favor of a hotel-centred all-inclusive-tourism and finally closed. The International Carnival, an initiative of Cubans and foreigners started in the 1980s, also ceased.

In addition to its most valued resource, the beach, Varadero has natural attractions such as caves and a chain of easily accessed virgin cays. There are also cultural, historical and environmental attractions in the vicinity, such as the cities of Matanzas and Cárdenas, the Zapata Peninsula and the resort of San Miguel de los Baños. Varadero, which is a free port, also possesses facilities for scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, yachting and other water sports.

Varadero receives more than 1 million tourists annually.

Varadero is primarily visited by European and Canadian tourists. The number of U.S.tourists visiting Varadero, although increasing, has been limited because of the U.S. government restrictions that make it difficult for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba as tourists.


Currency

In tourist facilities and other service units, prices are set in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). In Varadero, Cayo Largo del Sur, Jardines del Rey (Coco and Guillermo Keys), Santa Lucía Beach, Covarrubias Beach, and Holguín province, you can also pay in euros. Credit Cards (except those issued by US banks or their branches in other countries) can be used in most Varadaro shops but it is more useful to take cash (CUCs) to the markets.

History

The first mention of Varadero was in 1555. The place was first used as a dry dock (Spanish:varadero) and the salt mines of the peninsula (closed in 1961) supplied most of the Spanish Latin America Fleet since 1587. However, the foundation date of Varadero as city was only on December 5, 1887, when ten families from the city of Cárdenas obtained a permission to build their vacation homes between today's 42nd and 48th Street.

It was established as municipality (Spanish: municipio) at the administrative re-distribution of July 3, 1976from territories previously part of Cárdenas. In August 2010, the Varadero municipality was abolished according to a Law approved by the Cuban National Assembly, becoming again part of the Cárdenas municipality.

Geography

It is situated on the Hicacos Peninsula, between the Bay of Cárdenas and theStraits of Florida, some 140 km east of Havana, at the eastern end of the Via Blanca highway. The peninsula is only 1.2 km wide at its widest point and is separated from the island of Cuba by the Kawama Channel. This spit of land however extends more than 20 kilometers from the mainland in a northeasterly direction and its tip, Punta Hicacos, is the northernmost point of the island of Cuba. At the northeastern end of the peninsula there is a nature reserve with virgin forests and beaches. The Hicacos Point Natural Park is a 3.12 km2(1.20 sq mi) ecological preserve established in 1974. It contains the 250 m (820 ft) long Cave of Ambrosio, Mangón Lake (home to 31 species of birds and 24 species of reptiles) and the ruins of the La Calavera (The Skull) Salt Works (one of the first salt works to be constructed by the Spanish in the New World). The cays developed off shore, such as Cayo Piedras and Cayo Cruz del Padre are the westernmost part of the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago.

Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport, situated west of the peninsula, is Varadero's airport. It is the second-most-important airport of the island after José Martí Airport in Havana, and serves international and domestic flights.

Internet, Comunication

Internet Access

The nicer hotels will have internet access. Otherwise you can visit the town's ETECSA, and buy and use internet cards for around 5 CUC an hour. This is an internet cafe, there's no wifi available.


Periodicals

Granma is the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba and is also available in English. Most hotels will have a copy at reception.

Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the official periodical of Cuba's Union of Young Communists is also available in English.

The Havana Reporter, an exclusively English-language newspaper published by Prensa Latina is available from the Varadero post office. It costs 1 CUC.

United States periodicals are not available.

Transportation - Get In

Juan Gualberto Gomez Airport. Many package tours fly directly to Juan Gomez airport from Canada and from Europe, the second busiest airport in Cuba. Its situated between Matanzas and Varadero. There is a currency exchange booth in the departures hall. The booth in the arrivals hall is now closed.

  • Taxi from airport to the town (about 10km) costs about 25-30CUC. It may be possible to bargain the fare to about 20CUC, but not much less.

Alternately you can walk out to the airport parking lot and tip (5-10CUC) one of the tour bus drivers to hitch a ride to your hotel/resort - this always works out cheaper than taxi if you travel solo.

  • 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.
  • Hiring a car is also possible in the Varadero Airport or through various hotels.

It may also be possible to get to Havana on a hotel transfer bus for about 10CUC by negotiating with the driver.

Via Blanca. Highway connecting Varadero to Havana through Matanzas.

There are no trains.


Transportation - Get 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 bus

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. Watch out for the palm tree branches when sitting on the open top. The branches will whack you in the head, seen it happen at least 7-8 times. Cheers.


By taxi

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.


Other

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.

Hotels

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Hotels

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Beaches in Varadero

It's quite possible the primary reason tourists visit the Matanzas province in Cuba, is for the Varadero Beaches. Imagine a long coastline of wide beach front, approximately 13 miles in all, with fine white sands and crystal blue waters. Varadero is widely known as a resort area, and it is one of the most popular locations on the entire island of Cuba. The main beach is called Varadero Beach but there are also many unnamed areas of beach that connect to Varadero that offer beautiful sights and activities, too.


Turquoise, Clear Waters

The water at Varadero Beach is not only warm; it's practically see-through due to its clarity and its shallow depth. Whether you're swimming or snorkeling, you can go out to sea several meters and still not run into deep waters. The sea beds viewable from the water's surface and underwater showcase a variety of sea life including turtles, lobster, fish, shrimp, crab, mollusks and coral. You may also run into a group of the local wild dolphins that can be pretty playful when you're swimming or boating.


Fun Activities

When you visit Varadero Beach, you'll never run out of things to do. Take a dive at one of the 28 popular diving spots in the area and then go for a swim in the underwater caves, passages, reefs and channels. You can rent a sailboard, aqua bike, rowboat, paddleboat or horse and go for a ride. There are also catamaran rides, parasailing or parachuting, and winged boats available for the more adventurous tourists. There are areas along the beach that offer go-kart racing, golf courses and a nice marina where you can go on yacht cruises. Cruise voyages travel out to an amusement park called Parque de Diversiones that has carnival rides for both adults and children or to another Varadero hot spot known as Delfinario, where you'll find a dolphinarium offering impressive and memorable dolphin shows.


The Ecological Beach

One of the main attractions in the Varadero area is a nature reserve called the Ecological Beach. It's basically an untouched and undeveloped area where you can enjoy many different animals, plants and trees in their natural habitat. This beach has one of the oldest types of trees in all of Cuba, "el patriarca," which is actually a cactus that looks like a tree. Ecologists have dated this tree back to times before the Spanish conquest.

Shopping


Currency

In tourist facilities and other service units, prices are set in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). In Varadero, Cayo Largo del Sur, Jardines del Rey (Coco and Guillermo Keys), Santa Lucía Beach, Covarrubias Beach, and Holguín province, you can also pay in euros. Credit Cards (except those issued by US banks or their branches in other countries) can be used in most Varadaro shops but it is more useful to take cash (CUCs) to the markets.


Currency Exchange

In Cuba there are two different currencies: Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP). (1 CUC=24 CUP).

You may exchange Euros, Canadian dollars, Pounds, Swiss francs, and others for Cuban Convertible Pesos. The exchange rates for those currencies are set in accord with the exchange rates on the international market. You can acquire 'pesos convertibles' at the airport, banks and at the Money Exchange Offices, called "CADECA" (you can find these offices everywhere in the country). You can obtain Cuban Pesos also in the CADECAs or at any local bank or at the front desk of your resort.

Make sure you count your change at CADECA before leaving the booth. The exchange booth at the Varadero Airport is known to short-change tourists by trimming it to the nearest 10CUC, which is never a practise throughout the country as they're supposed to give change to the nearest 5 centavos (0.05 CUC).


Shopping

Beach Vendors are abundant on the beaches bracketing the resorts. Their "carts" are built up from a bicycle with many shelves and hooks to display their wares while easily rolling along the beach. Haggling is not as common in Cuba as it is in the Dominican but it can be done.

The usual items that people shop for in Cuba are rum, cigars, coffee and jewelry.

Rum is best purchased at the Casa de Ron, this shop has the best selection. Though other small grocery stores and hotel gift shops stock the favorites.

Across the street from the Casa de Ron is the cigar shop. Again, the selection is enormous and the prices are better than in some of the hotel gift shops.

Restaurants

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.

Coffe & 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.

Sights & Landmarks

  • 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.

Things to do

  • 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.

Festivals and events

Located in the Caribbean, Varadero is possibly the most prestigious beachside resort in the area, and there are many Varadero Festivals to take part in while visiting. It is located on la Punta de Hicacos and showcases beautiful white beaches that are also sure to delight.


Varadero World Of Music Festival

This festival takes place in June. It will include plenty of concerts, music and dancing in over ten different places. It showcases both local and international music.


International Culinary Festival

The most famous of chefs are present at this food-filled festival. It is a tasteful delight to all guests, who get to sample the best of the best. This includes both local and international cuisine. It occurs during the month of March on a biyearly basis. 


Puppet Theatre International Workshop

This is a muppet-lover’s delight. It is a theatrical group created for children. When this workshop is going on, performances take place on Puppet Street. They take place all day long, but evenings are for adults. Puppets find their way into just about every home, library, hospital, etc. that can be found, and theatrical artists from all over the world flock here to enjoy this festival. At the end of the Teatro Papalote Dramaturgy Competition, prizes are awarded.


Tourism Convention

Happening in May, this attraction is aimed at business folks in the tourism or travel industry. In addition, it attracts travel agencies, ministers, hotel managers and business people. It showcases presentations of special offers and special destinations, while allowing fresh new business deals and partnerships to be built.

Nightlife

One of the things you would not want to miss in this Caribbean resort town is the dynamic Varadero nightlife. Cubans are known for their non-stop partying, and Varadero is no exception to the rule. Discotheques, bars and nightclubs abound in this town, so if you want to party, Varadero is the place for you. Be aware that while there are certain bars just for Cubans and other bars just for tourists, you can also find bars that cater for tourists and Cubans alike. Here are a few recommendations:


Bar Café Benny More

This fancy little club was opened as a tribute to Benny More, more popularly known as the “Bavarian of Rhythm.” Bar Café Benny is a place where you can feel the rhythm of Cuban music and have a great time. The bar has a great beachfront where you can dance and enjoy your cocktail. Bar Café Benny opens at noon and closes only when the last customer decides to go home. Bar Café Benny More is widely popular with locals and tourists alike.   


Cabaret Continental

Cabaret Continental is a well known entertainment destination in Varadero, and is a part of the Varadero International Hotel Complex. Cabaret Continental serves sumptuous dinners, but make it a point to reserve a table well in advance, because this restaurant is always packed. After midnight, Cabaret Continental transforms into a disco, so be prepared for a great night of dancing after your meal.


Palacio De La Rumba

Palacio De La Rumba is one of the most popular places in town. The Palacio de la Rumba plays great music, serves delicious food, and has a great beer selection. The normal crowd is usually made up of young, professional Cubans and tourists who want great fun and entertainment. Palacio de la Rumba is situated near Hotel Bella Costa.


FM17

FM17 is situated on the busiest street of Varadero. It is open 24 hours and serves snacks, hamburgers, ice cream, beers, wines and cocktails--and the best mojitos around. At night this place comes alive with pulsating music from the live bands that perform here. If you are looking for a place to hang out and enjoy the night, FM17 is a great place to do just that.


Cabaret Cueva de Pirata (Pirates Cave)

The Cueva de Pirata is a real natural cave transformed into a Cuban dance school and a cabaret. If you're looking for some unique entertainment, this cabaret is the place to find it. You can also enjoy some fine cuisine at Cabaret Cueva de Pirata.

Safety in Varadero

Stay Safe


Cuba in general, and Varadero in particular, are very safe places for travellers. Varadero is pretty strictly a tourist enclave, with limited access for locals, and routinely policed. Elsewhere in Cuba is much different. It is, however, arguably the safest country in the Caribbean for travelers, including single females. Use your common sense and you'll be fine.

Credit card scam at Varadero Airport — This scam involves storekeepers in small shops taking out a purchase as a cash advance on your credit card. When the victim tries to purchase, the shopkeeper says 'one moment' and goes to an accomplice working at the CADECA cash exchange counter to give the amount of the cash advance and the card number. The CADECA teller then processes the cash advance, and the storekeeper asks the victim to return to show passport and sign. The receipt appears like a sale as it is written 'VENTA'. The bank teller gives the cash directly to the shopkeeper. In addition, the shopkeeper can easily give a box of fake cigars from a bag or other source. Because the receipt comes from the bank counter and the client has signed for what is supposedly a cash advance, credit card companies (i.e. MasterCard) are reluctant to refund or complain against this particular (and very lucrative) merchant. The lesson for the tourist is to never let one's credit card out of one's hands, and even then in many places it is better to pay cash. Also, shops are less expensive after Customs than in the pre check-in lounge. Caveat emptor!

Beach Safety — The flag system on the beaches is simple to learn and will keep you safe while enjoying your vacation. Red flag, no swimming. Yellow flag, be cautious. Green flag, go swim. Remember that strong tides can pull you out further than you intended to go and then keep you out there. Life guards often can be seen patrolling wearing Red Cross symbols on their shirts.

Transferring money Be especially careful when transferring money at the airport CADECA, they've been known to slip out a bill when you're not paying attention.

Friendly locals Be careful with overly friendly locals who join you in a bar, and later demand to be paid a few CUC for their company.

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