A couple of hours east of Havana on Cuba’s long and narrow Peninsula de Hicacos, is the seaside resort of Varadero. This popular sun-kissed paradise is the perfect accompaniment to Havana.
As I recently discovered, Varadero provides some of the best beaches in the world, azure blue oceans, luxury hotels, an interesting town, and all with that dash of modern Cuban flair. Whilst many people, including me, imagined Varadero to be some type of wild party paradise, I found it to be a pretty relaxed and very enjoyable resort.
Rumour has it that back in the 1920s, the American gangster and businessman Al Capone used to take his holidays here! There is always that little sense of intrigue and mystery in Cuba.
Let’s find out a little more:
1st Avenue, Varadero
Downtown Varadero pulsates with life along the bustling 1st Avenue, the main artery of this vibrant Cuban resort. As with Havana expect to see vintage cars and eclectic taxis, including charming horse-drawn traps.
Varadero Beach Tours offers open-top bus excursions at a reasonable 5 USD for unlimited access from 9:30 am to 9:00 pm. The tours showcase and stop at key attractions like hotels, shopping centres, markets, marinas, the golf course, and the heart of downtown Varadero.
Beyond shopping, 1st Avenue has an entertaining nightlife and a multitude of luxurious hotels. I very much enjoyed my time exploring this safe, clean thoroughfare, and discovering these various attractions that enrich the Varadero experience.
Award Winning Beaches
The most famous and multi-award-winning feature of Varadero is those gorgeous powdery white sandy beaches. The pristine white dunes span more than 20 kilometres and are perfect for those looking to enjoy water sports like snorkelling or kayaking, lounging in the sun, or simply taking a stroll along the shore.
All of the hotels in Varadero are a stone’s throw from the beach. As a little tip make sure you check out other beaches on the peninsula and not just the one opposite your hotel. Those nearer the centre of town and with a greater number of facilities are particularly good to explore.
Make sure you head down late afternoon/early evening and catch some of the best sunsets you will see anywhere in the world. Do you get award-winning sunsets? Well if you did, Varadero would be nominated!
Dive Into Marine Wonders
The Caribbean waters are teeming with rich marine life and Varadero’s dive shops can be found all along its peninsular. Diving is most suitable for beginners as depths don’t generally exceed 30 metres, however, there are some greater challenges for the more experienced divers, like at the Ojo del Megano Cave.
For those interested in old wrecks, and I don’t mean me, there is an old Russian Frigate that sunk off the coast in the late 20th century. This is a popular dive spot. For all diving in Varadero make sure you seek professional guidance.
Despite some online reticence, I found the local markets in Varadero surprisingly good. I was expecting a tacky side and yes there is some toot, but some of the handmade crafts, and artworks were of surprisingly good quality and very well priced.
As a whole I did not buy much in Cuba, partly due to the fact I had packed for a year and was already over my flight allowance however I did squeeze in a lovely oil painting of Havana.
A little tip when visiting these markets is to ensure you take cash, as credit card payments are unlikely to be accepted.
Bars & Restaurants
With 20 kilometres of beaches, you can imagine that there is no shortage of watering holes and restaurants.
Somewhere a little different, if a little tacky, is the Beatles Bar. A homage to the Fab Four complete with its pedestrian crossing for that Instagram photo. Whilst the reviews may not be great, I enjoyed my brief stop if only to have a rare moment’s reflection of home!
At the Wacos Club in the heart of Varadero, you can enjoy a charming atmosphere with some of the finest cuisine in town. The fish and meat dishes are particularly good as are the cocktails that rival some of those famous establishments in Havana!
Another intriguing restaurant is Casa de AlCapone which is said to be where Al Capone used to dine. It is well worth a visit whether you go for the seafood, the paella or just for a photo.
Popular Attractions in Varadero
Varadero is also home to some historical sites that tell stories of a bygone period.
Once home to American millionaire Irenee du Pont, the Xanadu Mansion is a reminder of the region’s opulent and aristocratic past. Today it is a boutique hotel and golf club so if you are looking to hit the fairways then the Varadero Golf Club, is the only 18-hole championship course on the island.
Fortín de San Elías, a small fortress from the 19th century, stands as a testament to Cuba’s history. It provides visitors with insights into the country’s military past, offering panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Right in the heart of Downtown Varadero and opposite the Beatles Bar is Josone Park, a picturesque escape with a romantic history. Established in the 1940s, it features lush gardens, a lake, and charming structures, creating a serene environment for relaxation and exploration.
Where To Stay In Varadero
There are numerous hotels to choose from in Varadero and all occupy locations that are very close to the beach.
I stayed at the 4-star Hotel Los Cactus in Varadero. The hotel rooms were a little tired however the pool and facilities plus its location were excellent. A special appreciation to the receptionist Tania (pictured) who despite being incredibly busy with numerous requests was happy, understanding and so grateful to welcome guests.
I visited the Muthu Playa Varadero Hotel for lunch and a show round. First of all the lunch was, in my opinion, the best I experienced in any hotel throughout my stay in Cuba. The choice of food was spectacular and the quality was superb. The hotel itself is bright and open and has a lovely bar overlooking the reception. Outside there is a huge swimming pool and numerous sports activities on site. The beach and nearby bar is a mere 2-minute walk from the hotel. I very much liked the Muthu Playa Varadero and would not hesitate to return.
Final Thoughts Of Varadero
Varadero is the perfect beach holiday destination offering a range of experiences for visitors. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it as I was expecting it to be a little glitzy and tacky but I was wrong.
I cannot stress how much I feel a two centre combined with Havana is the perfect holiday, especially for families. Maybe 7-10 days on the beach in Varadero coupled with the last 3 nights in wonderful Havana so that you are closer to the airport on your return. An ideal hotel in Havana would be the Gran Muthu Habana.
So my stay in Varadero and my time enjoying those incredible beaches was that little recharge that I needed before exploring more of this country – let’s see what else Cuba had to surprise me!