Around a third of visitors to Cuba go all inclusive to Varadero, the Cancun of the Caribbean. Regrettably it has been turned into a tourist ghetto. Varadero is the Caribbean’s largest resort complex with a check-point at the entrance to make life difficult for Cubans getting into the 14 miles, thin spit of pure white beaches which pokes out into the Florida Straits. There are around 29 immense hotels in Varadero to and from which air charters “ship” about 500,000 tourists a year. We can´t help using the metaphor “ship” due to the cargo type tourist who visits Varadero. Lying on beaches, getting sun tanned then returning to places like Calgary speaking of the idiosyncrasies of Cuban Culture… Varadero has its own airport (see reviews) and is about 120 km or a 2 hour drive from Havana. There are slow buses from Havana that seem to stop even for dead dogs en route, or there´s a taxi for about $120.


Varadero was urbanized as long ago as 1872. But boom-time came in Cuba’s roaring ’30s when the American chemical heiress, Irenee Dupont, built an estate complete with a mansion, airstrip and yacht harbor. Other wealthy Americans followed, including Al Capone. In the ’50s Ava Gardner and Cary Grant sunned themselves on Varadero white beaches.


Straight after the revolution all of Cuba’s beaches were declared public. But in the interests of ensuring that the foreigners are not pestered by the locals, and the locals are not contaminated by the foreigners, Cubans are now kept away from the beaches in front of the big hotels unless they are paying more than 1 years salary for a night´s stay at these behemoth cyclical sleeping quarters…


Almost the whole length of Varadero has been urbanized. It is package-vacation utopia you could say. One can snorkel at Varadero, or go out to sea and kill big fish, scuba dive or go yachting, party on the Discotheque El Galeon or even sky-dive out of an old Soviet-built Antonov bi-plane – jumping out may be less hazardous than going up in the first place. Hotels organize volley-ball, five-a-side football, tennis tournaments and Salsa dancing classes.


The beaches are excellent and the mainly Western-managed hotels are fine. Alas you might as well be anywhere, Jamaica, Cancun, Cayman Islands; the place is totally devoid of charm and above all, Cuban Culture. Probably the best option is the Hotel Paradisus, one of countless Cuban hotels managed by the Spanish Sol Melia group and the first joint venture between a Western hotel group and the state tourism company, part of Cuba’s strategy to replace Soviet roubles with capitalist dollars.


“Sadly, Varadero is totally devoid of charm and Cuban Culture”


It is permanently thronged with Spanish, Italian and German tourists but has one big upside: bungalows several hundred meters from the main hotel, set in coconut groves just off the beach. These are not cheap at around $200pn, but the setting is lovely and the part of the beach they are on is relatively quiet. If you go for a bungalow, insist on one near the beach and away from the main hotel. Some are at the back on a road. If you stay at the Sol Palmeras you can also use facilities at the neighboring Sol Melia hotels, including some half-way decent but quite pricey varadero restaurants.

Here is an extensive list of Hotels in Varadero along with reviews and prices

But the final drawback for Varadero is Cuba’s oil industry situated a few kilometers outside the town. This has lacked investment and sulfurous smells periodically waft over to Varadero. Varadero is also quite a way from Havana and 2-3 hours from other places worth seeing however, I strongly recommend taking Car Rental in Varadero as you´ll be able to escape th monotony of the arriving white tourists. The nearby town of Cardenas has a certain run-down charm, but not much else.


Oh and, there is also the three storey former Dupont mansion, originally named Xanadu, which stands on a bluff overlooking the ocean just along from the Melia hotels. With its white walls and green pan-tiled roof it looks like a swollen version of the faux-Mediterranean villas built in California or Florida in the ’30s, except that Xanadu has an 18-hole golf course and the library has been turned into a restaurant called Las Americas, don´t bother however as the food is truly vile and extraordinarily over-priced. Like much of Varardero, once you peel away the communist fabricated façade, you are left with the sentiment of being in a leech like cash extraction machine, created specifically to rid you of every last cent before you climb the stairs to the airplane…


Varadero Trip Update