Hi friends! It’s been a while, and there are a few reasons why that is. The first is that I’m lazy, to be honest. When I get home from work, I tend to sit down, grab a snack, and binge watch Shameless or Riverdale instead of working on this blog. Plus, there hasn’t been much to write about since my last trip to Cuba. I’ve been working, waiting patiently for the Canadian snow to melt, and checking my email daily for something from BEDA or the Auxiliares de Conversacion program to tell me I’ve gotten a position in Spain for September! Both programs have closed applications, so everything is just a waiting game at this point. Some people have heard back, but most tend to hear in early May.
But, that’s not why I’m here. Surprise, surprise, I’m going to Varadero again in a week! I’ll be traveling with a couple of friends to my favourite little beach town to relax, explore, and of course, see my lovely Cubano boyfriend who I’ve been missing dearly for three whole months. Every time I go, I find more things to love about this cute tropical getaway, so I decided to write a list here about why I enjoy it so much! Hopefully, my third time will be a charm as well, and I’ll have even MORE to say on the subject when I return. Here are 5 reasons why I think you should go to Varadero, Cuba!
1. It’s BEAUTIFUL
I will willingly admit that my photos are not National Geographic-quality, but even my crappy camera can’t hide how beautiful and unspoiled the beaches of Varadero are. There’s a reason that it’s the most popular vacation destination in Cuba, and people come from as far as Germany and Russia to enjoy it. The sand is spotlessly white, the waters are azure blue, and the palm trees sway rhythmically above in a hazy brown and green swish. All along the peninsula, which is thin enough to cross from one side to another in a 10 minute walk, you’re treated to incredible views of the ocean and unparalleled sunsets. Not much can be done if it’s rainy or cloudy, but the water will still be warm.
Besides the obvious beaches, Varadero’ streets are also extremely clean. There are many parks in the area through which you can take a walk or a paddle-boat ride, and the houses you’ll pass by are colourful and decorated in bright patterns and unusual sculptures. No two houses are exactly alike, and I enjoyed walking by the picturesque buildings every day on my way to my boyfriend’s house.
2. It’s SAFE
What I thought was a lamp post but is actually a security camera
This particular reason is, for me, difficult to construct, because I know that a large part of the “security” of Varadero comes from the fact that Cuba is a communist country, and there is a very high presence of the “state” wherever you travel. Crime rates here are low because of:
1. Lots of tourist police/security on the beach
2. Cameras on many street corners
3. Plain-clothed citizens who work for or report to the state, and not just in instances of theft or assault. For example, did you know that a person like me (Canadian) can’t stay the night at my Cuban boyfriend’s house, unless we were married or related? As a tourist, I’m obligated to spend money at hotels, and the family of my boyfriend would need a casa particular license to have me in the home overnight, if I didn’t have a family visa. Also, if they did have that license, I’d have to pay to stay there anyways.
So, given my Canadian privilege, I’m well aware that Varadero is a safe place because of how tightly controlled the Cuban people are. It’s not good, and I don’t support such a strict regime. But if you are traveling solo in Varadero (even as a woman) and you’re worried, don’t be. Like anywhere else, use your common sense, but don’t be afraid to walk down the street after dark. You’re likely to hear the usual macho cat-calling that is unfortunately a part of Cuban male culture, but it’s nothing worse than you might receive back in Canada, and it’s certainly not likely to lead to anything else.
*Note that this is limited to my experience in Varadero only, as a white female, and there are always things that could happen even in the safest of places. Plus, I’ve heard that other places in Cuba may not be so heavily patrolled and you should take your caution. Still, Cuba is the safest of the Latin American countries by far!
3. It’s FUN
Some people would come to Varadero for a week, stay at one of the resorts up the peninsula, and spend their entire vacation on the beach with a book in one hand and a mojito in the other. Honestly? There’s no “right” way to vacation, and if that’s the way people like to hang, whether they’re retirees or a family of four, then I’d say, you do you. But for me, I like to explore, and I had to find things to kill time when my boyfriend was at work and I was traveling solo. Most hotels offer the usual excursions to Havana or Trinidad (and if they don’t, you can find representatives selling them on the street!), and will often have information about local attractions too. There’s something for everyone!
If you like the beach… the choice is obvious and all around you. Varadero Beach is one of the best in the world!
If you like water sports… Most resorts offer kayaking, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and the list goes on! There are also fairly notable kite-surfing schools in Varadero, and a place halfway up the peninsula where you can swim with dolphins!
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If you like shopping… Varadero has three malls: Plaza America, Plaza Caracol, and Centro Comercial Hicacos. Every street corner also has vendors selling souvenirs and trinkets. Admittedly, a lot of them are the same, and given the embargo, there isn’t much that can be brought in that’s different. However, it is possible to find some unique pieces if you keep your search going, and there are markets in the malls where you can find American brands (Pringles, Coke) if you’re missing snacks from home. Note that these will be more expensive than Cuban brands, and personally I dig the taste of Cuba’s own Tu Kola.
If you like exploring… Varadero’s peninsula has a lot of cool day or afternoon trips on it. A few notable ones are Casa de Al (Al Capone’s house, now a restaurant), Parque Josone which is the biggest park with paddle boats and cute walking paths, the Varadero Marina, and the various cuevas (caves) that can be accessed on the bus. Varadero has a great double-decker, open-top, hop-on hop-off bus system that takes you to all the hotspots and hotels along the highway. It’s 5 CUC for a day pass and is totally worth it.
The oldest house in Varadero
If you like to party… Varadero has a variety of nightclubs, bars, billiards clubs, and music venues to entertain. Take a step off the resort one night and head to the classic rock-themed Beatles bar, or relax and enjoy some salsa tunes at Calle 62.
4. It’s INEXPENSIVE
Of course, to call a place “cheap” or “inexpensive” is relative, because I already know I’m privileged in the sense of being able to travel and for some, an all-inclusive vacation is simply out of the question. That being said, Cuba is top on a lot of Canadians’ lists because of its relatively low cost when compared with other tropical destinations like Dominican Republic, Mexico, or the Bahamas. All inclusive packages can go for as low as $700 if you’re not picky about star-rating and are looking at your hotel room as a place to sleep and shower only. Getting around is easy by foot, taxi, bus, or even a rental moto/car, for the more adventurous, and prices are pretty low. If you’re not staying in an all-inclusive, surrounding restaurants offer great food for admirable prices, and shops sell bottles of water and other necessities. Locally-run casa particulars are also a great choice for those on a budget. These rooms are located in real Cuban homes, run by those who have obtained their license from the state to host foreigners. Prices can be as low as 25 CUC per night and usually include a breakfast. This is a great way to meet locals!
Non-all-inclusive hotel El Pullman, cute and affordable
5. It’s full of wonderful people
My boyfriend and his fabulous family aside, every person I’ve met in Varadero was friendly and sweet. I’m not talking about staff at the hotel who are obligated to be nice to you (although they always were anyways, and we had some great conversations), but people on the street, in the markets, or at the beach were always willing to chat as well. It helps to know Spanish, but I met plenty of hotel staff who were multilingual, putting my barely-bilingual self to shame. Another woman I asked for directions to the mall on my first day, and she gave me a 50 CUP coin to grab the bus because she thought it’d be too far for me to walk there. It turned out to be a fifteen minute walk, which is nothing for me, but the thought was there.
The friendly openness of the Cuban people is what I give credit to for meeting my boyfriend in the first place, and I encourage you to talk to locals as well, since Varadero is not just a resort town, but their home (though many live outside of the town as well). Many have stories to tell, sometimes good, and sometimes sad. I met a guy working at my hotel who spoke five languages, moving from Italy to Egypt to the USA to Cuba, where he worked as the chef. Taking the time to chat with him got me awesome insight into his life, as well as a few deliciously crafted pastas 😉
Anyways, those are 5 reasons I think you should go to Varadero, and I’ll be sure to update you with more when I return. Have you been there, or been to other places in Cuba? Do you like it?