Varadero

Destination Location

Varadero
Hotel reviews summary
3.5

Our guest rating from 4 reviews

Overview

In Varadero, there are endless sugar-white sand beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze, a warm turquoise ocean and a thatched palm umbrella hut with your name on it. You’ll even find giant conch shells lying on the beach.

Varadero is best suited for those who are looking for some rest and relaxation in the sun, particularly vacation hunters seeking the all-inclusive resort experience. Families with young children, couples getting married or honeymooning and groups of friends all love coming to this relaxing beach destination. In fact, varadero is Spanish for “to rest, repair or reconstruct.”

Cuba’s premiere beach destination, Varadero is on the long, skinny Hicacos Peninsula and is technically an island on the northwest coast of Cuba. If you keep heading north, you’ll hit Florida. It is 140 km east of capital city Havana (about a two-hour drive away).

Twenty kilometres long and only one kilometre wide, Varadero sprawls with 60-plus big hotels, most all-inclusive resorts. It’s flat, filled with scrubby brush, palm trees and dense mangrove, all framed by the shimmering sea glowing in the distance. The Bahía de Cárdenas is on the south side. The Gulf of Mexico and all of the resorts are to the north. A wide autopista (highway) goes up and down the length of the city. Resorts are clustered on the east side, becoming progressively fancier as you head east. The town of Varadero itself is to the west.

An island archipelago, Cuba is famous for its stunning beaches, with Varadero considered its crown jewel. Varadero has been a popular vacation and resort destination since as early as the 1870s.

Varadero today is a small, sleepy resort town, but it has a rather glamorous past. Before the Cuban Revolution, Hollywood starlets and casino high-rollers used to vacation here. Al Capone even owned a home here, which is now a seafood restaurant.

Cuba’s only 18-hole golf course is located in Varadero. Also nearby is the city of Matanzas, home to a vibrant Afro-Cuban music and dance scene. There’s exceptional diving – especially for shipwrecks – birding, fishing, water sports and a huge everglades area to the south filled with crocodiles.

From Varadero, you can also easily make the trip to Havana to see some authentic Cuban culture. Or just sit back and enjoy this fun-in-the-sun beach destination.

Varadero is a fantastic destination for:

  • beaches
  • snorkelling and Diving
  • culture and History

Airport served by: Varadero, Cuba (VRA)

Destination basics

You can expect the usual sultry Caribbean climate here – much like a humid sauna, but with a steady breeze. Its climate mirrors the subtropical climate of the rest of the country, but you'll certainly feel like you're in the tropics.

Pull out all of your island wear and take only your shorts, sundresses and loose-fitting shirts – plus a cover-up for breezy evenings. On average, Cuba gets eight hours of sunshine a day and spring and summer highs can hit 32 C between April and October. But the heat is usually tempered by a cooling wind off the water.

The best time of year to visit is in the spring (April to June), but this also when the area is most crowded. The rainy season begins around the end of June and lasts until October. Despite the rain, summer and fall are still hot and appeal to travellers looking for the most affordable trip.

Winter in Varadero is mild and dry, although prone to occasional tropical storms. The average temperature is still in the high 20s C, but it can cool off quickly in the evenings.

No matter when you visit, you'll want to bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Varadero

As Cuban ethnologist Fernando Ortiz Fernández put it, “Somos un ajiaco” (“We are a Cuban stew”), which refers to the array of cultural influences found in Cuba. The country features an enticing mix of Spanish, African and Chinese cultures. The result is a unique culture, full of fun-loving, vibrant, talkative and family-oriented people.

Life is lived out in the streets here. Everyone's front door is open. You'll often see folks sitting on their stoops, playing cards, dominoes or chess on the sidewalk. Even in the humblest homes, there's always a TV on inside. Other cultural staples are music and dance. Cubans are a passionate people who poignantly express their emotions in their art, music and dance. Baseball (pelota) is also a favourite pastime.

The food here is simple. Expect fried plantains, pork, yuca (a potato-like root) and calabaza (similar to pumpkin). You'll often see rice with black beans, shredded cabbage, sliced cucumber and tomato served on the side. For dessert, there is ice cream, candied coconut treats and flan (vanilla-caramel custard). There's also a cornucopia of fresh fruits, including guava, papaya, pineapple and watermelon.

Cuba's cocktails are world renowned and include the minty mojito, smooth ron (rum) straight up, the Cuba libre (rum and cola), daiquiri and piña colada. You may even see people on the street pressing sugar cane for juice to make eye-watering aguardiente, fermented sugar cane.

Once in Cuba, you can easily exchange your Canadian dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) at the airport or at your hotel. Smaller bills are preferred and exchange rates fluctuate daily. Please note that debit (Interac) machines are not available in Cuba and ATM machines only accept credit cards.

Most tourist spots, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa, MasterCard and travellers cheques from Canadian financial institutions. Please do be aware that travellers cheques are subject to a surcharge so it is usually wise to convert them to pesos at your hotel.

US dollars, American Express and any other credit cards issued by American banks will not be accepted in Cuba. Upon departure from Varadero, CUCs can be exchanged back to Canadian dollars at the airport. There is a surcharge of approximately 10 per cent, but you will only be able to change pesos back to Canadian dollars while in Cuba. Once outside of Cuba, the CUC has no value. That said, you can always save your leftover pesos for your next visit!

Varadero is a favorite tourist destination not only for foreign visitors, but for Cubans themselves. This gives the town a distinctive character that sets it apart from other resorts in the country.

Varadero's hotel complexes are well equipped in terms of the accommodation, recreational facilities, aquatic sports, and nightlife they offer. Tourists do not generally venture beyond these complexes to explore their surroundings, but when they do go out, they are rarely disappointed.

There are many entertainment options on the the Varadero peninsula and throughout the province of Matanzas. The heavenly beaches, whose waters shimmer in every shade of blue from navy to bright turquoise, beckon you to swim, play water-sports or simply to relax and soak up the sun on the beach. If you are feeling energetic you can choose between diving, crossing the Bahía in a catamaran, fishing, and many other activities. You can visit some of the area's many important archeological sites, including the Cueva de San Ambrosio, a cave with ancient paintings on the wall, or the Cuevas de Musulmanes, another cave famous for its ceremonial use by the Siboney people. Another tourist attraction is Las Salinas, a salt mine which formed the basis of the region's economy during the colonial era.

This part of the island is equally well known for its natural beauty and as a natural habitat for rare birds, some of which are now extinct in the rest of the world. Many birdwatchers come here on vacation every year with dreams of catching a rare sighting.

The city of Matanzas, birthplace of the century-old danzón musical style that continues to enjoy great popularity, also merits a visit. There are archaeological sites here, including the Cueva de Bellamar, and good camping areas such as the Yumurí and Canasí Valleys, both of which have a rich variety of flora and fauna, rivers and natural viewpoints. If you prefer to tour the city itself, there is much to see, including parks, squares, museums, and galleries. The architecture is extremely beautiful and rich in Spanish influence, and the city has a great view of the Bahía de San Juan.

The entertainment choices in Varadero are almost unlimited. The intense nightlife here is in a league of its own, even when compared to La Habana. Every hotel, bar, restaurant, club and theater is accustomed to catering for visitors, and indeed many specialize in it. There is a mix of atmospheres and music here that will satisfy any taste.

Most hotels offer nighttime entertainment of some sort because few tourists venture out to explore the city and all its possibilities. For those with a taste for adventure and exploration, however, the choice is staggering. La Cueva del Pirata, on the Autopista Sur, presents the best Cuban bands live, and occasionally hosts cabaret shows. El Anfiteatro, near the Varadero bridge, offers a very popular cabaret and well-known Cuban bands sometimes stage concerts in the Parque Josone. One of the best salsa clubs in town is the Havana Club, near Hotel Siboney. If you are in the mood for a more private, intimate setting, you cannot beat Casa Du Pont and its top-floor piano bar. Here you can spend a relaxing evening enjoying nightfall and the gorgeous views.

La Casa de la Cultura, on Avenida Primera, is home to Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, a rumba group of nationally and internationally renowned musicians. Here, also, you can attend cultural events, poetry readings, folk groups, concerts of local trovadores (troubadors) and, every Saturday, the Sábado de la Rumba (Rumba Saturday) with Afro-Cuban dances inspired by santería (religion of African origin) rites. The Casa de la Cultura de los Corales houses the Sol y Mar art gallery, which exhibits an interesting selection of local arts and crafts. The Retablo gallery has a large selection of puppets and marionettes, and at Antigüedades gallery you can find antique ceramic, porcelain and glass for sale.

The Museo Municipal de Varadero, on Avenida Playa, presents a brief history of the city. The Museo Provincial de Matanzas has a more complete history of Varadero, as well as organizing cultural activities in its courtyard. On Saturdays it celebrates traditional Cuban music by presenting the Rincón Lírico band, and every third Saturday, hosts activities for children.

Another museum worth visiting is the Museo del Morrillo, an old colonial-era military fortress. The Museo Farmacéutico is a traditional 18th century chemist shop, which has been left intact, and is one of a kind. The Monumento al Esclavo Rebelde (Monument to the Rebel Slave) in Matanzas is an imposing feature, and demands a look; likewise the Monumento al Mambí Desconocido (Monument to the Unknown Mambí, or rebel in the Cuban Separatist War) in the Plaza de la Vigía.

For lovers of classical music, the Orquesta Sinfónica de Matanzas frequently gives concerts in the Plaza de la Libertad. If you enjoy theater, Teatro Sauto, an architectural jewel in Varadero, hosts regular performances while the Sala Papalote, on Daoíz street, presents shows for kids. For movies, try the Cine Varadero on Avenida Playa, which shows the best of Cuban cinema. In Matanzas, Cine Granma is also a good option. For bookworms, you are bound to find something of interest in the following: Santa Marta bookshop or José Smith Comas library in Varadero, Cultural bookshop and Pensamiento if you're in Matanzas.

Hotel Internacional offers an excellent show Mondays to Fridays, called Cabaret Continental, a colorful '50s extravaganza. Hotel Tropical gives you Disco Azúcar, which has an intimate and pleasant atmosphere. Hotel Tuxpan, with its disco La Bamba, is a favorite, a sophisticated nightclub that combines Latin and European rhythms.

When people visit Varadero, they frequently take advantage of the all-inclusive tourist packages offered by the hotel complexes. Here, food is served buffet-style, with an eye-popping variety of dishes and exotic cocktails. Many of these hotels offer their competitively-priced buffets to non-guests as well: a marvelous opportunity for any vacationer with a big appetite.

The buffet menus are designed for tourists, so much of what they offer can be found anywhere in the world. To enjoy traditional Cuban food you will have to visit the restaurants in Varadero and Matanzas, but if you can drag yourself away from the hotel compound, you will find the trip worth it.

Paladares, restaurants in private houses so popular in the rest of Cuba, are not permitted in Varadero. However, in Matanzas you will find legal paladares (literally "palates") with traditional mouth-watering creole fare that will have you forgetting the buffet table in no time. El Guajiro, on San Isidro Street, facing the Hospital Provincial, has an attentive owner and a menu that includes lechón asado (roast suckling pig), and masas de cerdo con vianda y mojo (deep-fried pork in batter, with root vegetables and a tomato, onion and garlic sauce). They also prepare traditional Cuban desserts such as the dulce de fruta bomba con queso (papaya in syrup with a slice of fresh white cheese). Prices are very reasonable, and service is superb. For lighter meals, you could try the Café Atenas, on the Plaza de la Vigía, which has a selection of pizzas, sandwiches and fried chicken at good prices. Hotel Louvre, on Milanés street, has an excellent restaurant with a wide ranging menu. In Cueva de Saturno, on the road to the airport, there is a good quality restaurant and bar.

In Varadero, Parque Josone has a variety of fast food joints which sell pizzas, fried chicken, hot dogs, beer and soft drinks, all at cheap prices. Among these are Pizza Nova and El Rápido, part of a Cuban fast food chain. On the Bulevar, you can go to Doñaneli bakery, which has a wonderful selection of cakes and pastries. La Terraza café, on Plaza América, is another good option.

For drinking, an obvious choice are the hotel bars. The Bar Las Américas, in the Meliá Hotel, is open 24 hours a day. For a more intimate atmosphere, go to the piano bar at Las Palmas del Meliá Varadero, from 6pm onwards. El Mojito at the Sol Club Palmeras has a pool bar which is open from 10am to 6pm, and offers a good choice of cocktails and spirits. The same hotel also has two beach bars, Sol Cubano, and the Bar Ron Coco. In Meliá Varadero, you will find Baracoa bar. If you prefer to have a light meal with your drink, go to Snack Bar El Golfito, at the Club Tropical, or the Aquabar at Meliá Las Américas, which never closes.

If you want to take in a show while you drink, try the Bar Show Tropicuba, at the Sol Club Palmeras. In Meliá Las Américas you will find Bar la Cascada. Both of these are open until two in the morning. You can catch a cabaret in the Continental, at the Hotel Internacional, or Jardines del Mediterráneo, on Avenida Primera, and a special show in Cueva del Pirata, every night at 9pm.

In Parque Josone, La Campana restaurant features succulent Cuban cuisine. El Bodegón Criollo, in Playa, is another good choice for regional food. La Vicaria restaurant is a favorite with Cubans and foreigners alike, as are La Guantanamera, in the Centro Internacional de Convenciones, and Casa del Chef, on Calle 12 and Avenida Primera.

For Chinese food, you can go to Lai-Lai, on Calle 18,Mi Casita, on the Bulevar, and Oshin in the Hotel Sol Club Palmeras. For seafood, try El Arrecife on Caminos de Mar and Calle 13, which offers a large and selection of grilled fish and seafood dishes. You can also check out La Marisquería in Kawama, Albacora in Playa, and Fuerteventura, in Hotel Meliá Varadero.

If you like fondues, you will like the Swiss and French specialties of Casa del Queso. Kiki's is popular because of its creole menu, and its terrace, which freshens up the atmosphere in the restaurant. Las Américas has wide ranging menus, and a bar Mansión Du Pont, where you can enjoy a cocktail on the terrace before eating your meal. El Mesón del Quijote, on the Las Américas road, has an international menu.

For a good plate of Italian pasta, go straight to Dante, in Parque Josone. O´Sole Mio, in Hotel Sol Club Palmeras, open from 11am to 11pm, also serves good Italian cuisine. On Avenida Primera, you will find Castel Nuovo restaurant.

Varadero

Province: Matanzas

Country: Cuba

Varadero by the Numbers
Population: 27,170
Elevation: 4 meters / 10 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 2.16 centimeters / .85 inches
Average January Temperature: 22°C / 72°F
Average July Temperature: 26°C / 79°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110/220 volts, 50 Hz; North American style flat two-prong plugs and European round two-pin plugs.

Time Zone: GMT -5

Country Dialing Code: +53

Area Code: 45

Did You Know?
The Hicacos Peninsula of Varadero is named after a local spiny cactus and is 21 kilometers (13 miles) long and less than a mile wide.

Varadero is the largest resort in the Caribbean.

Orientation
Varadero is Cuba's principal beach resort destination. It stretches out the entire length of the Hicacos Peninsula. The area is located 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of Havana and 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Matanzas.

The beaches of Varadero are stunning. That's why this place has been a popular resort area since the 1870s. The water is neon-blue and underneath is a coral reef teeming with fish. The sand is like sugar. The shore is flanked by thick mangrove and dotted with palms and brightly hued tropical flowers.

Located on a long, narrow peninsula, Varadero is home to 20 km of beach called Hicacos Peninsula, barely separated from the mainland by Laguna de Paso Malo. The peninsula wraps around a bay called the Bahía de Cárdenas.

Playa Mayor is the main beach. It is known as Cuba's finest – and rightly so. Most of the high-rise resorts are situated ocean-facing on this beautiful strip of beachfront property. One bridge over the lagoon is the only access to the Varadero beach area to the east. The town of Varadero is on the western part.

The 18 kilometer-long Varadero peninsula lies in the Hicacos region of Matanzas province and boasts the most famous beaches in Cuba. The luxurious stretches of blue Caribean water, with a temperature that holds steady at a pleasant 25 º Celsius year-round, have a long history of enticing visitors.

Long before the arrival of the Spanish, this land was inhabited by the Siboney Indians, a sub-group of the Cubacanán people. Hundreds of years ago, they decorated many of the caves in the region with drawings and geometrical designs. One site in particular, the San Ambrosio cave, can be visited today and continues to fascinate tourists, both Cuban and foreign. The arrival of black slaves left another equally vivid stamp on the area as the Africans used the same caves to perform their religious rites. The strong Spanish influence in Varadero is observed in everything from architecture to cuisine.

The Spanish began mining salt at Las Salinas in 1587 and the town of Matanzas was founded in 1693. The names, which means "Killings" in English, is said to refer to the massacre of local Indians by the conquistadors, although an alternative explanation attributes it to the killing of hundreds of Spaniards by marauding pirates. Despite the grim history, Matanzas, in its heyday, had a more benign reputation as the "Athens of Cuba", a great cultural center that drew many musicians, poets and writers to its fold. Still today, much artistic activity occurs here. A third title, "City of Bridges", owes to the city's many bridges crossing the two rivers, the Yumuri and San Juan, that cut through it.

The swimming in Varadero is excellent, and in the 19th century it was a popular destination for Havanans who would make the trip here in steam boat. Today, the beaches are surrounded by hotels that offer vacation packages for the whole family.

Getting around Varadero is easy. Taxis provide a convenient and inexpensive way of getting around. They are also all equipped with meters, so you won't need to barter on the price.

You will also find a double-decker open-top bus that runs on a regular schedule to and from Varadero hotels and the downtown area. An English speaking guide will accompany you on board, pointing out sites of interest. One-way fares and day passes are available. Should you wish travel on your own, car and scooter rentals are conveniently available in your hotel lobby.

Arrival

Upon arrival at Varadero Juan G. Gomez International Airport, proceed to the immigration area with your passport and completed tourist card. Once through, proceed to the baggage claim area to retrieve your luggage. You'll then exit the terminal through the sliding doors to meet your WestJet Vacations Representative wearing a baby-blue golf shirt and black pants or skirt. Be sure to have your transfer itinerary ready to present to them.

Your WestJet Vacations representative will provide you with a bus number. Once on board your bus, you will be welcomed by a Cubanacan guide who will hand you a helpful information pamphlet. Your WestJet Vacations representative will then give a brief speech on the bus welcoming you to Cuba and you'll be on your way to your hotel.

Departure

A bus will take you from your resort to the airport on the day of your departure. Please refer to the WestJet information binder in the lobby of your hotel two days prior to your departure date to obtain the pick-up time of your bus. Since the bus may make various stops, the pick-up time may vary by 15 minutes or so.

Insurance

As of May 1, 2010, all guests must have proof of health insurance to enter Cuba. When entering, guests may be required to present this proof of insurance.

Although your Canadian provincial health insurance card is accepted as sufficient documentation, your provincial health plan may only cover part of the costs – and as with health services to foreigners in many other parts of the world, you'll need to pay up front.

To ensure you're covered in case of sickness or emergency, it's recommended that you purchase supplemental health insurance. While you can purchase insurance from your insurer of choice, it's worth noting that policies issued by American insurance companies will not be recognized in Cuba.

Vaccinations

Be sure your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Malaria, typhoid and Tetanus are commonly recommended. Visit your local health clinic for additional information. It is also recommended to use mosquito repellant to protect yourself from mosquito transmitted diseases.

Electricity in Cuba is 220 volts, however most hotels are equipped with both 110 volt and 220 volt outlets. If you are bringing an electrical appliance, it is recommended that you verify prior to departure if a converter and/or adaptor is required.

Varadero is a destination where you can get your cake and eat it, too. The beaches are stunning and there are plenty of all-inclusive resorts. But here you can also get the magic and the mystique of Havana nearby. Where else can you smoke cigars and sip rum direct from the source?

If you want, stay on a chaise lounge and relax in the sunshine. But for those who choose to leave the resort, Varadero is well situated. There is easy access to the pulsing Afro-Cuban music scene of nearby Matanzas (45 minutes by car) as well as Havana (two hours by car). The very name Havana conjures romance and the city won't disappoint. It's incredibly beautiful, chaotic, demanding and unpredictable – every time you visit, the city will look just a little bit different.

You can even add a nature tour: head south two hours to the Caribbean's largest marshland, Ciénega de Zapata, for birding, fishing and of course, crocodiles.

You'll also find an abundance of Cuban culture in Varadero. Cuban music is everywhere: blaring from the open door of a shack in town, playing live at your resort, at a dinner cabaret or sidewalk café. And dance – namely, salsa and rumba – is equally as common. Luckily, you can feel free to dance the night away – no one seems to get up early at the resorts here.

Getting around Varadero is easy.

Once in Cuba, you can easily exchange your Canadian dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) at the airport or at your hotel.

Learn more

Upon arrival at Varadero Juan G. Gomez International Airport, proceed to the immigration area with your passport and completed tourist card.

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*Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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