If you dare to travel to Cuba and you want to rest in what is considered one of the best beaches in Cuba and the Caribbean, Varadero it can be an exceptional destination to visit during your vacation.
Lying under a palm tree and relaxing drinking mojitos, while you contemplate the sun falling on the beautiful Caribbean sea, on 21km of white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters does not sound bad at all, right? Especially after the year of the Covid-19…
Varadero is of course the most famous beach in Cuba. But ... have you heard that it is a very tourist destination? That all-inclusive hotels are of low quality?
From our travel agency specializing in trips to Cuba, we are going to give our opinion with many years of experience touring the beaches of Cuba, with its pros and cons.
Why choose Varadero?
The pros of the most famous beach in Cuba
Actually, if we start to list them, there are many more pros than cons.
1 Its proximity to Havana
If you are looking for a beach close to Havana, Varadero is located in Hicacos Peninsula, province of Matanzas, just 145 km from the capital of Havana. You can get there in under 2 hours by car, which makes it a very comfortable and desirable destination.
This is an advantage for example for those routes where you want to rest the last night on a beach and go directly to the airport; or for trips of a few days where you do not have the time to travel to another cay or beach in Cuba.
In a route of 7 days in Cuba this destination fits perfectly.
It is also an advantage for those tighter budgets, because you can access from Havana to Varadero even by bus for a very low cost and once there you have quite a few low-priced resorts to choose from.
2 Its magnificent beaches
It is not by chance that Varadero is always listed in the top 25 beaches worldwide in TripAdvisor Travelers Choice Awards. Specifically, in 2020, travelers ranked it in the 9th position and in 2019 in the 2nd.
Varadero's beaches are really very good, and if you think of a typical Caribbean beach, you won't be disappointed.
We have our selection of best beaches in Cubawe like even more than Varadero, but unfortunately, they cannot be included in all travel itineraries or budgets.
3 Its excellent location
If getting to Varadero is easy from Havana, from there you can also access other very interesting points of Cuban geography.
Less than 4 hours by car from Varadero you have essential colonial cities such as Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara and places of nature such as the Ciénaga del Zapata National Park.
There are travelers who take their accommodation in Varadero and if one day they get tired of the beach they sign up for a round trip excursion.
However, we prefer to include Varadero as a 2-3 day stop, in a 10 days route around Cuba, to be able to relax and enjoy it calmly, and combine it later with cities such as Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad, and even with Viñales and Santa Clara.
4 Adventure tours in the area
If you are adventurous and do not feel like lying in the sun all day, there are highly recommended excursions from Varadero.
In the way Habana-Varadero we suggest you make a stop at the Abra de Canasí, a natural paradise where a river, mogotes (small hills), caves, local fauna and flora are offered to the traveler in all their splendor.
A fun excursion from there can be a jeep safari to Yurumí Valley.. From there, you will go to the Canímar River Valley, located only 27 kilometers from Varadero. You will enjoy a ride in a speedboat, kayak or boat, along the 11km of these tropical forests of rich flora and fauna.
We also suggest visiting Saturno Cave and swimming in its cold underground waters.
Another excursion in a little-explored area that we love takes us to the fishing village of Bacunayaguawhere you can enjoy the excellent views of the Yumurí valley, take a horseback ride to Playa del Muerto, snorkel in the Cueva de la Morena and take a kayak ride along the river Bacunayagua.
And if you are passionate about bird watching, you also can visit Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco. There you can take a bird watching nature tour in the region with the greatest diversity of birds in Cuba.
If you are more into discovering charming villages, near Varadero you will find Santa Marta and Boca de Camarioca, where you will be able to talk to fishermen, and where life is simple and quiet.
5 Nautical activities in Varadero
In addition to a beautiful sea, in Varadero you can enjoy nautical activities such as snorkeling, catamaran rides and diving.
There is a very attractive excursion that we recommend that is the cruise to Cayo Blanco, a small island 1km long by 200m wide, which gets its name from the white color of its sand and where its virgin beach and rounded hills are worth admiring.
The catamaran ride is very pleasant making the most of the delicious sun and sea breeze that this area offers, and in addition to snorkeling you can take an interactive bath with dolphins.
6 Enjoy the town of Varadero and its culture
All-inclusive resort hotels have the disadvantage for many travelers that you stop contacting the locals, since it is normal that you do not leave the hotel and miss enjoying one of the best things that Cuba has, its people.
You pass on going out not only because you have everything included in the hotel, but because the common thing, for all the good beaches and cays of the north of Cuba, is to be far away from urban centers.
However, that does not happen on Varadero beach, because you have the town of Varadero itself just 10km away.
The town may not be an architectural gem, but it is always an experience to be able to feel the joy of its people and its culture in its most varied expressions.
NIght life: some of the best places to go in this town are: La Casa de la Música de Varadero, with live concerts by Cuban musicians and orchestras, where dances and shows by Calle 62,are a must; all-nighters in clubs like La Rumba or La Comparsita; or the music of the 60s in The Beatles, Bar an open air restaurant - bar.
Gastronomy: Eating in one of the best paladares in town is a very interesting experience that you cannot miss in Varadero.
The Creole seasoning of the dishes served in private establishments is unmatched: grilled lobster, with secret sauces based on tropical fruits, crab masses, fresh fish.
7 Play golf at the Xanadú Mansion
The Varadero Golf Club is a small 18-hole golf course, which is synonymous with class and distinction, located in the distinguished and iconic hotel Mansión Xanadú, also known as the Dupont Family Home.
It is a small and refined hotel with 8 rooms - something rare in Varadero where all its hotels are quite large resorts - with a majestic building from the 30s that has been recently restored.
It is really worth visiting, whether it is to play golf or to enjoy the magnificent panoramic views of the bar or its restaurant.
If you stay there, you will find very elegant rooms. The least convincing thing is that the beach you access from the hotel is not very good, although we assure you that the sea is the same wonderful turquoise ocean and the place is imposing. Well worth a visit.
8 Stay in a private house
There are travelers who flee from all-inclusive hotels, but in fact, in practically all the beaches in the north of Cuba, if you want to be in front of the sea you have to stay in a resort or stay in a private house quite far away.
In Varadero however it is different, as here you have the option of staying in private houses a few meters from the sea, which is an advantage both in price (since the rates of the all-inclusive resorts are always high) and in local contact, if what prefer to blend in with Cubans.
We cannot affirm that the private houses of Varadero are small boutique hotels, since the reality is that they are simple houses, but we can affirm that you will have all the comfort at affordable prices.
In CubaUnique we have a fine selection of private houses (or private inns) all around the Island.
9 Good hotel facilities
Varadero, due to its size, has a large number of all-inclusive hotel facilities where you can stay.
Although the reality is that many of them do not meet, in our opinion, quality standards comparable to their "star" calification, it is true that we have identified many hotels that are recently renovated or opened and offer excellent value for money.
An example? Well, we like Hotel Meliá Internacional de Varadero or the Royalton Hicacos or also the Bella Vista Varadero.
And in this year 2021, several facilities are expected to be inaugurated, so the offer will improve.
So what are the cons of Varadero?
Well, if you ask us, we will honestly tell you that in reality there is not much that can be argued against Varadero, but we can also show you another side of the coin:
1 Most crowded beaches
Varadero is really a more touristy area due to its proximity to Havana, there is no doubt about this, or perhaps also due to the amount of hotel facilities that exist in the peninsula, and due to its own extension.
However, we do not believe that this should be coinsider mass tourism. The thing is that hotels are concentrated in some beach areas, they offer hundreds of rooms, and this obviously attracts more people.
The important thing in our opinion is knowing how to choose the hotel. Well, even in high tourist season there are areas of the beach where you will find a lot of peace, and where you will be practically alone.
2 Large, less-intimate resort hotels
The beach hotels in practically the entire Cuban geography are large resorts, some even need a stroller to get from the hotel to the beach.
A resort does not have to mean that you do not have your privacy, since many of them have more exclusive areas within the same hotel where you access privileges that we say are not for all guests. You know, you pay more and you have your perks.
It is difficult to find small charming hotels on intimate beaches in Cuba, although like everything else, you have to know how to look for them. But the reality is that in Varadero at the moment they don't even exist.
If you want a smaller hotel, you have the Xanadú Mansion, but it is not a proper resort. Good news! The Hotel Mystique Casa Perla, which will be something unique for its exclusivity and its dimensions with only 10 rooms. We are looking forward to discovering it.
Our last confession
We have to confess in case you had not realized that we like Varadero, we do like it, even if it is more touristy!
We also have to confess that one of our favorite places for facilities, services, and for being one of the northern cays closer to Havana is Cayo Santa María.
It lies 5 hours by car from Havana, but there is also an internal flight.
In Cayo Santa María there is a small 5-star hotel that we are passionate about, with 3 beaches, one of them almost private, only for adults, ideal for honeymoons in Cuba, but we will not discover this today ...
We also have to confess that if you are looking for a unique beach, one of those endless unspoilt beaches you can see on postcards, there are no others like those of Cayo Largo, a small island in the south of Cuba. You will have to take an internal flight from Havana and here hotels no not meet all the comfort standards, you choose what you give priority to.
Best choice? Actually all the beaches in Cuba are very good, so it's easy to get it right, they are Caribbean beaches! In any case, each route is different, and so is each traveler, so it is best that you let us advise you to design your customized travel circuit to Cuba.
So, if you are thinking of organizing a trip to Cuba, either for travel as a family , with your group of friends or with your classmates , with your partner or even in honeymoon , on your own or in one of our tailor-made trips , be sure to follow our recommendations for travel to Cuba without complications and to know the evolution of the Covid-19 situation in Cuba.
We suggest some of our most popular organized tours , and, if it is not what you were looking for, we will design your personalized trip, and above all, we suggest that you follow our tips to live the authentic Cuban culture and discover the best beaches in Cuba.
Article written by Gabriela Rodríguez, independent Cuban guide.
Video produced and edited by Javier Ernesto Hernández-López.