The Magical Beaches of Varadero
Varadero is nothing short of a tourist's dream. It offers the most beautiful beach I have ever seen, caves to swim in, street parties and dance clubs open all hours of the night! It is a main tourist destination in Cuba and offers numerous all inclusive resorts and casa particulars.
The 30 CUC ride to Varadero was an interesting one. They squished 9 people total into the old taxi collectivo which also had a small TV playing blaring music videos of Reggaetone, the Latin American dance music the whole ride. We drove through a storm consisting of a torrential downpour and they only had one handle to roll up and down the windows so we all passed it around when the storm came and went. It was hilarious! Soon after, we got pulled over by the cops and all our passports got checked, but they let us go on our merry way after giving the driver some trouble.
They stopped halfway and switched us into a 1957 red Cadillac hatchback, added four more people to our car and strapped all our bags on the top. Thankfully I got to sit up front in between the two locals. There were three pedals the driver had to use, a massive steering wheel, windows that had to be held open to get airflow and a gear shift in between my legs. We were blasting music the whole time which kept me entertained. "Boom Boom Boom Boom, I want you in my room" came on and all us up front danced to the beat. The drive to Varadero took six hours total and the last two hours were the most beautiful, through the hills of Mantanzas and into the open water of the Varadero Peninsula. Six hours was a long time to be in the front squished between two locals, but I am sure it was worse in the back.
I walked to Casa de Musica to find internet and thankfully found my two friends. After a few beers we decided to start our hunt for a casa to stay in. We knocked on fifteen different doors, but they were all full. Suddenly our luck hit when I asked a guy on the Main Street and he mentioned he had a friend with a home for us. He walked us one street over and introduced us to Niky, a very sweet old Cuban/Italian. His house was huge and we had our own apartment with a kitchen, living room and a big bedroom with three beds costing us 10 CUC per night each. This accommodation is listed on booking.com and airbnb.com as well if you wanted to book before you go!
We found a restaurant across the street called Los Caneyes. Beware: If you are vegetarian or vegan most of the the beans in Cuba are cooked with meat, so I recommend sticking with the plain white rice to save yourself the trouble. We ventured down to the beach after the restaurant and hopped in the water for sunset where we watched a traditional Cuban wedding with all the typical wedding songs. The sky in Varadero is marvelous and the water was even better. The moon was full and offered a brilliant contrast between the palm trees and the blue sky speckled with pink clouds. I knew I was going to like this place!
That night we were going to have a low key night, but then a couple local buses pulled up full of beautiful Cubans as we were sat outside Casa de Musica enjoying a few beers. Apparently tonight was the night for Casa de Musica so we decided to join the locals for some fun. After a couple beers, a coffee and two Cuba Libres we were ready for some dancing. It was a very entertaining place. It was 10 CUC to get in for tourists and 2 CUC for locals. It had a wrap around balcony overlooking the dance floor and all the seating below. There was a wannabe rapper who was trying to sing the English songs that were playing which offered entertainment through out the night. It was hilarious! The locals were dressed in clothing that reminded me of ghetto high school fashion like the brands Ekco and Baby Phat. The men sporting capris and long tight tshirts most in camoflauge print with zippers on the sides and the women in tight short dresses and stilettos. I recommend buying a bottle of rum for 15 CUC instead of a drink for 3 CUC each. We danced our faces off until the club closed at 4AM!
I got up early the next day and walked to the bank and bus station. Every time I go into a bank in Cuba they let me skip the whole line which at the time was about 30 people. Afterwards, I easily got a bus ticket for 20 CUC to Trinidad in two days which is much cheaper than buying it online. A few minutes later my mind was blown when I walked onto the beach. The water reminded me of Lake Mackenzie in Australia, but a much better version as it was crystal clear and a beautiful shade of bright turquoise fading into darker blue as the depth increased. The trees lined the Beach Ave and the clouds made for wonderful shade at times, changing the color of the water as they passed overhead. We went to La Bodeguita Del Medio for lunch where there was a live Cuban band that serenaded us while we ate fried plantains. The walls were covered in writing and signatures of fellow locals and travelers coming through. We headed to the beach after and waded in the beautiful water for hours on end.
A local, Xavier that we met the night before found us on the street walking and took us to CafeBar on Calle 55. He bought me a chocolate shake before we headed to a Panemerica window on Calle 43 for a 4 CUC bottle of rum. These Panemerica windows are the closest thing you'll get to a super market and they are very cheap. We drank some rum at Parque Josone which was beautiful at night before venturing to Calle 62 to dance in the street with Cuban locals! After the street party dwindled down we headed to Havana Club. It was 10 CUC to get in and man, was it a party! Somehow Xavier snuck my rum in so I saved a bit of money that night. It was another night of dancing until 5am with a bus scheduled to leave at 7am! The ride to Trinidad should be fun.... NOT.
The thing I love most about Varadero is you get to hang out on the beach all day and you have the option to dance all night with the locals if you want. To say the least I didn't get much sleep in the three nights I was in Varadero, but I enjoyed my time there immensely. Make sure to hit Cueva Saturno on your way back to Havana!
Things to do:
- BEACH - the most beautiful beach I have ever seen!
- Cueva Saturno - visit when entering or leaving Varadero as it is 11km away on the way to Havana. It is a beautiful cave you can swim in. 5 CUC entry.
- Calle 62 - nightly street party with dancers, singers, performers in costumes, drinks and food!
- Havana Club - night club at the end of Calle 62. Everyone ventures here after the street party! Fun night full of dancing. 10 CUC entry.
- Casa de Musica - If you want a true local night out venture to Casa de Musica for dancing and a show! 10 CUC entry. Many locals use this point for WIFI throughout the day.
- End of Calle 60 - A club with 10 CUC entry and open bar! There was a comedy show when we went which was interesting.
- Beatles Bar - Watch a cover band perform a bunch of American songs and the tourists rocking out to the beat!
What to eat:
- La Rampa - Best food we had in Varadero! Delicious lobster & amazing service. Calle 43
- Los Cayenes - Local cuban cuisine and American dishes on Beach Ave. Calle 40
- La Vicaria - Local Cuban cuisine on Beach Ave. Calle 38
- CafeBar - Small bites & ice cream. Calle 55
- Calle 62 - If you are a meat eater and enjoy BBQ, my friends loved this place!
Where to stay:
- Barcelo Solymar & Barcelo Arenas Blancas - All inclusive resorts running as low as 75 CUC per night
- Booking.com or Airbnb are great alternatives to the all inclusive resorts if you are on a budget. Book before you go if you are visiting Cuba in high season because Varadero does book up!
- Knock on doors with the blue anchors once you get there!
Do yourself a favor & go to Varadero, you will not be disappointed.