Cuba’s history is turbulent and the various occupying forces have been the Spanish, the British, the US, and then Spain once again, until in 1902 the Republic of Cuba was created.
This area is favoured by the majority of visitors to Cuba probably because of its reputation as a “safe option”. Plenty of sun, sea, sand and water sports; the closest major resort to Havana. Lots of Italians, Spanish and Canadians.
Accommodation offers a frequently encountered mix of older properties in prime positions but past their sell-by date and newer smarter hotels farther from the centre: some, indeed, are positively isolated. Many are “all-inclusive”; others can’t make their minds up and offer both options. It is worth checking the tour operators’ brochures carefully with regard to “all-inclusive” promises, as “luxury” items such as motorised water sports and imported drinks are often excluded. More upscale resorts are cropping up towards the end of the peninsula. Generally, 3-star properties will be fairly basic, probably dated and well worn so may disappoint; 4-star is likely to be the minimum acceptable for most people other than real bargain hunters. Without fail, all hotels offer a full entertainments programme, day and night.
Varadero is situated on the N coast, 14 mls NE of its own international airport (20 mls NE of Matanzas, the provincial capital, 10 mls NW of Cardenas, the nearest town, 87 mls E of Havana and its international airport). Though commonly referred to as a peninsula, this is in fact a long, flat island, linked to the fairly flat agricultural mainland to the S by 2 bridges towards its W end. The Atlantic Ocean lies on the island’s N shore, and Cardenas Bay on its S shore.
Tempting though it would be not to leave the resort, there are several excursions that are available, including a visit to swim with dolphins. The Delfinario has several dolphin shows a day and the dolphins are kept in a natural setting, rather than a constructed theme park as found in similar attractions around the world.
Another must is the day trip to Havana. Havana is known for its vibrant atmosphere, street life, crumbling baroque architecture and the amazing classic cars that seem to keep going despite the odds. Old Havana has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982 and it’s the part of the city that tourists really want to see.
The Rumbos Tourism and Recreation Group runs a dolphin sea-quarium that is located 11 km of the Autopista del Sur (the highway connecting Matanzas city with Varadero) and which, in addition to three daily shows, offers the oppertunity of swimming with these graceful, harmless sea mammels. And the Gaviota Marina includes in some of it optional programs a visit to Rancho Cangrejo, on the bay of Cardenas, where the visitor can also enjoy a swim with dolphins.
So even though most hotels have party halls, piano bars, and excellent tourist animation programs, a cheerful, excited crowd can be seen filling the night places, something that the visitor is encouraged to also do.
In town, the small shopping centre opposite Cuatro Palmas Hotel is as good as it gets, with half a dozen shops and a bar. Out of town the overpriced Plaza las Americas centre between the Melia hotels is a little bigger, with a couple of European designer clothes boutiques and a supermarket stocked with foreign produce, but will not set shopoholics’ pulses racing. Other local shops may have the necessities but little else. Several tourist markets in town for T-shirts, handicrafts, hats and general tat. Cigars (see our comments in the Havana resort description) and rum are the things to buy.