“Playa Azul”, “One of the largest resorts in the Caribbean”
Leaving behind Havana where we’ve spent the first 5 days in the country visiting such a vibrant capital city and some excursions that we did nearby, it’s time for an in-between well deserved winter rest by the Caribbean. Sun, beach, pools and a fabulous all-inclusive resort in Varadero for the next 5 days. Yet I have to correct myself that after all, it was 4 days enjoying doing nothing, and a 5th super busy from the very early wake up call to the late at night return to the resort in a full day excursion to some of the most fascinating and historical cities in Cuba: Trinidad and Cienfuegos. And well, sun and beach did I say? I shall correct that. This time of the year it is also “winter” in Cuba, and while the chances of still having the wonderful 30 degrees and sun are truly high, was not in our luck. The horrible winter storms coming down from Canada and the USA were heavily affecting the Caribbean countries too, so we got half of the days pretty awful, the other half great though.
Varadero at the end of the day is just that, the great warm water beaches and the resorts therefore not much complications in here, and a little bit of history anyway. It’s a long and narrow strip where at the very east is the Punta Hicacos, the northernmost point in the island of Cuba, and while anyone might think of Varadero as just resorts, that’s not entire true. There is a large natural reserve, the Hicacos Point Natural Park home to dozens of birds and reptiles, and the remains of one of the very first salt mines ever constructed by the Spanish in the New World, known as La Calavera which provided salt to all the galleons in Latin America back then. On top of course, in the resorts and in between them, nice gardens and lush vegetation complements the area in a very similar way that is Cancun, for those who’ve been there then you will see the resemblance.
Now being honest with you, yes, we did enjoy this place a lot. Yes we would recommend to anyone for sure, however our initial idea was not for coming here but instead to Cayo Coco or Cayo Guillermo as our preferred choice. It was very sad and unfortunate the Hurricane Irma in September 2017 devastated most of such paradisaical cays, destroying hotels, the airports, the beach, the infrastructures…just everything. It was a bit risky to get there still at few months after the disaster since most of the places were still under restoration. The only unaffected beach destination to consider was Varadero. A domino effect in the bad luck because, where else would the other thousands of tourists can go? Of course, Varadero. We paid the “unnecessary” premium because of the huge demand.
For more information about Varadero check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. And for everything important regarding Cuba such as visa requirements, currency and WiFi access, I would strongly recommend you to check the main post for Cuba, Havana, where everything is well listed and explained.
What to see and do in Varadero:
Not really much as mentioned in the brief description. This is merely a resort place to rest and enjoy the beach, the pools, the nightlife.
- Varadero Viejo The older part of the town, at the west of the strip just a bit farther beyond from the airport. The main bus station is here.
- Playa Varadero The beach aligning the old town at the southwest.
- Xanadu Mansion Also known as the Dupont House, a colonial style impressive construction from both the outside and inside, overlooking Playa Las Americas.
- Playa Las Americas Small beach after the main Golf Club and the Xanadu Mansion marking the western end.
- Hicacos Peninsula Towards the north-eastern end of Varadero, still aligned with many huge resorts at the north, and the Ecological Reserve at the south.
The fastest and most direct way to reach Varadero is without doubt flying there. Here you will find the second busiest airport in the country, and where most of the charter airlines fly into Cuba. From the airport the only possible transport is taking a bus operator or taxi for around 25 to 30 CUC to your hotel along the strip.
Other very comfortable and pretty fast way if you are already in Cuba, say in Havana or Matanzas, would be by bus. The Via Azul company offers 3 times per day between both Havana and Varadero taking approximately 3 hours for 10 CUC per way. Other bus companies are also available in Cuba, however most of these are forbidden for tourists, yet some can be booked once in Cuba for example at the Cubanacan tour operator (the same that run the hotels of the same name). To book your bus tickets remember to do so at least within 2 weeks before the date, any earlier it’s not possible in the website, and any later the seats might sell out. The Via Azul website is very easy and straightforward, therefore do not risk it by going to the bus station to try your luck. It’s a mess like no other, and the chances you won’t manage a ticket are almost guaranteed. Book them at their official website.
The Via Azul bus terminal in Varadero is in the old town, where taxis connect you to the hotel strip. Depending on the distance, they have price break-points. From 5 to 30 CUC. It is 20 CUC to the Melia Las Antillas which is the break-point, the next hotel, literally meters away from the Melia is the Blau Varadero, where the taxi fare is 25 CUC. If that is your hotel, ask to get off in the Melia instead and save 5 extra CUCs, it is not even 3 minutes walk from hotel to hotel along the same street!.
Once in Varadero, and because you are highly likely to be staying at a resort, there is no further need for taking any transport anyway unless you want to see other parts of the strip or going to some of the shopping malls and if you are doing day excursions using Varadero as your base. Otherwise, why would anyone come in the first instance here if you are not going to be around? It’s great to know there are many places you can go while still enjoying most of your time at a nice resort. Speak to the tour agents within your hotel for such trips, or book it ahead over the internet as we did for example using an entire day trip to visit Trinidad and Cienfuegos. The best tour operator for this trip is Cuba Travel Network with the best prices and service.
For local distances such as other resorts and malls, and between these and Varadero city the best way is to get on the tourist double decker bus for 5 CUC for a full day ticket, ride any time as much as you like.
While it is true the hotel choice is quite huge, it is also unfortunate any 4* or 5* resort property with nice facilities will set your costs dramatically high. Also a bit more complicated is which website to search for your hotel, since most of the american search engines do not have Cuba on offer (yeah the embargo…). So while I would normally recommend you to check some of our preferred sites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, Hotels Click, LateRooms or Ebookers; in Cuba it does not really work too good. Most of these sites will not offer any results in Cuba. Try the respective European sites instead if needed be, and run a search in Trivago and continue from the results there. A good site I was transferred with the best deals including a complimentary transfer from the airport to the hotel (only if international flights, not domestic) is Gala Hotels. We never used it before, but it turned out to be our salvation for the main bases we had in Cuba: Havana, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba; plus they offer you a 3% cashback of your total booking cost to use on future bookings.
We stayed at the Melia Las Antillas, in Autopista Sur, Carretera Las Morlas, km 14. To resume, this is towards the northeastern of Varadero’s strip, right by the beachfront. One of the top resorts and also one of the largest. The facilities were great and beautiful, with big landscaped lakes and pools in between greenery and nice decoration. The rooms in the other hand, a bit dated, could do with a better cleaning and better care altogether, but considering the horrible reviews even at the top 5* resorts, this is something you must bear in mind before coming not just to Varadero but anywhere in Cuba. The standards are lower, and one cannot simply expect all to be fine and work good. Cuba is still suffering the consequences of so many years of isolation after the Revolution, and the USA embargo does not help either. Every staff member was super friendly and professional; the restaurant choice very lager with huge options at any time of the day, even at night, and so the plenty of bars serving any drink.
It is totally recommended. We had a great holiday time and enjoyed the pools and beach as if there’s no tomorrow. People was nice to us, and had everything possible we could with our all-inclusive wrist band so yes, we did not miss anything therefore a great overall experience.