A trip to Cuba is like nothing you have ever experienced. It's a land stuck in time and a culture full of warmth. Many travelers chose to travel to Havana, the capital of Cuba, for their first trip. I insist that you add a trip to Varadero - a day trip or a couple of nights. You won't regret it.
Where is Varadero?
Varadero (pronunced Bar-ah-dare-oh) is a resort town in the province of Matanzas, Cuba. It is 145 kilometers from Havana, the capital of Cuba.
Why go to Varadero while in Cuba?
Like I stated above, Varadero is a popular resort town in Cuba, and is actually one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean. The beach stretches for 22 km and the water is some of the bluest in the world.
Varadero is consistently ranked one of the best beaches in the world and, in my opinion, a much better beach option than those surrounding Havana.
Are there direct flights to Varadero?
Yes. Direct flights fly mostly from European countries and surrounding Caribbean islands to Juan Gualberto Gomez Airport - the airport serving Varadero. A taxi from the airport to the town is only about 10 km and should cost around 25-30CUC. You can haggle the fare to maybe 20CUC, but not much less.
How to get from Havana Airport to Varadero
When I went to Cuba in 2017 we landed at the Havana Airport and simply walked outside to negotiate a taxi to Varadero. We had read online that private taxis are between 90-140 CUC. We immediately got an offer for 100, so we took it without haggling.
Remember that the CUC (tourist money) is attached to the US dollar. 1 CUC = 1 USD
There are other ways to get to Varadero from Havana...
- A popular one is taking a Viazul Bus from Havana center to Varadero. There are 3 buses daily.
- You can also approach tour buses traveling with large groups. Many will let you hitch a ride for some cash. This approach is best used if you have can negotiate in Spanish.
Read on: Travel Guide for Havana Cuba
How to Get Around Varadero
- Taxi: All hotels will have a taxi stand. Fares are either metered or set by distance.
- Tourist Bus: A double-decker open-on-top bus that runs on a regular schedule from the tip of the peninsula (by the Blau Marina Hotel and Princessa del Mar) all the way into the town of Varadero.
- Cost: 5CUC gets you an unlimited day pass.
- It makes frequent stops including: International Centre (shopping mall with about 100 stores, and restaurants), the open-air marketplace, and most major hotels.
- Look for the blue sign-posts. These will mark the stops, and also give you information on routing, and schedules.
- Mopeds: You can find rental places throughout town.
- Cost is: 9CUC for one hour, 12CUC for two hours or 20CUC for twenty four hours.
- You'll need: a drivers licence (but I've heard even a learners permit works).
- Personal experience: We tried to hire one mid-day and were told it was not possible - I'm not sure why since there were so many in the lot. I think going at the beginning of the day to rent one would be fine.
- Coco Taxi: motorized tiny cars with a round enclosure - think of a car-sized orange. You can hire them for the day, or simple point-to-point travel.
- Horses: There are also horse-drawn caleches (carriages) available for hire.
Things to do in Varadero
Varadero Cuba is a place to relax and enjoy the slower way of life. One of the most popular things to do is of course simply lay on the beach. Varadero also has some amazing restaurants (full list here) and some local places that are extremely cheap.
There are a couple of things you shouldn't miss in Varadero:
- Parque Josone: A park in the middle of Varadero filled with birds, vendors, music and camel rides for the kids. Located at the center of town you will most likely drive or walk past it. 1st Avenue and 56th street.
- Tropicana Matanzas: The newest Tropicana - the most famous cabaret of Cuba. It's a full scale production with Cuban dance, music and history in dazzling costumes and lighting effects. The show is around 4-5 hours and costs 49CUC.
- Delfinario: A dolphin show that also includes an option to actually swim with the dolphins. Only 15CUC for the show and 85CUC for the show + swim.
- Bellamar Caves: One of the oldest tourist attraction in Cuba it has been open to visitors since the 1860's. Many steps and quite warm, you should be in moderate physical condition to visit.
- Scuba Dive Bay of Pigs: You can Scuba many areas along the coast but the Bay of Pigs is quite spectacular. I have a full guide to booking a Bay of Pigs Scuba Dive here.
Money tips for Varadero
- Prices are set in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC).
- You can pay for things directly in Euros in some major resorts and beaches but it is best to convert your money. Places that may take Euros include:
- Cayo Largo del Sur
- Jardines del Rey (Coco and Guillermo Keys)
- Santa Lucía Beach
- Covarrubias Beach
- Holguín province
- Credit Cards (except those issued by US banks) can be used in most Varadaro shops. Again though, keep CUC's on you.
- Markets will only take CUC
I suggest reading up on all my posts regarding using money in Cuba - especially if you are American.
Where to Stay in Varadero Cuba
- Most hotel packages are "all-inclusive", especially those further up the peninsula. North American tourists make up the majority of the visitors here.
- If you don't want to go the all-inclusive route I would stay at a Casa Particular. I booked mine on Airbnb.
What to eat and drink in Varadero Cuba
- In the town of Varadero, there is everything from open-air marketplace-type food stalls to the local version of fast food.
- Many restaurants serve sit-down dinners and lunches.
- Chicken, pork and fish are the most frequent items, but beef is not hard to find. Menus are usually posted outside.
- Look for Menu del dia or Plato del dia for the cheapest option. It is usually a filling meal consisting of a meat, rice and beans, and salad.
- Must Drink: The Mojito! It is Cuba's signature drink. You'll find it made with freshly crushed mint, lime juice and white rum. Try it with Havana Club Rum. La Bodeguita del Medio claims to be the birthplace of the Mojito and I can attest that it was delicious there.
- Also try a Cuba Libre, a combination of rum, cola and lime juice. It sounds boring and typical but it is somehow amazing in Cuba.
- Cheapest drink in Cuba: Cristal beer... it can usually be found for a dollar a can. It is a light pilsner.
Final Thoughts on Cuba
Even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
Also, a super common question I get asked constantly is what camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D3300 and I mostly use this wide angle lens made by Sigma. It's awesome for travel photography - I am seriously obsessed with it.