If you are looking to vacation in Cuba, not travel, but vacation at a resort by a pristine pool or a white sand beach away from the locals, then the town of Varadero is the right destination for holiday-makers.
At the tip of the northern peninsula of Varadero, large luxurious resorts line the coastline facing the Caribbean sea. Most of the beach is only accessible if you are a guest of the resort.
The stretch of sandy beaches are 21 km in length, and is brilliantly white with aquamarine water, which are the enticing features for many vacationers who decide to pack their bags for Cuba.
Varadero’s thin peninsula across the ocean from Florida can be walked up and down on a single main road with shops and restaurants on either side, before leading into the resort area.
During our short stay in January, the coastline was incredibly windy and chilly. Tall palm trees swayed violently from the rough winds of the sea, and sand crept everywhere, sliding along the tarmac road like moving shadows. Despite the unexpected cold weather many visitors walked the streets to peruse through the shops and art galleries, enjoy the nightlife, and dine at the many Cuban restaurants.
Due to the weather we were not able to swim at the beach until our last day in the town when the weather transformed into a warm and sunny day. We had only about 10 minutes before catching our Viazul bus back to Havana, so we undressed by some trees at the beach, and jumped into the warm water.
Although the town is made for visitors and not as many locals live here compared to the rest of Cuba, there are still activities which offer a slice of Cuban soul.
Before Varadero became a Tourist Town
Archaeologists discovered that in the early days of the town indigenous agro-pottery makers inhabited the peninsula. Centuries later, during the 16th century, the Hicacos Port of the peninsula was used as a “dry dock” for ships that needed repair. The site was also a major area for the salt industry. In the late 16th century it is believed that the first ever salt extraction plant was based in Varadero, called the Salina La Calavera.
Many wealthy and famous people during the early 20th century were drawn to the unspoiled beaches and seductive blue waters. Mansions and beach vacation homes were built on the peninsula to escape into paradise. When the revolution gripped the nation, the government turned most of those private homes into public spaces for the people, such as galleries and museums.
A two-leveled, red Hop-on and Hop-off tour bus transports tourists from below the peninsula to La Punta. At 3 CUC you can hop on and off the bus the whole day, including changing directions. We hopped on the bus from our casa particular south of the peninsula, taking a seat on the second level where the wind slapped our faces as the bus journeyed down the road.
After leaving the main town area of Varadero, all you see are long treeless streets with hotel developments one after another. It is an entire uneventful stretch of road. We hopped off at the last stop, at the tip of the peninsula, and walked back to find a way onto the beach. Although most of the beach area is blocked off by hotels, we managed to find one specific area for public visitors.
We walked along the beach as the waves roared from the wind and sand flew at our faces. After the short walk we made our way to a nature reserve.
Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos
A protected nature reserve, the Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos is an interesting destination if you want to find out more about the flora and fauna of the region, and its indigenous past. The entrance fee is about 5 CUC per person, and takes around an hour to walk the entire trail. The man at the kiosk managing entry, who was from Matanzas, was thrilled to hear we were from Canada, and quizzed us on what B.C. was known for – being beautiful!
The pathway between the dense foliage of the reserve is called the Muslims Trail. By the middle of the 19th century, Cuban smugglers who were named “Muslims” (unsure as to the reason behind the naming), would hide along these trails.
The first inhabitants in the area were discovered in 1985 when archaeologists uncovered an aboriginal burial ground approximately 2000 years old in the Cueva de Musulmanes. It contained ornaments and utensils used for fishing, gathering and hunting. The former inhabitants are called Siboneyes, now an extinct race.
Additionally, pre-columbian drawings can be found in the Cueva de Ambrosio, the largest collection of indigenous drawings in the Caribbean. More than just a historical site, Cueva de Ambrosio was used as a hiding place for escaped slaves during the colonial era. The caves in the area are now home to numerous bats.
Along the trail among the wooded area you can find many termite homes, cactuses which are hundreds of years old, and Ficus tree roots new to Cuba. These plant roots strangle trees that grow near them, and the leaves of the Ficus are so thick that they prevent the sun from reaching the trees below it.
As you walk along the trail you will notice water carved stones. These stones are made of sand and salt of which the soluble salt is dissolved by rain water, leaving behind the more solid rock formation. This creates holes in the rock which make them jagged, but provide refuge for small critters such as crabs and snakes.
In the middle of the peninsula within the main town of Varadero, near the unremarkable but popular Beatles Bar, there is a serene park visited by thousands of tourists. Built in 1940, the Josone Park has a beautiful green lake underneath an arched bridge where you can rent a boat, with a mini-golf course nearby. A couple of restaurants sit near the lake, including a gazebo with a bar. Beyond the lake are old buildings, more restaurant cafes, and a small underwhelming amusement park.
Regardless of the fact that we didn’t get to enjoy the beautiful beaches as much, we had a great time learning more about the indigenous past of the island. Including, enjoying traditional Cuban music and dancing during the evenings in the many bars lining the peninsula.
One of the more interesting features of Varadero nightlife we saw was a bar serving beer in tall cylindrical tubes. The Factoria Varadero 43 Cerveceria, south of the peninsula, serves beer in dispensers of 2L, 3L, and 5L. The beer is not of exceptional high quality, but if you are looking to enjoy cheap craft beer instead of the typical Bucanero or Cristal which Cuban restaurants serve, then this is a great alternative.
Have you been to Varadero? Did you find the destination worth going to or is it best to skip the resort town for a more Cuban experience in other cities? Let us know!
Copyright © Beyond Here 2020
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