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Varadero is an odd place - it is a beach resort located on the Caribbean island of Cuba, but in many ways it is the complete opposite of everything that encompasses the true essence of Cuba. It is nothing more than a tourist cocoon where people go to soak up the sun and lap up the tropical beach.
I visited Varadero is May 2009, I chose the resort as a base to explore the island. However when I left the confines of this man-made tourist trap, I realised what it lacked - character and vibrancy.
The resort is set on a fantastic area of beach and most holiday providers have hotels that you can stay at within the region.
It takes around twenty minutes to walk the length and breast of the resort and you can catch a bus that you can hop on and off for a flat rate fee. However, other than a small market, a few hotel bars and a golf club there isn't much on offer. Most of the hotels in this area cater on an all-inclusive basis so you won't find many independent restaurants.
You can stay in hotels that range between three and five stars - like anywhere else you get what you pay for. So if you pay three star prices, expect a three star hotel and level of service.
Most hotels are located on the beach, which is out of this world - the sand is white and the sea is crystal clear blue. I also found that the sunsets in the evening were magical.
Most local workers catch a bus into the resort and go to work within the hotels. Varadero is in the province of Matanzas and close by there are lots of very poor villages. My mum and I toured the local farm land on a jeep safari and we saw first-hand how the area had been wrecked by a hurricane years before and how sugar cane factories and infrastructure had never been repaired.
In Cuba every person gets paid the same wage regardless of what job they have - this means that teachers, bar staff, doctors and cleaners all receive the same monthly wage - which is a miniscule amount - around £20 per month. However Cuban people know that if they work in a hotel or a bar then they are likely to earn tips, so many take jobs in the resort of Varadero in the hope of earning a little extra.
At sunset my mum and I often walked down the beach and past Cuban people who would be blind drunk, swigging Havana rum from the bottle. A couple of men occasionally shouted over to us, but nobody approached, we didn't feel unsafe and the travel representative assured us that the resort was very safe. Cuban people are treated very harshly by the law, so it isn't within their interests to attack tourists.
I found that when I was packing to leave the hotel, staff asked me for shorts, t-shirts and toiletries. They are very poor and I was happy to help. However, you shouldn't see much begging around the resort - you will only really experience this if you go Havana or one of the other cities.
Personally I think Varadero defies the many of the reasons why you should visiting Cuba - it is a unique country, with a unique history and political system. If you are only looking for sun, sand and cocktails then you will get that in Varadero, but it's a shame, because the island has so much more to offer.
I think that the resort does make a good base for tourists, because Havana is only a few hours away. However, in my opinion, you will severely miss out if you spend your whole holiday in this resort.
Cuba is one of the largest Caribbean islands and is still very underdeveloped and if you bear that in mind you wont be disappointed. Some areas are very poor and dirty but unless you go on executions you don't really see this part of Cuba. The island itself is beautiful, with sandy beaches and warm blue sea. We went in October '98 with our 19 mth old daughter, Jessica. It was an all-inclusive holiday and I would highly recommend going anywhere on holiday with this as you don't have to worry about food or drink, just spending money and we went for 2 weeks. The people are very friendly in the resort in which we stayed in, which was Super clubs Ponterina, Varadero. The hotel was two towers of seven floors each, but one was closed due to a Regatta (what they call maintenance work). Rooms? We had a simple room with 2 single beds and a crib (cot) for our daughter, bathroom with toilet, bath and sink Satellite Tv was also in the room as also were fitted wardrobes and a safe. But that all you need really for a holiday as you hopefully wont be in much! What's available on site? You had access to a 24 hr bar which you could drink all localised alcoholic drinks, soft drinks and water which has been purified. A dining area which breakfast ( 6 am - 11 am ), lunch (12 noon -3 pm ), and dinner (6 pm - 11 pm ), which was served buffet style. You also had two bars by the pool (10-6) and a lunch time buffet area (12 - 2). and another bar which sold drinks and pizza, hot dogs, chips from 3-7. They was also a Chinese and a Al a carte restaurant, but you had to be "invited" to these so everyone got a chance to go. The activities were good for free you could do: 1 hr of sub a-driving training in the pool, with option to go to sea. Kids club for over 2's Pool aerobics/volley ball Basket ball and football Volley ball. Wind surfing Snorkelling kayaks Table tennis Games room
with pool table and play stations The pool had 2 shallow ends slopping down in the middle, with a sectioned off part of kids. Extras to pay for? Had a sauna, steam room, hairdressers and massage Excursions. deposit on towels and room $20 to come in and out of the country How was it for us? Well the flight was a bit of a strain with our daughter! 11 hour flight is a long time to keep a little 'un occupied but we know it would be hard. She was good really and how she behaved on holiday made up for it. The weather was lovely for the first week so we spent most of it by the pool or no the beach. Jess still had her afternoon naps, so we would take it in turns to go to the room with her. This was brill as she was out of the mid day sun and both me and hubby got a break from her too. We went on a few excursions. The first was on an under submarine, which cost £30 each (not jess she was free).This took us out to sea out from the harbour. I thought this was fun and you could she so much of the fish and there was even a driver out to wave at everyone! That lasted for about 1 hr by the time it was towed out to sea , and submerged, then towed back. We liked this, it was different experience and Jess liked looking at all the fish! The Bay of Pigs was the other one we went on which took us all day. We stopped off at a few places on the way, which was interesting. The Bay of Pigs is where the Americans invaded Cuba but lost to Castro, who now " owns " Cuba and hates all American. Its on the other side of Cuba so it was 4 hrs on a minibus type thing. The beach is on the Caribbean sea side, but we were a little disappointed. The beach was dirty and fag ends everywhere, and although the sea was supposed to be cleaner, it worked like sewage was being pumped into it. Ekkkkkk Havana was the last place we visited and that was a all day trip too. Its the capital of Cuba and has clean and dirty parts. There
is a lot of History surrounding Havana and Castro is supposed to live in a big house there, which we visited, outside of course. We saw a Cuban cigar factory and brought some for New year! We also had a few hours walking around a market to get souvenirs, which we brought back loads, but always barter. We also had a look around an old fort, and other places of interest in the new town. Long day Would I recommend it? I liked it in Cuba but many people didn't. Jess stayed in the kids club some days for 2hrs as they were quite so that was a bonus. We liked the facilities that was on offer but it was a shame that the other tower was closed. The food was varied and had theme nights . None of us went down with the holiday "tum "anyway. It could have been better but they have limited food variety and ingredients really. On the whole if you want a relaxing holiday with very little to do or you just want to see the world then go, but I don't think we would go again
I visited Cuba in 1998 and found it to be one of the most facinating countries i have ever been to. They seem to be living in a different world to everyone else. The hotel we stayed, which i regret i can't remember the name of was of the highest quality, even though it was only a three star. It was also one of the ones featured on Watchdog as being 'Close' to the oil refinery. What a load of rubbish these programmes feed you. It was featured on Watchdog about two weeks before we were due to fly out. They showed a refinery with a huge flame bursting out, which goes 24 hours a day. They showed it on the camera as if it was 50 metres away from the hotel, and said all you could smell was burning oil ALL DAY. I can reliably inform anyone thinking of visiting Varedero that this is RUBBISH. Yes there is a refinery, and yes you can see the flames from the beachside hotels. However, it is NOT 50m away, it is more like 2 miles away. And in the 2 weeks we spent there we smelt it TWICE, and even then only for brief periods of time. As for the country itself, it is facinating. You can really see the Russian influence everywhere you look. And the site of 1940's cars is a joy. My advice is that over the next few years it may start to get more commercialised, so i would recommend probably going in the next 2 years. If ths is a country you have thought about gonig to, then GO.
"Varadero is a resort town in the province of Matanzas, Cuba, and one of the largest resorts in the Caribbean. Varadero is also called Playa Azul, meaning "blue beach" in Spanish."