What Travel Writers Say

Varadero: Sun, Sand and Sex

© By Mike Keenan
  Water Sports At Juan Gualberto Gomez Airport, 25 km west of Varadero, I am interviewed by a customs agent dressed in a military uniform. All business. We exchange pleasantries for seemingly a long time, and I wonder if I am ever going to gain access. Finally, after observing him write close to a Hemingway short story on my arrival, I am allowed access to the airport door to Cuba and confronted immediately outside with my first piece of hospitality, a young fellow enthusiastically hawking beer. Not such a bad start, I think.
     Varadero is Cuba's package holiday resort, one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean, also called Playa Azul, meaning "blue beach" in Spanish, serviced by sprawling four and five-star hotel complexes. The peninsula juts straight out from the mainland offering a brilliant white-sand beach, regarded as Cuba's best. The beach is never more than a ten-minute walk, the blue-green waters forming a stunning turquoise barrier between the land and the Florida Straits. Varadero is situated on the Hicacos Peninsula, on the border between western and central Cuba, 140 km (90 miles) east of Havana and 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the city of Matanzas. The peninsula has an average width of 700 meters (2,300 feet) and is 22 km (13.6 miles) long. Average annual temperature is 25° C. (77° F.)
     The spit of land extends more than 20 km from the mainland in a northeasterly direction, and its tip, Punta Hicacos, is the northernmost point of the island of Cuba. At the northeastern end of the peninsula there is a nature reserve with virgin forests and beaches. The Hicacos Point Natural Park is a 3.12 km² (1.2 sq mi) ecological preserve established in 1974. It contains the 250 m (820 ft) long Cave of Ambrosio, home to 31 species of birds and 24 species of reptiles, and the ruins of the La Calavera (The Skull) Salt Works, one of the first salt works constructed by the Spanish in the New World.
     If it's sun, sand, mojitos, daiquiris and pina colladas that you crave, this is the right place, ideal for a stress-free, uncomplicated week where you can laze around the hotel pools and then side up to an omnipresent bar. On the beach, as warm, clear, shallow waters lap the soft, white sand, I meet many young Canadians from around Toronto. They seem to be having a great time, and once again, the bar is boisterous and busy.

Villa Cuba Hotel Pool and Bar  Villa Cuba Hotel  A Happy Camper  Canadian Kids at Beach Bar  Beach Scene 

     Before the Revolution, Varadero attracted wealthy Americans. It was considered to be a hedonistic vacationland. American millionaire, Irenee Du Pont de Nemours, built his amazing residence in Varadero, called Xanadu, and when he retired from his chemical empire, he remained there in his private version of paradise. Spanish poet, Fredrico Garcia Lorca, visited Varadero as did mafia boss, Al Capone, who vacationed here. Standards slipped after the revolution, but picked back up again in the early 1990s when the regime realized that tourism was essential to its survival.
     All-inclusive mega-resorts now occupy the area. Isolated from the mainland and thinly populated, Varadero is not where you find an authentic taste of Cuban culture. In fact, what goes in and out is strictly controlled by secure access at the base of the peninsula. The tight border control at the bridge means that tourists are less likely to be hassled later by those hawking goods.

Floor Show  Floor Show  Sandals Dancer  Sandals Dancer  Sandals Dancer 
Varadero is a wonderful setting for Cuban water-sports, with three marinas on the peninsula, and several diving clubs. Marinas runs their own fishing and boat trips. There are over thirty dive sites to keep one occupied, including a 40-metre-long boat sunk during World War II, providing shelter for myriad fish. In addition to water sports, Varadero serves up a golf course, an 18-hole championship circuit, marked by an intricate system of lagoons in the British "links" tradition.
     Not surprisingly, given the sun, sand and mojitos, Varadero attracts even more tourists than Havana, Cuba's capital. During my stay, there was an abundance of young European tourists sporting tattoos easily seen thanks to their skimpy attire. There are currently 47 hotels operating in Varadero, and some offer exotic floor shows featuring gorgeous dancers. I attended one at Sandals. Upon arrival, we were met by mojitos and music and dancing girls in outfits that left nothing to the imagination, my first Cuban nightclub act. The ladies were beautiful; the music throbbed, and the dancing was riveting.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

If you go
Varadero, Cuba
as seen on
Cuba Tourist Board: http://www.gocuba.ca/en/index.asp
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varadero,_Cuba
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Varadero

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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