Varadero, located on the Hicacos peninsula, stands at the vanguard of Cuba’s most important industry – tourism. As the largest resort in the Caribbean, it guards a huge, unsubtle and constantly evolving stash of hotels, shops, water activities and poolside entertainment; though its number one feature is its beach, an uninterrupted stretch of blond sand that is undoubtedly one of the Caribbean’s best. The moment I walked out onto the beach I was stunned. But, while this large, tourist-friendly mega-resort may be essential to the Cuban economy, it offers little in the way of unique Cuban experiences. For these you’ll need to escape the wrist-band wearing crowds from Canada and Europe and dip into the readily accessible hinterland for nearby ‘reality checks’ in Matanzas, Cárdenas or Bahía de Cochinos. I tried to make it to one of these local hotspots daily or at the very least every other day.
Most Varadero tourists buy their vacation packages overseas (you need to book in advance to get the best rates) and are content to idle for a week or two enjoying the all-inclusiveness of their resort (and why not?). However, if you’re touring Cuba independently, and want to alternate your esoteric rambles with some less stressful beach life, Varadero can provide a few nights of well-earned sloth after a dusty spell on the road. For spur-of-the-moment stop-offs there are plenty of economical hotels and casas particulares in Varadero town at the western end of the peninsula that are baggable on-the-spot. I opted for the Blau and used a few days just to recuperate from the travels before hand. I mean just look at that beach!