At the heart of Cuba’s tourism is one of the finest island of the Caribbean. Come along as we explore Varadero’s history, and modern-day charm as one of the world’s best summer resort destinations
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Sasha Das, Anca Gabriela Zosin
01 July 2020
Varadero is part of one of the largest resort regions in the Caribbean. Famous as Playa Azul (Blue Beach), last year Varadero was voted second of the world’s best beaches by Trip Advisor's Traveler's Choice Awards. Since the early 1870s the town was considered an elite resort. The peninsula expanded in tourism in the 1930s and saw much hotel development until recent days, when over a million vacationers roam the 20km white sandy beaches of the resort town each year.
At the eastern way of the Via Blanca highway, some 140 km east of Havana, travellers find Varadero. Situated at the 1.2km wide Hicacos Peninsula, the Cuban resort town lays between the Bay of Cárdenas and the Straits of Florida. The north eastern part of the peninsula hides virgin beaches and unspoilt forests. The island’s nature extends to the Hicacos Point Natural Park, the ruins of the La Calavera (The Skull), the ecologically diverse Mangón Lake and Salt Works – one of the first constructed salt works in the New World by the Spanish.
Pass by Varadero's 69 intersected cross streets and at the westernmost part of the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago you’ll find Cayo Piedras and Cayo Cruz del Padre. Varadero has an interesting past. The town was used as a dock where of the Spanish Latin America Fleet exploited the salt mines in 1587. It wasn’t until 1887 when ten families from the city of Cárdenas built holiday villa homes. The spot between today's 42nd and 48th Street mark the foundation of the summer resort, loved by travellers.
Today Varadero has the greatest development in Cuba alongside Havana. Mostly European investments in the resort have spiked the number of tourists from slightly over 300 thousand in 1990 to over 5 million in 2019. Since tourism generates the majority of the income on the peninsula, it is no wonder that Varadero generates over 500,00 jobs. Apart from tempting tourists with luxurious stay at five-star resorts, the economy of the tropical island benefits from tobacco export. Other crops such as bananas, citrus fruits, rice and coffee from the mountains of eastern Cuba are also important for the region’s economy.
One aspect of nature in the tropical island that damages the economy and claims lives are hurricanes. Since 1498 when Christopher Columbus first recorded the tropical storms hitting Cuba, over 150 hurricanes have gone through the country. Tropical cyclones with highest level of destruction such as Irma have hit Varadero. Apart from ripping roofs from homes and trees from the ground, tropical storms bring unbearable damage, flooding, destroy main agricultural crops and ultimately claim lives. The hurricane season on the island lasts between June 1st and November 15th with September and October carrying the most risk of hurricanes.
Varadero offers travellers a ray of activities and even an amusement park to make your holiday fun and adventurous. A coral rimmed lagoon, only 400 metres east of Marina Chapelín is turned into a dolphin centre. Most hotels on the island offer visits to Delfinario alongside catamaran cruises with snorkelling, kayaks and even small boats that guests can rent to indulge into their own ways of exploring. At Marlin Náutica y Marinas at Marina Chapelin you can find kiteboards and sailboards, as well as fishing charts. History lovers can dive at Parque Marino Cayo Piedras del Norte, one of the 30 diving spots in the area, where lay a sunken military vessel and a soviet military aircraft. Underwater caves are another charm of the island and among the diving attractions east of Veradero is the Ojo de Mégano cave.
Varadero stands at the heart of Cuba’s tourism industry. This is the largest resort in the Caribbean. Expect no less than an array of whitewashed sandy beaches, over 60 hotels and tropical summertime entertainment. From kayaking to diving in underwater caves this mega-resort offers the Caribbean’s best holiday activities and relaxing blond beaches.
The World Music Festival takes place in Varadero every June, when open air shows and concerts host performances of artists from all over Latin America.
Varadero Gourmet Festival happens in April and June, and indulges visitors in different Cuban cuisines, prepared by famous chefs.
The Melia Golf Club Cup event takes part in Varadero on the third week of October, followed by the two-day Los Cactus Varadero Golf Tournament at Hotel Los Cactus.
February starts the year with a five-day motorcycling event, featuring an array of – you guessed it - Harley-Davidson bikes.