Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 50 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

39 Responses

  1. Canada lady
    Canada lady at | | Reply

    Been to Cuba four times 1986 stayed at Los pinos just outside Havana, twice to varadero area, hotel palma real 2006,2008 hotel sunbeach, just recently. Feb 2017 hotel atlantico just outside Havana, yes food not 5 star but beach, sites and the local people and other hotel guests truly made each trip very enjoyable! lots to do and see if u leave the bar and open your mind to it. I am a 50 plus female who travels with lady friends.

  2. roger
    roger at | | Reply

    im hinking about going to cuba the first time im a single male wheres the best place to go im a beach guy,,, been to dominican for 8 years loved it but came back july 2016 havent been well since

  3. Sarah
    Sarah at | | Reply

    Interesting article. Not surprised. Obviously you are not Canadian- and your observances are spot on. I’m Canadian so I can point out the harsh truth…

    1) Barcelo Solymar is a party resort. THE party resort of Varadero… if not Cuba (for Canadians).
    2) Cuba is cheap (for Canadians) I mean really cheap- like $600 all in for flights, hotels and all inclusive for 7 nights cheap. Heck I’ve seen cheaper.
    3) The captive audience for these CHEAP trips attracts a (dare I say?) a “unique” demographic. Many who can’t afford to go elsewhere or are thrilled to have a bar at their disposal with bottom shelf liquor? It costs a Canadian more money to book a flight and purchase accommodation + meals separately. Some do yes- but all those hotels in Varadero were built for the latter part of the population.

    I’ve been a travel agent for 30 years. Been to Cuba once at an all inclusive (truthfully, they are terrible). However, I’ve gone to Havana and other off the beaten path places with a colleague who was Cuban. Memorable trip.

  4. Verona Leslie
    Verona Leslie at | | Reply

    I visited Cuba for the first time in early May of this year along with my daughter. It was her second trip to Varadero Beach. We didn’t experience any concerns with other hotel guests like you described, except those who continued to leave their plastic cups and garbage on the beach. Every morning, I would pick up garbage while I walked along the beach. Nothing wrong with using adult sippy cups. Less plastic cups to clutter the sand and fill the garbage cans.I filled my insulated cup daily with cold water for my morning relaxation and reading at the beach. Absolutely, no different than using a go mug for coffee. It is unfortunate that you experienced what appears to be a March break mentality. I live not far from the ocean and Varadero Beach is the most beautiful beach I have seen. There isn’t a person who has visited a hotel in Cuba, who hasn’t at least one bad thing to say about their accommodations, usually the food is the main complaint. I ate a lot of yummy breads and cheeses!

  5. Dale Clark
    Dale Clark at | | Reply

    Varadero is billed as Cuba’s Cancun. It is not. Not even a
    resemblance. Studded with foreign-financed all-inclusive resorts,
    initially unavailable to Cubans. A cash cow for Castro’s regime.
    Cancun – which admittedly is not very Mexican – is full of non-
    inclusive hotels, independent bars and restaurants, and is vibrant.
    Varadero is for indolent over-indulgence in resorts which are
    tacky and far, far from real Cuba. You are expected to stay only
    at the resort. Few independent bars, clubs, restaurants.
    I will say, though, that the beaches are memorable. Really
    very nice. Clear, emerald water, clean high-quality sand beaches,
    a nice surf. No annoyances. Go there just for the beach!

  6. Melanie
    Melanie at | | Reply

    I’ve been searching and searching for hours to find anything that closely resembles my experience. I’m terrified as I’ve not yet found it, and therefore also terrified to open the topic up myself, online. As I consider whether or not to enter that topic, I will later elaborate on my own recent Varadero experience. I was there alone for more than a week, and being the same kind of traveler as you, was disappointed by a lot. I’ll elaborate later, I’ve so much to say, but I’m rather stressed to find nothing on the real thing I’m trying to learn about. I also need to post this and see how much of my info goes public, before I go any further. Thanks for the post!

  7. Stef
    Stef at | | Reply

    Hi Jo,
    Thanks for an interesting read, which I shared with my friend, as we were recently there and both agreed with your writing 🙂 We’ve used Varadero as a place to go to from on day trips and we’ve seen quite a lot of the real Cuba. We will be going back there again, as we are simply in love with the beach there…(shorter flight to get there from the UK than Thailand 😉
    Thanks again for a spot-on article,
    A fellow traveller …

  8. Junior
    Junior at | | Reply

    I Thank you for a good read.
    Just wanted to chime in and say that I believe that the hotel and area that you stay in will have an impact on the people you meet and to an extent the behavior you will see. I have gone to Cuba many times, and can say I haven’t seen too much of this behavior. That said you stayed at “the” party resort in Varadero, which a small amount of research will tell you to expect drunken tourists.

    PS. I have bought Bubba’s (“sippy cups) on all inclusive vacations and they are great!

  9. Sonya Jensen
    Sonya Jensen at | | Reply

    Hi Jo,
    Thanks for this lengthy and frank write up about your experience.

    As a Canadian I have travelled to many places (although not Cuba) and have many Canadian friends who speak well of Varadero. I’m sorry your holiday was less than what it might have been due to the Canadian (and other?) guests at your hotel. At the same time I take some offence that you chose to focus on being judgemental about this in your review. Did it ever occur to you that you may have needed to do more research with regard to your choice of hotel for your (3 day) stay? Can you say definatively this is the thrust of the travel experience to be had in Varadero?

    You could have summarized this point in a few sentences but went on to describe at length a conversation which displays your need to impose your (superior ?) view over the ignorance (your word) of others. Bravo for trying to educate the heathen by giving them a tour of someone else’s country!

    If you have been to Florida on Spring Break, or a pub in London (or any part of England), or Ibiza, Spain for example, you are very likely to run into gaggles of drunk people making poor choices, or simply their own choices. Do you think it is ok to behave this way in your country of citizenship but not when a guest abroad? While I don’t promote the behaviour, it does happen. Canadians in Cuba don’t have a monopoly on it.

    You may have heard of some of the legacies/impacts of colonialism. Perhaps you might consider if you have a resort of your own to shed?

    Regards,
    Sonya

  10. varaderoapt
    varaderoapt at | | Reply

    Hello! All the beaches in Varadero are open to public, there is no such a thing like private beach! Cuba left that term long time ago, when the Revolution took all the private business and convert them into non-private, probably not the best decision, but for sure Varadero beach is not private at any point, not even for hotels. It is true that Cubans couldn’t enter a hotel a couple of years ago, but is different from the use of the beach. In Varadero you can walk all the beach by foot and select the spot you like the most and enjoy it all day =D
    Casas particulares are a good options if you are travelling on a budget and if you want to know the culture. In my personal opinion, just don’t put the hotel expectation too high, they are far from a 5 start hotel, and the prices my be high for the quality. However when you visit a casa particular, you’ll be amazed on how warm and kind the owners are with you and the prices are very good.
    Good luck on all of your trips and thanks for giving a good review of Varadero 😉

  11. An Itinerary Through Real Jamaica | Indiana Jo
    An Itinerary Through Real Jamaica | Indiana Jo at |

    […] Despite being one of the most popular islands for tourism in the Caribbean, a quick search online told me that tourism in Jamaica has developed substantially since the glitterati jetted to the island in the 1950s with all-inclusive resorts becoming one of the major ways to visit. And, if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I hate all-inclusive resorts. […]

  12. La Boca: One of the Best Beaches in Cuba | Indiana Jo
    La Boca: One of the Best Beaches in Cuba | Indiana Jo at |

    […] continue to take charter flights to the most supreme of the tourist beaches (Varadero and Caye Coco, for example) while the bulk of the local people, most often constrained by price, […]

  13. Luxury in Los Cabos Without Visiting a Resort | Indiana Jo
    Luxury in Los Cabos Without Visiting a Resort | Indiana Jo at |

    […] you ever left a resort feeling more exhausted than when you checked-in? That pretty much sums up my recent resort experience in Cuba. So, when my coast to coast journey through Mexico led me to Los Cabos on the Baja peninsular, a […]

  14. A Rave in A Cave: Disco Ayala in Hotel Las Cuevas, Trinidad, Cuba | Indiana Jo
    A Rave in A Cave: Disco Ayala in Hotel Las Cuevas, Trinidad, Cuba | Indiana Jo at |

    […] I engaged in my rapid departure from what had become an ugly experience at Varadero’s beach resorts, I was desperate to replace my memories with something novel and exciting. Fortunately, within 24 […]

  15. Best Things to Do in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico - Indiana Jo
    Best Things to Do in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico - Indiana Jo at |

    […] Cancun Haters, you may not be the type who like to stay in resorts (they’re generally not my cup of tea either), but go sit on the beach in Cancun and swim in the Caribbean waters and tell me it’s not […]

  16. Kara
    Kara at | | Reply

    A much needed and appreciated rant about the way that some travelers behave, thank you.

  17. Cheryl
    Cheryl at | | Reply

    Actually, I think that idea of writing to the Canadian tourism minister isn’t a bad one! I wouldn’t have thought of that. Remember what happened a few years ago when the good Chinese tourists started catching on to how the bad Chinese tourists were acting? They called themselves up on it. While you may not be Canadian (don’t know what you are), if the quantity of tourists were all from the same country, but not associated with each other, it’s still worth bringing it to the attention of someone high up in the country. Because one thought I had reading it – what happens when the college students get bumped out of Cancun or whichever city they’re onto now? At some point, even after Cuba opens up, they’ll find Cuba. And the Cubans will never stand up for themselves being treated like that (as I’ve found in many poor countries), so those with respect for others have to do it for them.

  18. Debbie
    Debbie at | | Reply

    Hi Jo, I’ve visited Varadero in 2011 and I also lived in an all-inclusive hotel but fortunately only for a couple of days so I did not get bored of the food but I was so pissed off with the travel agency because I wanted to live the real Cuba and not the touristy one. We did not have any time to explore the city so we were stuck at the hotel and the beach. We were unlucky with the beach (which undoubtedly is amazing) because when we were there it was full of jellyfish. So, if you ask me I have to repeat my Cuba trip and do it alone this time without having planned it from an “experienced” travel agency.
    xx
    debsbug.blogspot.com

  19. Meg Wray
    Meg Wray at | | Reply

    This was a really good read. As a Canadian that was just at a Cuban resort in Cayo Santa Maria, I can also say I had the same experience with my own “kind” meaning fellow Canadians. It’s really disheartening to hear that the stereotype of the “abnoxious American” is now applicable to Canadian tourists too. I also had a horrible experience with abnoxious drunk Canadians. Not only that, but I befriended a Cuban there and was told, I kid you not, that it was inappropriate. Resorts are not my thing which I know now and I’m very sorry your experience was ruined by some jerks from my country. I hope you meet some amazing Canadian backpackers to make up for it.

  20. Jac
    Jac at | | Reply

    it’s sad to hear of this small group of badly behaved travellers (I sincerely hope they represent the minority in the rest of the world) giving everyone else a bad name! But yeah it must have been frustrating for you staying there, even if the beach is super gorgeous.

    This is probably why people in countries which see a lot of rich, drunken, disrespectful foreign tourists can be so resentful, because I would be too if I was in their shoes!

    I can somehow imagine you raining all your pint-sized fury down upon them (sad I didn’t get to see you in London though!)

  21. Mark
    Mark at | | Reply

    That lizard is a carolina anole. Found widely in SE USA and the Caribbean.

    I only spent one day and night in Varadero at the end of a month’s trip in 2005. It was out of curiosity more than anything else and a bit of comfort. But I stayed clear of the large resort hotels and found a modest hotel towards the east end. Found the beach to be quite nice and probably ate my nicest meal there. Mind you I had been living off bland casa particulares’ breakfasts and dinners for a month. I lost one stone in one month! Even with an unhealthy infusion of sugar-laden mojitos.

    I always recommend a long holiday to Cuba’s casa world to people who complain about how they are struggling to diet/lose weight.

    1. luke
      luke at | | Reply

      Hey Mark – would you happen to remember the name of the “modest hotel towards the east end”? My girlfriend and I are traveling to Varadero and are looking for a non resort.

      Any help would be much appreciated!

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

Leave a Reply