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Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. 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.

53 Responses

  1. Neville and Janet Clark
    Neville and Janet Clark at |

    Hi Joe,

    I have read your article with interest and would comment as follows. My wife and I are British by birth, moved to Canada in 1974 and eventually became Canadian Citizens. Your comments about the disgusting behaviour of Canadians at your hotel,can apply to any nationality that vacations in Cuba. We went there for 12 years starting in 1993 ( early days of the tourist invasion),and have seen the worst of behaviours ,and the best. Believe me, English certainly can be brash, ignorant and drunkeds also. In fact one year it was embarrassing to watch their antics. In closing…please do not tar everyone with the same brush!

  2. Joe
    Joe at |

    I don’t stay in the resorts in cuba anymore.
    I now stay just outside of Havana in Guanabo. It’s a small ocean side town with a nice beach and friendly people. No resorts there only one small hotel that I would not recommend. Many casa’s for rent there. Havana is 25min taxi away or you could take a bus, but its usually over crowded and no A/C. A few really good restaurants in town and the food is fantastic. The best markets are off the main strip. I have made good friends there and have visited three times this year. Most recently last week. Not many tourists mostly retired Canadiansand Europeans. They do have a couple of discos if you want to dance the night away. Also I have never felt unsafe there. It’s a nice little village.

  3. Tanya Roy
    Tanya Roy at |

    Hi! If you pay a little bit more you can find very nice resorts in Varadero that are more family oriented.
    Ive stayed at a cheaper one once and yes it was gross, full of mostly naked party people. After that I forked out a few hundred dollars more(still reasonably priced) and got much better results. The food was actually quite good. I believe the food is more natural and pure because i have an egg intolerance but when im in Cuba i can eat as many as I like and im fine. I always come home feeling great after eating the clean Cuban food. My sister, whos a diabetic can actually stop her insulin after two days of beingin Cuba, once she back in Canada for a couple of days her levels jump right back up.
    Try the Royalton if u want a nice, clean relaxing place.
    Some of my favorite dishes are black beans and rice, lamb and fish. The coffee is the best Ive ever had. The last resort I stayed in had delicious ice cream that was made right at the resort!
    I also suggest getting a vaccine called Dukoral if your an adventurous eater. I didnt have it my first trip and it ended with a trip to the hospital and ill be honest, you do not want to see the inside of the hospital in Cuba. Its quite the experience, but the doctor was fantastic and I was back on my feet the next day after a shot of gravol and a good nights sleep. I must mention it wasnt from over indulging in alcohol because I rarely drink.
    I do agree that people need to look around Cuba more but its not for the faint of heart. The bathrooms and be pretty scary as can the transportation, but its totally worth it. Cuba is so full of history and character. Havana and Trinidad are a must see!!!

  4. Dave Morton
    Dave Morton at |

    Hi Jo !!

    My wife and I have just returned from Cuba…. in La Habana Vieja and Varadero. We stayed 5 nights in casa particulars in each place…. very acceptable, inexpensive and enlightening.

    Your description of ugly (Canadian, American, etc.) Varadero resort guests in this article sounds spot-on. We have almost never stayed in resorts, but the few times we have…. it’s been equally depressing. I totally agree with your advice on being appropriate, respectful and informed “tourists”.

    So…. the website we used to book our two casa particulars is Your Casa Particular. Their booking system worked very well, and if you have questions…. their support people get right back to you, and English is their default language.

    As for public Varadero beaches, our casa was located in the “locals” part of town, on calle 43…… and a 300m walk north on the same street brought us to (hands-down !!) one of the best stretches of beach we have ever discovered, and we’ve traveled to a fair number of coastal spots in the world seeking beaches out. White sands as far as you could see in either direction, warm and crystal clear seas, very few gringos, mostly a few locals…. and almost completely to ourselves.

    Back home in Scandinavia now, we long for it on a daily basis….. and will be back !!

    Cheers, Gunilla and Dave Morton / Göteborg, Sweden

  5. Vince
    Vince at |

    GREAT ARTICLE ! Reminded me of my younger-self when I was dating a Montreal girl who was working at an all inclusive resort at CAYO COCO (CUBA) 15 years ago. I visited her a few times and yes indeed I was also a witness to the Booze-and-Babes excesses you describe. By any chance were those Canadians you met speaking with a strong French Quebec accent ?? I found them to be the WORST ones (anglo Canadians being usually more discrete and well behaved). HOWEVER, I must (like others above) explain that such resorts being the cheapest Sun-and-Sand deals you can get, they will necessarily attract … or should I say … THAT kind of a crowd (you know, the reverse baseball cap, gold-chain wearing, beer guzzling, March Break type). Beware ! Been there, done that. I now travel with my wife via AirBnb and it’s perfect.

  6. Nick Morley
    Nick Morley at |

    The lizard is an Anole. They can change color as well to blend in.

  7. Dave Guzzi
    Dave Guzzi at |

    Hey Jo-you spoke relative truths about some resort life in Varadero but then you took off and over explained your cons-my wife and i stayed in Varadero resorts on our first 2 trips and i said that was it! when i returned to Canada i looked into Casa Particulars and the agencies that rent them( deal with Jose-I will repeat what i wrote in an article in Trip Advisor–instead of complaining get your butt out of the resort and stay at a Casa run by real Cuban people who will look after your needs like gold and introduce you to the real Cuban way of life-the food in Varadero restaurants is at the least 5star-the service is the same and the ambience is indredable-Casa Roberto&Martha and Casa Qinta el Mojito are 2 units that i personally recommend and both have easy access to the wonderful Varadero beaches-if yu were to return to Cuba contact me and i will set you up with a trip that will blow your open mind-Dave

    1. Louie
      Louie at |

      Hey Dave did you get off your butt and read the article? She clearly mentioned casa particulars.

  8. Canada lady
    Canada lady at |

    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.

  9. roger
    roger at |

    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

  10. Sarah
    Sarah at |

    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.

    1. Stephanie
      Stephanie at |

      Respectfully I have to disagree with you. I’ve been to Cuba several times (as a single person in my 20’s) and now with kids/family. While Cuba’s prices for all inclusive are cheaper than travelling down south to other islands the prices have increased quite a bit. You can get last minute deals I’m sure for $600 but you’re looking at a 2-3 star hotel, which as the article hinted, would be a 1-2 star anywhere else. When I book (I usually go in the summer months) the prices hover from $800-$1200 depending on the resort. The food in Cuba is what it is. We have to remember that there is no American influence or access to the types of things you have access to in other countries.
      No matter where you travel if you are staying at a party resort you are going to encounter rude people. They are there to party. Drink. Get drunk. Throw up. Repeat. It’s the same in Acapulco, etc.
      As for the Canadian comment…I’m a proud Canadian. I believe we are among the kindest and politest people around. We have that reputation worldwide. I’ve always met really great people fa,olives when I travel. Again I’m assuming it was just because you were at a party resort and were surrounded by the roudiest of the rowdy. I’m sorry you had a bad experience. I’ve travelled all over the carribean and will continue to visit Cuba. I enjoy it very much. Beautiful people – beautiful culture.

      1. Stephanie
        Stephanie at |

        sorry….autocorrect up above. I didn’t mean fav olives….I meant ‘families’ LOL!

  11. Verona Leslie
    Verona Leslie at |

    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!

  12. Dale Clark
    Dale Clark at |

    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!

  13. Melanie
    Melanie at |

    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!

  14. Stef
    Stef at |

    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 …

  15. Junior
    Junior at |

    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!

  16. Sonya Jensen
    Sonya Jensen at |

    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?


  17. varaderoapt
    varaderoapt at |

    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 😉

  18. Kara
    Kara at |

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

  19. Cheryl
    Cheryl at |

    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.

  20. Debbie
    Debbie at |

    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.

  21. Meg Wray
    Meg Wray at |

    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.

  22. Jac
    Jac at |

    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!)

  23. Mark
    Mark at |

    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 |

      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!

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