Varadero Beach Resorts in Cuba: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Varadero Beach Resort Main

“Varadero beach is full of tourists” seems to be the automatic response I get from any independent traveller who I speak to about Cuba. It’s a curious response given most of these self-professed “non-tourist” travellers I meet (otherwise known as backpackers) have never actually visited Varadero beach. They are simply citing a stereotype that has been cited to them by someone who has…probably also never visited Varadero beach.

For the record (and to address an ongoing annoyance), here is the Oxford English Disctionary of tourist: “a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure”. Guess what, Mr (or Ms) independent traveller/backpacker – that’s you. Doesn’t matter how local the transport you use, or the food you eat. You’re. A. Tourist. Just as much as someone who hops off a cruise ship or spends two-weeks in a resort in Cancun (or Cuba). You may approach your tourist activities in a different way but: Your’re. Still. A. Tourist…ok, rant over.

Earlier this year, I stared into the face of my own stereotypes about Malaga, a Spanish city I was convinced (without having visited) was riddled with Brits abroad and tourists of a kind that were…not my kind. When I arrived, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised and yet fundamentally wrong with my assumptions. It turned out to be both a great destination and an exercise in learning to visit places with an open mind.

So, in the spirit of exploration, I added Varadero beach to my Cuba itinerary. Three nights in a four-star, all-inclusive resort. I wanted to see what Varadero beach resorts were really like.

The result: I left with incredibly mixed feeling. Varadero beach had a lot of good, but there was also plenty of bad and just downright ugly things about the place.

Understanding Cuba’s beaches

varadero Beach Resort Cart

Varadero beach is without a doubt one of Cuba’s tourist beaches.

Cuba is a quirky place for sure, but it wasn’t until I started researching beach areas in Cuba that I began to understand how different Cuba was compared to other islands I’d visited in the quest for a spot of sun-soaking.

My ideal beach retreat in Cuba would have been a beautiful stretch of icing-sugar sand giving way to the kind of turquoise waters that are so prevalent in the Caribbean. My accommodation might have been a small, rustic cabana and there would have been a fish barbecue near the beach at night. Not too much to ask in Cuba, right? Wrong.

It turns out that there are two main kinds of beaches in Cuba: tourist resorts which until 2008 did not permit Cuban people to enter (Varadero beach is one such place). In response to my independent traveller friends, there are a lot of “tourists” in Varadero because the Cuban government have contrived it that way.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are Cuban holiday/vacation beaches which usually front onto slightly less attractive patches of sand and feature soviet-era accommodation that, as one website colourfully described it: “find the building that looks like it is a nuclear research plant and you have found your accommodation”.

No cabanas, no hammock hotels, just a choice between mega-resorts for foreigners or 1950s hotels and holiday camps for Cubans. In the spirit of fairness, I decided to try both: three nights in Varadero beach in the north and a few nights in Playa Ancón on the south coast a few kilometres outside of Trinidad (more on Playa Ancón and, specifically, La Boca, where I ended up staying, coming soon).

Note: I used this site and this site the most while I was researching the beaches in Cuba but ultimately turned to the Cuba Lonely Planet for my final choices. You can buy a copy here.

Going off-piste: Arriving at Varadero beach without a package holiday

Package Holiday Varadero Beach

I was on a travel high when I arrived at Varadero thanks to the adventure that was the Hershey Train, which I took from Havana most of the way to the beach resorts.

Checking into the hotel, it immediately struck me how much me and my Travel Amiga, Karen, stood out. In a world where package holiday makers descend by the dozens, arriving en masse each Thursday and Saturday at pre-determined times, we were already out of whack meandering off the street on a non-standard day and without a clip-board wielding holiday representative at our side.

The check-in process was slow thanks to my inadequate Spanish and the check-in lady’s lack of English, but eventually we muddled through the details: the amount of the credit card charge for using visa, where I could obtain a beach towel (and the associated rules around possessing one) and, most surprising to the lady behind the desk, what to see and do outside the hotel.

Her puzzled, and somewhat frustrated look, told me it was the first time she had been asked that question. And, it seemed, by venturing into this unfamiliar territory I’d thrown up an immediate red flag that I simply didn’t get this all-inclusive lark and I was perhaps to be marked down as potential trouble. Nevertheless, she gave me some broadly useless instructions that, I assume, were aimed at deterring me from leaving the hotel, handed over my room key and smiled goodbye.

Varadero Beach: The Good

Varadero Beach Resort 1

As a long-term traveller, good travel maths dictates that I should stay in the cheapest accommodation in order to spend less money and thus travel longer. For that reason, four-star hotels are not commonly on my radar. Plus, staying in the Casa Particulares is one of the best ways to experience Cuba, in any case. However, in order to see Varadero beach how the vast majority of overseas visitor experience the area and, to be honest, to extend myself a bit of luxury, I booked into the Barceló Solymar hotel.

As four-star hotels go, uproot the Barceló and plonk it in a city like London or New York, attach a four-star designation, and TripAdvisor would probably implode with angry reviews. Suffice to say, by international standards, the Barceló would pass a three-star test at best in most other countries in the world. However, I wasn’t in most other countries, I was in Cuba and once I got used to the funky scent emanating from the ancient air-conditioning unit and overlooked the tired looking decor, it’s fair to say that the Barceló was a reasonably good place to stay.

It was close to evening time by the time I arrived at the hotel so after a quick shower and change, I headed downstairs for dinner – at the buffet.

Lizard Cuba Varadero Beach

Ok, this little man was not “on the buffet” but he lived in the restaurant…and he definitely fits under the “good” category. If anyone knows what species he is, I’m dying to know!

I have to say, I’m not a fan of buffets. Absent an extravaganza of the kind I experienced at the Sofitel in Manila, I find the food is generally low quality, repetitive and thanks to my inability to make firm decisions, I end up eating the weirdest combination of flavours that wouldn’t be served anywhere, ever. However, after days of bland chicken and rice (and, ironically, American food), the buffet at first-sight looked inviting. And things continued to get better as my drinking instincts quickly detected the free-flowing sparkling wine.

Several glasses and a full stomach later (courtesy of a couple of trips back and fore to the buffet), I was in travel Heaven. A choice of pools, a beach (I’d yet to visit), free food, free drink…free everything! What wasn’t there to love…I naively thought.

I retired early that night, still slightly swaying after the Hershey Train (or perhaps after the free wine). I woke early the next day, indulged in a free breakfast and headed to the beach.

It’s worth taking a few seconds to stare at the picture above – Varadero beach in all of her beauty. And, for the sake of openness and honesty, I have not done ANY editing to the picture, which was taken on my iPhone 5s.

I’ve seen some pretty damn amazing patches of sand and sea around the world. I say that not to boast but to put into context my next statement:

Varadero beach is most definitely one of the top 5 most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.

It’s not a claim I make lightly and for this reason, and this reason alone, I will look any tourist/independent traveller/backpacker (whatever you want to call yourself) dead in the eye and say that you should visit Varadero beach.

But I wouldn’t be telling the entire reality if I left things there.

Varadero Beach: The Bad and the Ugly

Outside Varadero Beach Resorts 1

Note: I have photographs of the debauchery and bad behaviour I saw in the hotel but it’s not appropriate for me to publish pictures of identifiable individuals, some of whom were well behaved. Instead, what follows are some pictures of what you can see if you walk outside of the hotels at Varadero beach. Something I strongly urge you to do.

As I predicted, over the following two nights I tired of the buffet food. It became repetitive, I got bored of sitting in the same restaurant space and within a day even the free-flowing wine lost its sparkle (figuratively – it was actually as bubbly as ever).

The resort did feature a number of internationally themed restaurants (Mexican and Chinese amongst them) but courtesy of a bureaucracy that would put the Italians to shame and my ongoing lack of forward planning, I never got a look-in. By day three I was going crazy with the need to break-free and eat somewhere new…a concept that is hard to balance in the face of a travel budget and food that is effectively available for free.

Yet the boring buffet wasn’t the worst of it. There was something far more ugly in the resorts of Varadero and I’m ashamed to say that it lay in the people who were staying there.

I don’t know whether it was bad luck that the hotel I’d booked into was popular with Canadian tourists, but I suspected the resorts filled with British holiday makers wouldn’t have been much different. Morning, noon and well into the night, large groups of Canadians staggered around the resort wielding large travel equivalents of sippy-cups (“you can drink more that way” I was informed) and generally being obnoxious [email protected]

I’m very sorry for using that particular expletive, which is the second worse curse word in the English language (after the “C-Word” which you will NEVER see on this site), but I felt that strongly about the mass of idiots that I met in Varadero beach.

Ignorant, arrogant and disrespectful, the majority of my fellow hotel visitors were the kind of people who simply shouldn’t be allowed to possess a passport. (I should say that I did meet a small handful of nice visitors during my stay but they made up less than 1% of the people I came across).

Drinks were knocked on the floor in the hotel and left for people to walk through, food was thrown and swept onto the floor and plastic cups were left to blow in the wind (and sea) on the beach. I saw one girl empty several cups of beer onto the floor in the beach bar (sorry, call me intolerant but I lost my patience and shouted at her but, seriously, I shouldn’t have to explain to a twenty-something why you shouldn’t throw drinks on the floor).

The detritus dropped by the people at the resort was literally everywhere and I was embarrassed for the entire western world because of it.

There was screaming, shouting, throwing and even some aggression (one guy whacked his sippy-cup off the bar towards the bar man who was trying his best to serve the dysfunctional mob, soaking the barman in half a litre of beer. The idiot shrugged smugly, burst into laughter and high-fived his friend while the barman displayed the patience of a saint simply continuing his work). What can I say? To the (vast majority of the) people I came across in Varadero – Shame. On. You.

By Day three I was anxious to leave. But not before I’d performed a small experiment. Somewhere before the 48th Cuba Libre had been consumed by some of my fellow hotel guests, I managed to engage in a conversation about Cuba, its sights, its history, politics and culture.

I don’t judge too harshly the lack of historical knowledge possessed by the people in the resort. Until I travelled to Cuba, I wasn’t too familiar with the details myself (apart from a broad understanding of the country’s past). But it was the attitude of these travellers that bothered me. In their mind (and words), Cuba was “primitive” (my eyes flicked open like saucers when I heard that description), a country they were only visiting because one friend was too tight to pay the extra to go elsewhere. Plus, there were “way too many locals” in the hotel. I explained the rule about Cubans not being able to enter tourist hotels until 2008 and my comment was met with no concern.

Street Art Varadero Beach

“Have you been outside the resort”, I asked, certain I knew the answer. “No, and why would you want to when you have everything here.”

“To understand and explore the culture of Cuba,” I encouraged, my frustration mounting. A mix of shrugs and faces that looked like I’d just told the travellers that the bar had run out of beer.

“Give me two days..or just one day of your time,” I implored. “I’ll show you around Cuba. I’ll be your guide. I’ll introduce you to the people, the cities. You’ll see things that will open up and quite possibly even blow your mind. Just give me one day?”

“But we’ve already paid for everything here.”

“I’ll pay for you.” It seemed like a generous offer on my part but, sadly, I was confident it was an offer I could make knowing that it was never going to cost me a penny. “We’re going to the pool tomorrow,” came the anticipated reply. I couldn’t even pay these people to leave the resort.

“The pool. Of course,” I muttered. Followed by the buffet, the bar and bed. It was the routine they had replicated every day since they arrived, would repeat every day until they left and, most likely would endure for every two-week trip they took for the rest of their lives.

Defeated, I left the drinking games in full swing, stepped over the sticky pools of beer that the bar staff couldn’t clean up fast enough and went to bed somewhat depressed with the slice of human race I was staying with.

Travel: Being a representative of your country

Varadero Beach Resort 4

What would Jose Marti think?

Leaving Varadero beach I was conflicted. I was so, so sad leaving the beauty of the sand and sea behind. But more than that I was relieved to unshackle myself from the resort and the holiday-makers that left me wanting to write a letter to the Canadian out-bound tourism minister.

Even as I travelled further and further from Varadero beach, it took a long while to shrug off the feelings of disgust I had for my fellow hotel-guests.

Sure, I get that not everyone wants to engage in an adventure when they get a few weeks of holiday each year. And not researching the history of the country your visiting is sad, but not a sackable-offence (I’d like to hope some awareness rubs off along the way). Even excessive drinking and debauchery are not unfamiliar territory in my world – hell, I spent four years in an 80% male, rugby-focused university in England and have stayed in my fair share of party places.

But that wasn’t it. What bothered me most was this: in a country where so few Cubans can afford to travel, as a visitor you are very likely the single biggest vision of what the outside world represents, and I was disgusted to my core to think that the hotel workers in the Varadero beach resorts see such a disgraceful and disrespectful display of behaviour that they most likely think that Canada (and probably other Western countries) are riddled with Philistines that haven’t seen progress since the middle ages, let alone the 1950s. If I were to attach the label “primitive”, it wouldn’t be to the country of Cuba, it would be to the people I met at Varadero beach.

Time and again, I wanted to shout, “this isn’t normal, this isn’t what people outside Cuba are like”. But how could my protestations hold weight in the face of the ugly behaviour of the tourists that swarm Varadero beach each year, raping the country of its sparse resources for cheap-kicks and even cheaper beer. I’ve said it once but I’ll say it again. If you are the kind of traveller who hits up a resort in a no-holds-barred style that fits very squarely into the “we’d never get away with this, let alone dare to try it at home” style of travel – Shame. On. You.

You are a representative of your country when you travel and what local people think of you matters, especially when you are their most significant window to the world.

And as I looked out of the window onto Cuba’s world, watching Vardero with its mega resorts and soft, beautiful sand fade into the distance, I found it hard to sum up how I felt and whether I would or would not recommend other people to visit Varadero. But on balance, I think my answer is this: Do visit. Do see Varadero Beach. But go and be a gleaming example. Go and be the best of what your country represents. Go and inform the Cuban people that the outside world is a place they should, if opportunity knocks, one day go out and explore.

Tips for how to have a good stay in Varadero

Varadero Beach Resort

Consider staying at a casa particular

There are a number of casa particulars in Varadero where it is possible to stay if you’re not interested in a resort. However, be aware that many of the beaches in Varadero are attached to hotels so I’m not sure how easy it will be to find some public sand (let me know if you find out). The good news is that you can now book casas ahead using

Do your research! 

There are probably calmer hotels available in Varadero and I most certainly failed on this front.

TripAdvisor is a popular place to start your research – click here for a list of the top hotels in Varadero (according to TripAdvsior).

You will find tips here for how to get the most of TripAdvisor reviews.

Book your hotel in advance

If you’re taking an independent trip to Varadero, make sure you book online before you leave home for the best prices. The rates are practically double if you simply turn up.

The Barceló Solymar cost £66 per night all inclusive for two people. Booking direct with the hotel in Varadero on arrival would have cost twice that.

TripAdvisor is a the best place for checking hotel reviews and book in one place. You read reviews and find prices for Varadero on TripAdvisor here. 

Consider booking with a tour operator for customer service access while you’re away

Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone to take responsibility if your trip isn’t going to plan. Also, tour operators can help you find a resort that will suit your travel style.

TUI (formerly Thomson Holidays) is popular in the UK (94% of their customers rate their holidays as good or excellent). Click here to check out their trips to Varadero.

First Choice is also very popular. Click here to see their trips to Varadero.

If you know of any other tour operators you’d recommend, especially in the USA or Canada, let me know in the comments below.

Leave your resort and explore Varadero

There’s a wonderful world stuffed with Cuban culture just beyond the walls of the resorts. Click here for a list of the top attractions in Varadero. 

Leave Varadero, even if it’s just for a few days 

Even if you take a package deal (quite often it is cheaper than paying for flights and hotel separately), try and tack on a few days to visit at least one other place (Havana is a close and excellent option).

Click here for a full list of tour companies featured on TripAdvsior.

If you’re after a long trip, Intrepid Travel and G-Adventures offer great itineraries through Cuba that will get you a lot closer to local life.

Alternatively, most hotels offer day trips. They will be more expensive than travelling separately, but are still a better option than seeing nothing but the bottom of your beer glass.

Have you ever been to any of the Varadero Beach Resorts? Was was your experience like? Let me know in the comments section.

For more travel tips and details about Cuba see here.

53 thoughts on “Varadero Beach Resorts in Cuba: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

  1. 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

    • Hi Dave, I used that website when I was in Cuba too and it was great. I wanted to experience the tourist side of Cuba, in theory. In practice, it’s something I slightly regret. Still, you’re right, the beaches are spectacular.

  2. 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.

    • Sounds like quite the experience you had 15 years ago, Vince. Also seems like things haven’t changed much in the resorts in Cuba. Agreed: local housing is a better option.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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

    • Hi Roger, the only thing I found with Cuba, especially at the beaches, is that there aren’t so many solo travellers. If you’re happy to hit a resort and make friends there, Varadero might be for you. I personally preferred La Boca:

  6. 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.

    • Well that’s sod’s law that I booked into THE party resort of Varadero 🙁 It’s interesting to hear the view from a Canadian – thanks for the insights!

    • Hi,
      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.

      • Hi Stephanie, thanks for stopping by and share your experience. I’ve written several articles about Cuba and in all of them I share how much I really love the country, the culture and the people. The food is another matter, but as you say it is what it is. And you’re right, I did happened to stumble upon what seemed to be a party resort, with some unfortunate guests. Perhaps it was a lack of research but I’ve always had a good experience with Barcelo Hotels and also with Canadian people – I have several Canadian friends and they wouldn’t dream of behaving like the people I met in Varadero. Interesting information about the price of one increase of trips to Cuba. I’d love to convince some of the people who go all-inclusive to venture out and see more of the island. If you have a minute and you’re planning on going back to Cuba, you might be interested in some of my other articles: and if you have any recommendations yourself, do come back and let me know.

  7. 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!

    • Hi Verona, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience – and also for being a wonderful person for picking up the litter on the beach we need more travellers like you!) and a good point about the adult sippy cups – I guess i took umbrage with them because most people seemed to be using them just to get access to more beer than the standard pour, in order to get drunk quicker. I also completely agree with you about the beauty of Varadero beach. I don’t live by the ocean but I’ve seem more than a small number of beaches and it does come out as one of the most glorious I’ve seen. For that reason I wouldn’t strike Varadero off my ‘to return to’ list.

  8. 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!

    • Dale, I completely agree. It’s not too difficult to step away from the package offerings in Cancun but it didn’t seem so easy in Varadero. That said, you’re right – one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen and I’d go back for that alone.

  9. 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!

    • Hi Melanie, sounds like you didn’t have a great experience in Varadero, which is a shame. I hope you’re well? I find the best thing for dealing with a bad trip is to start planning the next one.

  10. 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 …

    • Thanks Stef, glad you found the article interesting and accurate. Yes, I can’t deny how beautiful the beaches of Varadero are but I’m also pleased to hear that you got out to explore real Cuba. When you go back, take me in your suitcase, would you? 🙂

  11. 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!

    • Hi Junior, yep, I did expect partying in Varadero and I wanted to compare the experience to other beaches in Cuba, like La Boca. I was just surprised. I’ve been in Cancun (incidentally, not intentionally) over Spring Break, but Varadero was a whole different level. Hmmm…off I go to google Bubba’s…

  12. 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?


    • Hi Sonya, I’m sorry that you seem to have taken offence at my article – it was a description of what I experienced at the time and I wasn’t in any way suggesting that these people I met were representative of an entire nation. Nor was I suggesting this kind of behaviour is unique to Canadians – in fact, I made that point in the article. All that said, you level criticism at me for having a superior attitude. In the most constructive way possible, I recommend you read back your own comment and have at long hard stare at the tone you’ve taken, which is far from level and balanced. I hope one day you do travel to Cuba. It’s a wonderful country with so much to offer those who are open to embrace it.

  13. 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 😉

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    • Debbie, it’s such a shame that your travel agency didn’t deliver. I guess in a world where so many people visit Cuba just for the beach resorts, the agent found that the easier option for your trip. When you plan to go back, feel free to come back to me and I’d happily help you out with planning a travel itinerary to get the most out of your trip to Cuba. 🙂

  16. 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.

    • Thanks, Meg. Glad you enjoyed the article. Ooh, that is so sad that you met a similar bunch of idiots at your resort, but worse still that a Cuban felt the need to comment on how inappropriate their behaviour was. My honest feeling is that the obnoxious people are the ones who go to these kinds of resorts over and over. I’ve only ever met nice Canadians in every other circumstances. I just wish I could arrange for those lovely ones to visit Varadero and let the Cuban people know that the rude idiots are the exception, not the rule!

      • Totally agree… I think a certain brand of human goes to resorts. I was so excited to find your blog because of all your posts on Cuba! I was so disheartened after leaving. I loved the country so much, but the sense I got was that it’s very hard to “see” the country if you don’t go to a resort (i.e., I don’t think you can go to Cayo Santa Maria if you aren’t staying at a resort, and it has the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen). I definitely want to go back and I’ll make sure to read over your Cuba posts when I do!

        • Meg, so glad you stopped by and found inspiration for a follow-up trip to Cuba and it definitely is possible to see a lot of the country without going to resorts. As you can tell from my post, the resort was my least favourite part of Cuba (though one I needed to see for myself). I really hope you have a better experience second time around.

  17. 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!)

    • Jac, I hope that I just stumbled into a bad crowd rather than it being the norm but sadly I suspect not. Actually, queuing with the rabble at the bar one night I saw a young couple who were on a romantic holiday from Canada. I spoke to them for a while and they were disgusted too. Sadly for them, they had two weeks of the madness to endure. You’re absolutely right about local people resenting foreign tourists. Hell, I’m not Cuban and I wanted to smack most of these guests in their over-entitled mouths…the beer tipping girl came very close! Yep, shame we didn’t get to catch up in London. Hope you had a great trip!

  18. 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.

    • Mark, thanks so much for the lizard info. I’ve just done some research and was pleased it confirmed what I saw – the lizard was changing colour (it wasn’t just the free-flowing wine!).

      Also good to know there is public beach access and a modest motel sounds like a great alternative to the resort scene, particularly given my experience. As for the casa food (and Cuban food in general), I fell your pain. I was in Cuba for little over two weeks and remember saying to my friend I didn’t think I could last there any long simply due to the food. For everyone I’ve met since who is heading to Cuba I’ve advised them to take some spice, sauces or flavours…anything! My favourite (?!) weight loss country is India, but I could imagine Cuba would take a good second place…along with the Philippines…the list could go on 🙂

    • 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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