[Long read!] About two hours by car east of Havana lies a tiny string of white sand stretching out into the turquoise Caribbean sea. 

From the air, it looks like any little wave could wash it away in an instant. Here are the facts about Varadero Cuba – a tiny piece of paradise. 

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The Facts About Varadero

Varadero, which is also called Playa Azul, is situated on this long and super-narrow peninsula in the northwest part of Cuba.

It is located in Matanzas municipality, largely a resort area with only twenty thousand permanent residents. 

This tiny arrow of sand has around 20 kilometers of soft sandy beaches surrounded by palms and lavish resorts, and is one of the largest resort areas in the whole of the Caribbean! 

In fact, Varadero Beach was rated one of the world’s best beaches in TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards of 2019, cashing in a silver medal in the competition.

All the facts about Varadero you need to know before your holidays
Varadero on Hicacos Peninsula

There are a number of cultural, historical, and environmental attractions in Varadero, the Hicacos Peninsula, and the province of Matanzas.

Like city life in Matanzas town and Cárdenas, the Zapata Peninsula, and the resort of San Miguel de Los Baños to explore when you are tired of the beach. 

What are you going to do in Varadero?

Varadero Peninsula

Al Capones house in Varadero Cuba
Al Capones house in Varadero

The famous gangster Al Capone once had a large mansion in Varadero (above) and was a frequent visitor along with the other rich and (in)famous of the world.

Varadero city has been able to keep the traces of the glamorous shine that for decades has attracted big spenders. 

The first tourists started coming to Varadero as early as the 1870s, and for a long time, it was considered an elite resort. 

Initially, super-wealthy people built mansions here, which attracted other super-wealthy people, and the high-end holiday community grew. 

Tourism started increasing in the early 1930s, and between the 1960s and 1980s Varadero grew into a cultural center. In 2017, a record 1.7 million foreign tourists visited the resort!

Varadero resort town
Varadero Beach

Matanzas City On The Main Island

The city of Matanzas is not really Varadero, but it is very close, situated on the main island of Cuba. You pass it about fifteen minutes before you reach the spot where Varadero starts stretching out into the sea.   

Matanzas city is also the capital of Matanzas province, has around 140.000 residents, and is known for its poets, culture, and Afro-Cuban folklore. 

It has been called “the Athens of Cuba” because of all the different scholars and artists who have been working there over the years. And it has loads of cultural institutions, plazas, monuments, and scenic drives. 

Two famous Cuban dances, the danzon, and the rhumba were born in Matanzas, as well as several large African religions, including the secretive Abakua fraternity.

The main things to do in Matanzas are centered around the two areas Parque Libertad, and Plaza de la Vigia in addition to a selection of historical, cultural, and religious sites. 

Matanzas town
From Varadero Town

Some Of The Best Things To Do In Varadero

Being a beach resort area, there are tons of activities to do in Varadero connected to water sports and the sea. 

Hang on the beach, take a boat trip, or go fishing. Go paddling, snorkeling, or scuba diving and discover the Cuban submarine world. 

Yet, despite the long and super narrow seaside geography, there are in fact many other things to explore as well!

There is a vibrant nightlife, a golf club, and several natural attractions. At the northeastern end of the peninsula, lies Hicacos Point Natural Park with virgin forests, beaches, and the Cave of Ambrosio. 

Also read: 19 Best Things To Do In Varadero Cuba!

Varadero beach katamaran
A catamaran on Varadero beach

Nightlife In Varadero

When the sun sets, there are still lots of things to do in Varadero, and the nightlife available both outdoors and indoors. There is a myriad of restaurants, bars, clubs, and cabarets. 

Almost every (larger) hotel and resort have its own restaurants, pubs, and bars, and some resorts also have full-blown clubs on site. 

The opening hours are varied, some clubs keep their dance floor active until four or five in the morning, and a couple of places are even open 24/7!

The clientele in Varaderos nightly establishments is affected by the fact that the whole peninsula lives for and by tourists. So there are A LOT of international tourists out, and not that many Cubans. 

The locals you do encounter are probably people working in the tourist industry in Varadero, both locals and people from across the country. 

pina colada girl
The freshest pineapple juice you will get!

Varadero Golf Club

About halfway out the peninsula is the Varadero Golf Club. It is very much a seaside golf course, the course strewn with palms amid the wide fields. 

The Golf Club has its own boutique hotel, called the Xanadu Mansion. The mansion was bought by French American millionaire Irénée du Pont in the 1930s when he wanted a quiet place to spend his retirement. 

The property included 8 kilometers of virgin beaches, but he built his mansion in the rocky hills of the San Bernardino crags. This four-story mansion had 11 bedrooms and adjoining baths, three large terraces, and seven balconies. 

It also had a private dock named “Xanadu”, after the exotic Palace built by a legendary Chinese warrior and conqueror named Kublas Khan, as described by the English poet Samuel Taylor. 

The Xanadu Mansion has several dining areas, as well as the Casa Blanca Panoramic Bar with infinite views of the golf course, the sea, and the beach of Varadero.

Varadero, CUB; April, 06, 2019: Golf Course in Varadero, Cuba. One of the best golf courses in the Caribbean.
Varadero Gold Club greens

Scuba Diving In Varadero

For the passionate divers out there, scuba diving in Varadero is mere steps away from the white sands!

If you are more interested in the life below the surface, there are loads of beautiful and interesting dive sites around Varadero. 

Different diving providers will take you on adventures on reefs, walls, wrecks, night dives, cave dives, or deep dives. 

If you are not already a certified diver, you can also book an “introduction to scuba diving” session, where you will be guided safely through your first dive with an experienced instructor. 

Or, if you prefer the surface, you can just bring your snorkeling kit and watch the marine life from above! 

Also read: Divine Scuba Diving In Varadero Cuba!

Most hotels will help you book your diving adventure with a safe provider, or you can do your research online before your arrival as well.

Check out other people’s experiences and reviews before you make up your mind. If you are a certified Padi diver like me, here is Padi’s guidance on diving in Varadero. 

Wreck La Ciudadela Varadero

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Hicacos Point Natural Park

This Hicacos Point Natural Park is an ecological preserve that was established on the tip of the peninsula in 1974. 

It contains the 250 meters long Cave of Ambrosio, the Mangón Lake, and the ruins of La Calavera (The Scull). 

If you are into bird watching, Mangon Lake is home to 31 different species of birds and 24 species of reptiles.

The ruins of the La Calavera are remnants of the Salt Works in Varadero, which were also the first salt works to be constructed by the Spanish in the New World. 

What are you going to do in Varadero?

Cave of Ambrosio

Ambrosio Cave is an archaeological site in Hicacos Point National Park that tells the story of the Indian traditions of the region. 

The cave stretches for over 300 meters with five interconnected galleries, where a lot of pre-Columbian drawings were discovered in 1961. It contains a total of 72 aboriginal rupestrian rock drawings that are representative of the Taino culture.

These cave drawings are thought to be more than 2000 years old and are one of the largest collections of Indian pictographs in the Caribbean.

The cave has also been used as a ceremonial site back in the days, and as a refuge for escaped slaves during the colonial period.

The cave is also home to hundreds of little fruit-eating bats! Unless you have a phobia against these flying night creatures, you probably will enjoy seeing them flying around and hanging from the cave ceiling, as bats do. 

Ambrosios Cave Varadero

Cayo Buba

Like a small full stop just where the Varadero peninsula ends in a southward hook, lies a small island, more of a satellite islet, by itself. it’s at about 5 minutes from Varadero’s port, connected to the peninsula by a ridge that is just as wide as the road. 

A few fishermen inhabit the island, but other than that, it is pretty deserted.

Covered completely with mangrove vegetation, some birds have decided to use this as their nesting ground. It is also home to a few small animals, from rodents to reptiles. 

The islet has beaches too, with the soft white sand characteristic to the rest of the area, but the island is mostly used by fishing enthusiasts. 

Saturnos’ Cave

On the main island of Cuba, halfway between Matanzas town and the start of the peninsula, you find the Cueva Saturno

This is a stunning cave with stalactites and stalagmites, and a tiny lake where you can find fish and species characteristic of the aquatic fauna living in underground waters in Cuba. 

Visiting the Saturno, you can also try snorkeling in these underground waters, and get a coffee in the adjacent little café connected to the establishment. 

Saturnos cave underground lake
Saturnos Cave underground lake

Varadero Resorts

In Varadero, you find over 50 larger hotel facilities and resorts, of which many offer all-inclusive options.  

I stayed at the Melia International Varadero in December 2019, which absolutely was a pleasant experience. Super nice elegant foyer, great staff, gorgeous pools, lots of restaurants, bars, and cafes, and just two minutes walk to the white sandy beach. 

My only complaint is that in December even the Caribbean is a little chilly! 

Check out this overview of hotels and resorts in Varadero, as well as places to stay in other destinations in Cuba. 

If resort life is not for you, or you are traveling on a budget, there are also many options of Cuban casa particulares in Varadero. You will find a whole range on Airbnb! 

Varadero luxury beach resort

Varadero Airport

Visiting Varadero, you can fly directly to the Varadero International Airport Juan Gualberto Gómez. The airport is located 16 kilometers west of Varadero on the main island, a short taxi trip both from Matanzas city and Varadero peninsula. 

Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport is the second-most important airport in Cuba after José Martí Airport in Havana and has both international and domestic flights. 

Several international airlines fly directly to Varadero, although some may have temporarily paused or reduced their current flights due to Covid 19. 

If you fly into Havana Cuba, a comfortable and budget travel option to get to Varadero is the Viazul bus, which departs daily from Jose Marti Airport in Havana. You can book your ticket securely online by following the link!

You may also join an organized tour of Cuba, to get the best of more destinations than one!

▶️ Book a five-day organized Cuba tour from Havana – Cienfuegos – Trinidad – Santa Clara – Varadero here!

Travel From Havana To Varadero

The distance from Havana to Varadero is around 140 kilometers, which is just doable as a day trip (in a car) although that solution probably will create more stress than pleasure. 

There are several options to do this journey

If you rent a car or a taxi privado, it will be around a two hours drive to Havana from Varadero if you go non-stop. This is super fast and convenient, but also rather expensive with prices of around $80-100. 

You can also take the train between Havana and Matanzas, and then a taxi out to Varadero which may take you just under three hours. The train may cost you around $5, and then the taxi trip at the end is extra. 

Lastly, there are bus options, which probably will take 4-5 hours. Although this takes longer, the price is also nicer, between $5-10 depending on the departure.

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