Yup, you read right. I know, I know… everything you read online about Cuba mentions Varadero (and Vinales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad… the typical tourist route). Let me tell you why you should probably skip over Varadero and go to beaches equally as amazing and accessible for tourists.
So why skip Varadero? Here are some reasons:
1. There’s nothing Cuban about Varadero
If you look up where Varadero is on the map, its literally a mini peninsula that jets out. Because of this, its exclusively owned by hotels. The entire peninsula is hotel after hotel after hotel. There is no “city” there and absolutely zero culture.
Why come to Cuba if you’re going to be enclosed in a hotel? Go to Cancun instead and save yourself the hassle of visa and money issues (for Americans).
2. Its overpriced (Not Budget Friendly for Budget Travelers)
Because every single blogger/adviser/guide book pushes Varadero (mainly because they don’t know about other amazing places in Cuba), Varadero is extremely overpriced. Sure, its all-inclusive but the prices for some hotels can range $200cuc-$400cuc PER PERSON PER NIGHT. You can get SO much more out of a Cuban vacation with a beach for much much less
3. There’s better beaches
I’m not going to say Varadero isn’t beautiful, because it is. Its pristine clear waters transforms the magic of this country but that magic isn’t just seen in Varadero. There’s nothing exclusive or special about the beach in Varadero (only that there’s hotels after hotels on it). There’s plenty of other beaches that are easily accessible to tourists traveling the island.
Here are my suggestions:
Caibarien – Cayo Santa Maria
If you’re dying to go to Cayo Santa Maria (another mini version of Varadero) I suggest you stay in Caibarien. Its a small fishing town right outside the entrance of Santa Maria and its absolutely charming and filled with Cuban culture. It even has its own Malecon that’s much bigger than Cienfuegos! For about $20cuc and a $10cuc ride (message me if you need transportation advise) to the beach, you can get culture and amazing beach experience.
One hour from Vinales, stay an extra day and experience this breathtaking beach. With mangrove trees jetting from the crystal-clear ocean, we nickname it “starfish beach.” Its a big enough beach that you don’t feel like the entire Canadian spring break is at the beach with you unlike Varadero. There’s a store there and local cubans also playing in the ocean.
Maria La Gorda
Known for its amazing scuba diving, Maria La Gorda on the tip of western Cuba is less accessible but that means it’s more remote if you want that kind of adventure. It sits on its own, near nothing. It costs $20 to enter with $12 to consume (so only $8cuc) and you can spend the day out in the ocean snorkeling or other water activities. Its gorgeous and there’s an entire bay of beaches you can explore with practically NO ONE around.
If you want the all-inclusive getaway with no culture, no adventure, nothing special then go to Varadero. Nothing wrong with that.
But if you want to come to Cuba, I say shy away.