Varadero is on the Peninsula de Hicacos and is Cuba’s closest part of the United States. The peninsular is about 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) long, and of which 22 kilometres (13 miles) are beaches. Varadero is famous for its beaches – for white and sometimes pink sand the crystal clear turquoise waters. You’ll find luxurious all-inclusive resorts and hotels here directly on the beach, but you’ll also find casa particulars, a vibrant nightlife and some interesting natural reserves very close. Come on in for the best things to do in Varadero, Cuba.
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Varadero had its first mention in written history in 1555 when it was first used as a dry dock – and that’s where the name “Varadero” comes from, it’s the Spanish for dry dock. The Hicacos peninsular was at that time home to salt mines, which supplied most of the Spanish American fleet at the time. The mines close in 1961. Varadero was only founded as a city in 1887 when families from the nearby city of Cardenas receive permission to build holiday homes in what is now the area between 42nd and 48th Street in Varadero.
Tourism began to grow in the 1930s when an American millionaire built his estate on the peninsular – it’s now the Maison Xanadu and one of our recommended places to visit. Following the Cuban Revolution, many of the mansions that had been built were acquired by the Cuban Government and turned into museums. During the 1960s, 70s and 80s Varadero was transformed into a cultural centre and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the mostly four and five-star hotels began to be built.
History lesson over, here are the best things to do in Varadero.
The Best Things to Do in Varadero Cuba
Varadero is a fabulous place to relax. Sunshine, glorious beaches, fabulously warm sea and a few Cuban Cocktails make this a very laidback place to visit in Cuba.
But when you’re ready to head out and explore a little you’ll find a host of things to do in Varadero, all easily accessible, some energetic, some great fun, others really relaxing – they include:
- The History of Sugar, Rum and Tobacco in Cuba
- The stunning beaches bordering the Caribbean sea
- Exploring the culture of Varadero with museums and guided trips
- Snorkelling, Diving and Water sports
How long you need to see Varadero Cuba depends on how active you want to be and what you want to see. At a minimum if you’re visiting for one day and one night you can expect to see:
- The beaches and/or some water sports
- Experience the rum, cocktails and chocolate of Cuba
- An overview of what there is in Varadero on a bus or tour
- A great night out enjoying music, cocktails and food
If you have longer than one day in Varadero, then you’ll want to probably spend more time at the beach, perhaps explore some of the nearby local caves, take a day’s golfing, or visit the Mangroves near Varadero or a cooking class. Our guide to the best day trips from Varadero, Cuba explores these and other great days out from Varadero.
So let’s now look at the best things to do in Varadero, then you can arrange how long you want to spend here – or if you’re staying in Varadero what you’re going to do with your time!
The number one thing to do in Varadero – Go to the Beach
The majority of visitors to Varadero come here for the stunning white sand beaches and the more than 50 all-inclusive hotels that line this part of the coastline. Varadero beaches are the most well known in Cuba and the Caribbean. The beaches are of glorious fine white sand and the turquoise blue sea makes for a stunning scene. These beaches and stunning scenes make Varadero one of the top winter sunshine destinations around the world. The beach at Varadero stretches for 13 miles (22 kilometres) and you walk it in its entirety. You’ll find public beach access points amongst the bars and cafes. If you’re staying at one of the resorts of a private casa particular then you’ll likely be backing straight onto the beach, so enjoy!
Some parts of the beach are best for sunbathing, some for swimming, some for snorkelling and some for other water sports.
Have a resort day In Varadero
If you’re not staying at a resort or all-inclusive hotel with beach and pool access in Varadero, then you’ll likely be able to get a day rate with them. Inquire either on the beach, or at the lobby to get a day rate that includes sun umbrellas, pool access, access to any private parts of the beach, sun loungers, and even drinks and meals.
Take a trip in a classic car in Varadero
The two best places to take a classic car ride in Cuba are Havana and Varadero. These cars are originals, they’re probably older than most of us. And taking a ride in a classic car really is an iconic thing to do in Cuba. You’ll find so many classic American cars in Cuba because of the trade restrictions placed on the country following the Cuban revolution. It was way too expensive to import cars from anywhere else other than the USA and they’d banned exports to Cuba. And so it became necessary to fix up the older cars. So these classic cars you see driving around the streets of Havana and other cities are there not just for tourists, but they’re a way of life and a necessity. And riding in them is absolutely magical.
The majority of the classic cars that have been restored and that are used for class car tours at in Havana and Varadero, as this is where the majority of the tourists are. You may find some classic cards in Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, but there tend to be fewer of them and they’re not in as good a condition. So seize the opportunity while you can!
You can wave down a classic car in the street. Or speak to the concierge or doorman at your hotel or resort. A ride from any of the resorts in Varadero to downtown will cost around US$15. For a bit of a tour with advice on the best places to eat and drink maybe US$20-US$30. Be sure to agree on the price before you get in the car. And, believe me, it’s well worth it!
Take a Guided Tour of Varadero
Sometimes the best way to see a place is to get a local to take you to all the important stops and give you advice for where else you should visit. And that’s exactly what this guided tour of Varadero does. You can arrange it for a time of your liking and you’ll be collected from your hotel or resort in Varadero and dropped off there at the end of the tour unless you want to be dropped elsewhere.
First of all, you’ll get an overview of Varadero on a bus tour – when you’ll see the old Spanish watchtower, the Church of Santa Elvira, a street full of craft stalls, and Josone Park. Then you’ll stop at the Casa del Ron, or the House of Rum, to talk about this famous Cuban product. (We recommend visiting it later by yourself for tastings and purchases). But don’t worry your next stop is La Bodeguita del Medio, a bar decorated with hundreds of photos and signatures of famous personalities. La Bodeguita Del Medio is famed as one of Ernest Hemingway’s drinking haunts! You’ll get an overview of Cuban Cocktails (which we wrote about here) and then you’ll get to taste one too. Once your thirst has been quenched you’ll head for the Xanadú Mansion, a uniquely decorated residence that belonged to the chemist Alfred Irénée Dupont. There are incredible views from the house, which has balconies that are designed to resemble the stern of a ship and inside there’s an electromechanical organ with 3,000 pipes allowing the music to fill the entire house.
Take the Hop-on Hop-Off Bus Tour of Varadero
The hop on hop off double-decker buses in Varadero run a route between the Varadero Marina and Varadero downtown. It’s the cheapest way to get around Varadero, apart from walking as it costs only US$5 a day. Kids under 5 travel for free. These buses, often called the Varadero Beach Tour buses run from 0930 until 2100 and have 46 stops linking all the Varadero hotels, shopping areas, marinas, the golf course, the Varadero Dolphinarium and downtown Varadero. They run every 30 minutes or so and you buy the ticket on the bus.
Here’s the map of stops for the Varadero Beach Tour Bus.
Head to Varadero’s Municipal Museum
You’ll find the Museo Municipal located in a typical 1920s colonial beach house. It’s surrounded by balconies and a wooden terrace. The museum is located at Calle 57 and Ave de la Playa, Varadero, Cuba and has the remains of a two-headed shark and the skeletal remains of one of the first settlers of the island of Cuba. There’s also exhibits of the history, art and archaeology of the area.
Take a Cooking Class in Varadero
There’s no better way to experience Cuban culture than by understanding the food of Cuba. It’s an awesome way to not just get to know the cuisine of Cuba, but also to engage with Cuban locals at the same time. Experiencing Cuban food by learning not just about the food, but also the history of the dish, the person cooking it and how it comes about is a truly enlightening experience. That’s why I think that the best Cuban food you can get is that which you learn about from the ground up, by buying the ingredients, by preparing it and by cooking it in a Cuban kitchen under the guidance of a local host. And this cooking class in Varadero really is something special.
You’ll get four hours of foodie fun at this cooking class in Varadero. While the tour and cooking class meets in central Varadero, you’ll travel by minibus to Cardenas and take a tour in a horse-drawn carriage and then buy the ingredients for your cooking class. Then you’ll head to the home where you’ll be taught how to cook Cuban food. There’s a swimming pool at the home, so you’ll get a chance to cool off and relax – and you’ll also learn to make three Cuban cocktails – and, of course, to drink them too! Want to know more? Here are the Varadero cooking class details.
Visit the Casa del Ron, Varadero
Part museum with models and an exhibition depicting early rum distilleries and part shop, ok lots of shop, this is a fabulous (no pressure) place to stop off and find out a little more about that Cuban staple, Rum. The House of Rum – Casa del Ron has an excellent collection of both Cuban and Caribbean rums. I can’t promise that you’ll completely understand rum distilling after a visit here, but you’ll have had several tastes and found a great place to buy some rum to enjoy on your holiday.
The Casa del Ron is found at Avenida 1ra, Varadero, Cuba and is open from 0900 until 1900 every day.
Visit La Casa del Habano, Varadero
If you’ve never been into a Cuban cigar store, then you should definitely come to Varadero’s Casa del Habano. This store is filled with cigars (and cigarettes) and pricing is at standard Cuban government prices.
The Casa del Habano is located at Cnr 1 & Calle 63, Varadero 42200, Cuba and is open from 0900 until Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, it is open from 0900 until 2100.
Like Chocolate? Visit the Casa del Chocolate
Cuba is actually a producer of cacao beans, as it lies at the very edge of ideal growing conditions. A small amount of cacao beans are produced at the far eastern end of the island, in the province of Baracoa. And these beans are also processed in Cuba too, which is rather rare – going from bean to bar in the same country. And the Casa Del Chocolate here in Varadero is the only restaurant in Cuba that has chocolate on every item on its menu. They don’t use cooking oil, it’s cocoa butter for instance. So here you’ll find hot chocolate, cakes, main courses and of course chocolate to take away. The chocolate that they make here is made 100% from Cuban cacao.
The Casa del Chocolate is located at Avenida 1ra, Varadero 42200, Cuba and is open from 1100 until 2000 every day.
Visit Parque Josonne
The park, which measures about 9 hectares has lots of green areas in the heart of Varadero. There’s also a lake where you can take a boat ride(US$US$0.5 per person per hour) and you’ll find a few restaurants that serve Creole food. The gardens date back to 1940 and take their name from the then owners, José and Onelia Iturrioz. It’s an easy relaxed place to spend an afternoon in Varadero with some shade from the trees.
Maison Xanadu, Varadero, or Dupont House
This mansion, the Xanadu Mansion is the clubhouse and hotel of the Varadero Golf Club. It was built in 1930 for the French American millionaire, Alfred Irénée du Pont who was the then chairman of the DuPont Chemical Company. There are seven balconies shaped to look like the stern of a ship and it has been maintained carefully and restored to the 1930’s building plans. The mansion and its grounds became a golf club in 1963 following the death of Du Pont. This Cuban National Monument is worthy of a visit in its own right and you don’t need to play golf to visit.
Go Golfing in Varadero
However, if you do want to golf, then Varadero is an excellent place to play golf. The Varadero golf club is the only 18 hole, 72 par golf course in Cuba. This course at the Varadero Golf Club was opened in 1999 and was designed by a Canadian, Les Furber. Golf carts are mandatory here and you can rent all the equipment that you need. Some hotels in Varadero (like the Melia complexes) include green fees in their rates, so if you’d like to golf in Varadero, it’s worth taking a look at staying at the right hotel!
Visit the Varadero Mangroves – Varahicacos Ecological Reserve
More than 70% of Cuban’s coast is lined with mangroves and Varadero is a great location to take a trip into the mangroves from. The Varahicacos Ecological Reserve is close to the Varadero and it’s possible to visit from the Marlin Chaplein Marina. You can take a motorboat or jetski from there and take a trip through the mangroves of Varadero. It’s a great spot to see the three types of mangrove in the area, pataban, yana and red. The Varadero mangroves are also a great place to see manta rays and cat sharks. Head to the Marlin Chapelin Marina to organize a boat, or take this two-hour to the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve and get collected and returned to your Varadero hotel.
You can also visit the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve from Autopista Sur – and take a walk around this protected area that has a large variety of plants and animals. Be sure to find the Hicaco plant, which gives its name to the Peninsula. It’s well known for its flavoursome white fruit. You’ll also find a cactus here that’s over 600 years old and some graves that predate the Spanish settlers. Wear good walking shoes, as the trail is rough. The trail takes about 45 minutes to one hour to walk and tickets cost US$3. As well as walking and visiting the mangroves you can snorkel, dive and climb here too.
The Varahicacos Reserve is open from Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1700.
Final Words on the Top Things to Do in Varadero Cuba
Whether you’re staying in Varadero for your visit to Cuba, or just visiting for a short time there are plenty of things to keep you occupied here. There are adrenalin filled activities, from diving and other waters sports, cultural activities exploring the history (and taste) of rum and cigars here in Cuba. And of course, there are the beaches, for which is Varadero is famed. One things for sure, you won’t want for things to do in Varadero Cuba!
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