Some people visit Cuba and only see Varadero. Others hear about the resort town and the many tourists and they stay far away. I think three nights there was the perfect amount. If you had your own transportation or a private taxi you could even do it comfortably in two nights if you just left late the next day. I stayed for three nights and it was exactly what I was looking for.
I left Varadero for the end of my three weeks in Cuba. I knew that there wasn’t a whole lot that I wanted to see and that I had already spent a lot of time at Caribbean beaches, so more than a few days would surely bore me. However, I did meet tons of people who stayed in just Varadero for over a week and were very happy, so do whatever makes you happy!
Most people who go to Varadero stay in all-inclusive hotels right on the beach and they spend at least $100 a night for that privilege. I stuck with AirBnB and found a great place that was like a mini hotel. From the outside, El Mojito looks like a restaurant, but once you get past the front gates and go upstairs toward the restaurant you just need to say, “AirBnB” (<– save $20 with my link) and the owner will find you to bring you to your room. My room there was the most modern and comfortable room out of all of the places I had stayed in Cuba. It had a big bed, refrigerator, great AC, nice shower, and big flat screen TV in the room. But the best part of staying there is that I had access to some of the best food I got to have in Cuba (other than my casa in Trinidad) for a very reasonable price. You must try their paella even if you aren’t staying there. The El Mojito restaurant was ALWAYS full of people so try to go early! I cannot recommend them enough!
Find a good spot in the white sand and park it for a day. Just relax! After helping to translate something for a street vendor, I asked her where the best spot on the beach was for someone without an all-inclusive. She recommended that I go to Calle 30 and rent a chair for the day. They had a free thatched roof hut for me to enjoy for the day. I was able to rent my hut and the lounge chair for 2CUC. I had a lunch of a sandwich and mojito for 4 CUC total from the beachside hut. I was even able to buy a fresh coconut from a lifeguard from the comfort of my lounge chair.
From there, I hopped on the hop-on-hop-off bus and went to the other side of the peninsula to Plaza las Americas. This is a great shopping mall with an affordable grocery store (excellent prices on alcohol and chocolate!), souvenir shops with higher end stuff, and many other nooks and crannies that I didn’t venture in to. I went there mostly to find powdered milk to bring back with me to Venezuela for all of the times that I can’t find milk for my coffee!
Tip: be sure to grab a full day pass for the hop-on-hop-off bus tour for 5CUC to take you all over Varadero. So much cheaper than the 7CUC+ for a one-way taxi ride!
I did a Seafari catamaran tour of Cayo Blanco with an upgrade to “swim with the dolphins”. This was the only tour (unlike my tour in Vinales and my tour in Trinidad) that I felt was a complete waste of money! First, they serve you super cheap and gross rum. Then they took me to “swim with the dolphins”. Ha!
The dolphins are in netted off pools almost across from Cayo Blanco. Twenty of the tourists jump into the pool and line up on a concrete ledge built in so that the water is waist high. Then the ONE dolphin swims down our line as we hold our hand out to pet it for one second. Then it does the second pass. After that, the dolphin did three jumps and then “sang” a song for us. Then the dolphin posed for a picture with each of us. I did not pay even more for this picture because it was such a letdown. Then we got out of the water for the next two groups to repeat it all. I did not swim and there was only one dolphin with us. Complete rip off!
After getting on the boat they give us a hard sell to buy an extra lobster for 12CUC. Don’t do it. It was cold and rather flavorless when I bought it. I think it was my fourth or fifth lobster in Cuba and it was by far the worst. After eating the lobster it was time for the regular buffet style lunch, which was included with the trip. It was fine, but I would have rather had food made to order from my posada.
Then we had a couple of hours to play on the beach or sleep off the cheap rum. Some people took this opportunity to have a photo shoot with one of the crewmembers from our catamaran. I read my book and enjoyed the shade from the palm trees.
On the way back there was a drinking contest and PG-13 pole-dancing contest. I do not recommend this trip for those people who have children (there were a handful of kids on our boat). Lol. A bottle of the super cheap rum was given to the winner.
I think the beaches in Varadero mainland were leaps and bounds better than the one the catamaran took us to (Cayo Blanco). I would have much rather brought my Havana Club Anniversario, spent another day at my thatched roof hut in my comfy lounge chair, and ordered lobster for lunch AND dinner for a fraction of the cost of my 110CUC tour. Skip this tour!
Happily, I ended the day with salsa dancing at Calle 62 to live music and a show with some friends I made at my posada. It was definitely not as good as the live music I heard in Havana or Trinidad, but it was on par with the group I saw in Santiago de Cuba. Sadly most of the people were tourists, but I made friends with the DJ and danced with him a lot. Hahaha. He even gave me a free CD of the group who had been playing that night.
I slept in on this day and just hung out with the people at my posada in the swimming pool area at the posada. I had leftover paella from the El Mojito restaurant that was delicious cold too.
I caught a Viazul bus around noon to take me back to Havana. It drops people off in numerous locations so be sure to have the contact info for your Airbnb host if you arrive early. I had to make my way into this apartment building and then stand in a hallway banging on a gate for half an hour because my bus arrived 40 minutes early and I didn’t have a phone to call my host!!
Tip: most Airbnb hosts in Cuba were very kind to either send someone to meet me at the bus stop and bring me to their casa or they met me at the bus themselves. This was the only time that my host refused to meet me and it caused all kinds of trouble. Just insist that someone meets you!
Thankfully, my day got significantly better with another private Kizomba and Ladies Styling class at Salsa Sabor. AND then I continued the fun by hiring one of the teachers to take me to El Canon where the rest of the teachers and many students were dancing salsa. It was a fantastic way to end my time in Cuba!