The beaches on Varadero are truly something to see. The sand is perfectly white and and the brilliant aquamarine water mellow and shallow, stretching far off into the horizon.
Varadero is one of the Carribbean’s largest resort towns. The penninsula measures 20 kilometers long and is lined with one all-inclusive resort after another. The town clearly has been built-up to cater to tourists as there is not much authentically Cuban about it.
We enjoyed our first day of beach and swim time but unfortunately were rationing our sunscreen and, as our host family liked to say, got cooked “like little scrimps.” Therefore the remainder of our beach time had to be spent under the shade of a thatched hut.
Veradero town itself was a bit bizarre. Perhaps it was because we were staying off the main drag in a casa particulare rather than a resort, but the whole town felt a bit like the Truman Show.
First Avenue, the central street in Varadero, was lined with one State-owned restuarant after another offering the same array of bad international food. Each State-run convenience store and gift shop had the same mix of crappy packaged snacks, Habana Club rum and straw hats.
To add to this, the police and military presence is strong in Varadero – most likely because of how important the town is for tourism income for the country. However, our host family swore that after we (Americans) checked in, a secret service policeman occupied an otherwise vacant apartment below their house. Whether real or perceived, the feeling of being watched at all times was high.
Host Family to the Rescue
It was our host family, the Rodriguez-Gomezs, who were the most redeeming factor of Varadero. From the second we walked in they welcomed us with big smiles, lots of laughs and huge Habana Libre drinks. We had the opportunity to ask many of the burning questions we had about life under a communist regime.
All in all, Varadero felt a bit soul-less but was a welcomed respite from the hustle of Havana for a few days.