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Traveling Cuba – Last Stage
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Varadero – outside of all inclusive resorts
After traveling throughout the Cuba for 14 days in rented car Vera and I returned to the place where our journey began. It seems like we are leaving old Cuba behind and returning to “real” world, with lots of Canadian tourist around and English language spoken everywhere.
In Varadero you will find lots of hotels, restaurants and nightclubs, along with its main attraction, 20 km of exquisite beach that seems to go on forever. Visitors can sample Cuban food and cocktails, learn to dance Cuban-style, delight in the music and shop for souvenirs and arts and crafts in open-air markets or the growing number of shops. Water sports are available for almost every taste.
Town of Varadero – the beach
One restaurant in the town of Varadero
Immediately after arriving in Varadero we started looking for a hotel. We knew we couldn’t afford room in the big hotels, so we started searching for the small and not so expensive hotels. Driving slowly down the main street in Varadero, we spotted several small hotels, so we decided to stop at the rustically looking house that was hotel “Don Mares.
Hotel Dos Mares
Hotel Dos Mares is a simple and small hotel in the centre of Varadero. The rooms are very small, but clean and they have air-conditioning. The bathroom has a toilet and a shower. Small, but okay. Breakfast was bad. Of course if you go to Cuba, do not go if you are a fussy eater.
Tourists are everywhere in Varadero
The hotel has a very nice location in the middle of Varadero. The beautiful beach is only 150m from the hotel. Because Dos Mares is one of the few hotels in the city centre, there are not many tourists on the beach. You will be in the middle of Cuban people (especially on the weekend). If you want to go to Varadero, but you don’t want to stay at a (horrible) all inclusive hotel, Dos Mares is a perfect choice!
The beach was gorgeous. Because we were visiting during their winter (March), the ocean was not that calm. It was also windy so we just lay on the sand for some last tanning, before we returned to Edmonton’s cold weather.
Restaurant on the beach with the live band playing Salsa…
This area of Varadero is quite nice because when walking around, we ran into the locals, men always saying nice things to us… just so Latin (so un-north American) this part made our trip even more wonderful. In the evening we had a dinner in the restaurant Antiquedades.
The restaurant, “Antiquities” is located on the main strip in the downtown core of Varadero, alongside the wall surrounding the Parque Josene, on the corner of Calle 56. It is situated within a villa and has a main dining area and rooms for private reservations.
The decor is a true step back in time filled with wonderful treasures from the past. The meal is a fixed price menu with many choices to please anyone’s palate. One has to remember that you are in a 3rd world country and as such filet mignon etc. is not the same in Cuba as you may get at home, but good and tasteful nonetheless. The staff in the restaurant was pleasant and eager to please.
I would strongly recommend this place to anyone looking for a fine dinning experience while on vacation in Cuba. Put on those clothes that you never wear to the hotel dinning room and head over to Antiquedades for a wonderful experience that you will not soon forget.
The peninsula is in Matanzas Province, in western Cuba. It is separated from the mainland by a manmade navigation canal which links the Straits of Florida and the Bay of Cárdenas. Hicacos Point Natural Park is on the peninsula’s northeastern tip.
Varadero began to be developed as a summer vacation resort in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the last ten years that its network of hotels and other facilities was given an unprecedented boost. Its tourist offer was diversified and upgraded at the same time.
One of the four stars hotel resort in Varadero – Cuatro Palmas
Its main attraction has always been its marvelous beach, but this isn’t all it has to offer. You can explore its caves and escarpments, a necklace of virgin cays that are easy to get to and the carefully preserved natural landscape at the northeastern end of the peninsula. In addition, Cárdenas, the nearby city of Matanzas, the Zapata Peninsula and the San Miguel de los Baños Spa offer cultural, historic and natural attractions.
Varadero’s Plaza América Conference Center has all the facilities needed for conference and incentive tourism. Varadero is a free port and has exceptionally good conditions for scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, yachting and other water sports.
How to Get Here:
Varadero’s Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport receives direct flights not only from other parts of North and Central America and the Caribbean but also from Europe, South America and Africa.
A scenic highway links Varadero with Havana, 83 miles (134 km) away, and the Central Highway and National Throughway connect it with other regions.
If you prefer to come by boat, you can choose among three marinas: the Chapelín, Gaviota and Puertosol Dársena de Varadero.
In late 1999, Varadero had a total of 11,245 hotel rooms, in 42 hotels (5 of them five-star, with 1640 rooms; 21, four-star; 8, three-star; and 8, two-star). Only one hotel, with 42 rooms, is for health tourism. The 41 others, with 11,203 rooms, are for beach tourism.
Other attractions in Varadero:
The growing number of options now available to visitors in Varadero will fill your free time-both during the day and at night-with pleasure.
Restaurant “Casa del Al Capone”
Apparently Al Capone used to stay in this villa
Hicacos Point Natural Park:
This natural park, located on the northeastern tip of the peninsula, was declared an ecological preserve in 1974. Its 312 hectares contain many specimens of Varadero’s flora and fauna. It has the largest, best preserved woods and coastal ecosystem in the area. See the legendary “El Patriarca” (The Patriarch) cactus, Ambrosio’s Cave, Mangón Lake and the ruins of the La Calavera (Skull) Salt Works.
This is one of the 15 archaeological sites on the peninsula which contain testimony of Indian customs. It is 820 feet (250 m)long and has five interconnecting galleries. The cave contains 72 rupestrian drawings-one of the largest collection of Indian pictographs in the Caribbean islands. During the colonial period, runaway slaves used to take refuge in the cave.
This is the main lake on the peninsula and is the home of 31 species of birds (19 of them migratory) and 24 varieties of reptiles.
Museum of Municipal History:
This museum is housed in one of the first frame houses built in Varadero. It is in the bungalow style typical of the southern part of the United States, and its roof is of tiles made in the area. This is one of the most beautiful and best-cared-for of the many houses of this style that were built here. Its exhibits depict the history of the Hicacos Peninsula.
The gallery has exhibits of paintings, sculpture, engravings, silk-screen prints, fabrics, photos, and originals and reproductions by important Matanzas artists. It also puts on shows of works by contemporary Cuban painters, such as Mendive, Flora Fong, Fabelo and Zaida del Río.
The park covers nine hectares of grounds, most of which have been left in their natural state. There are four restaurants-Antigüedades, Retiro, Dante and La Campana-specializing in international, Italian and Cuban cuisine, with cocktails, meat, fish and shellfish; an establishment selling sugarcane juice (which is extracted from the sugarcane while you watch); and a bar, La Gruta, on the shores of a lake.
You can explore the park on foot, by bicycle, in a horse-drawn carriage or by boat. It has a swimming pool and a party room for children (with dance, music, painting, drama and singing classes; performances by clowns; and productions put on by children). For all these reasons, Josone Park is called “a green paradise inside the blue one.”
Once the residence of millionaire Irénée Du Pont de Nemours, it is now the Casa Club. It was built between 1928 and 1930. Quietly elegant and luxurious, its rooms are decorated with precious wood and Italian marble. The Mirador (Lookout) Bar is on the top floor.
This cave, a mile and a quarter from the city of Matanzas, was discovered in February 1861 in an area of marly limestone marine terraces. It is nearly two miles (3,1 km) long, and tourists are shown nearly half of it, (1500 m) including many of its 17 galleries, six halls and a corridor. The constant dripping of the water that seeps from its inner walls ensures 100-percent relative humidity. The temperature in the cave ranges between 77º and 80.6º F. (between 25° and 27° C.).
This is a typical Cuban seaside town. It has some old forts that were used in its defense in the past. Buildings in various 19th- and early-20th-century architectural styles line its clean, straight streets. Some of them are now museums and cultural centers serving the community.
Cárdenas, just eight miles (13 km) south of Varadero, is also known as “the flag city,” because it was where the Cuban flag was first raised. Its traditions include the use of horse-drawn carriages for public transportation.
Cubans call this “the city of bridges,” because they are one of its distinguishing characteristics, and, ever since the first half of the 19th century, “the Athens of Cuba,” because of its active cultural life. Many of its buildings are in 17th- and 18th-century European styles. It is just 55 miles (90 km) from Havana and less than 20 miles (30 km) from Varadero.
Carishow, the company in charge of artistic productions, invites you to see the biggest, most original discotheque in Varadero. Modern lighting and sound equipment. Live shows by Cuban salsa orchestras.
Our Overall Impressions about Cuba
Overall impressions of Cuba are varied and compelling. The skyscapes and landscapes are stunning with wonderful trees. The cities are crumbling with some restoration work in progress and no graffiti. The whole country is in a kind of time warp, untouched by many of the changes of the last 40 years. There are a lot of people standing around and few of them are fat.
The people are friendly and multiracial. Boys are playing baseball in the streets everywhere. Cuba is one of the few countries where baseball is a passion. The climate is very mild so it is common to see men go shirtless, but no pierced ears and few tattoos. The country loves music. Horses are used for transportation. The Chinese supply all the bicycles. Both the people and the government want to have US dollars. Tourists (2,000,000 this year) are the number one source of national income, ahead of sugar cane. Canada is first in tourism followed by Italy, France, England and Germany.
Statues of Jose Martí and photos of Che Guevara are common, but not Castro. TV is his medium. There are power outages. There is a serious housing shortage, so young couples have to live with their parents. Every night they put the mattress down in the living room and may be interrupted during intimacy when some family member wanders in.
Vera and Zdenko at the end of their Cuban trip in Varadero
I won’t go into details but the food in general was not all that great. We did not starve and let’s face it, this is Cuba where people have limited access to food and I think we as tourists should not be too spoiled. Many times I have seen tons and tons of food thrown into the garbage, because consumers from richer countries don’t give a darn and eat with their eyes. Selfish and just plain terrible.
Cuban seafood meal
We did have nice stuff, for example delicious papaya, pineapple and guava fruit. Ice cream was very good too. Coffee was very good. The paella was amazing among other specialties served sporadically. In most tourist places the staff also was very friendly. We tipped almost everyone and in return we had very good service. But in the end, I returned home after two weeks and realized that I lost 3 lb!!
My girlz in front of a restaurant in Varadero
No one knows what will happen in Cuba after Castro dies. He will be 84 this year. Castro has been in power for over 50 years and is a dictator with 9 lives. Imagine, in a country that is nominally Roman Catholic, to eliminate Christmas as a holiday! Castro restored Christmas a couple of years ago. He has zigzagged as necessary to remain in power. He used the Russians to his own ends. He has outwitted every American President he has faced. Clearly he is a nationalist and a socialist. His burning nationalism is the fuel that has kept him in power. He is not a typical dictator who loots the country for his own gain.
The secret of his staying power is that he is a “patriotic” dictator with a strong secret police force. So in spite of the clear economic disaster that his socialistic economics have brought to Cuba, he remains in power. In fact, 70% of Cubans have been born since he came to power. Since he is such a hard-core revolutionary devoting his whole life to changing history, my guess is that there is a high probability that he will die on a historic date. Some potential death dates for him which would have political significance because of their 60th anniversaries are: July 26, 2013, the attack on the Moncada barracks; early December 2016, the voyage of the ship Granma which re-launched the revolution and January 1, 2019, the success of the revolution.
Written by: Zdenko Kahlina