The taxi driver in Havana won’t shut up about Varadero. CANCUN? NAH, Varadero is the best beach in the world. Wow, such pride. I’m from the Philippines, Grandpa. I’m pretty hard to convince when it comes to awesome beaches. But he was right to some extent. I mean, I am not raving about Varadero, but I did enjoy my stay there anyway. To me it seemed more like Boracay, but without the crowd and the party people. It was chill like that. The sand is white and the water is clear. Picture perfect, it was indeed.
The schedule of the bus trips from Havana makes it appear as though you will be traveling for more than three hours, but going there and coming back proved that it doesn’t go over three hours each time. The buses are comfy enough for you to be able to sleep a bit, although the number of passengers do fluctuate after the stop at Matanzas halfway through. The bus can be really cold, and what with the blazing 34C inferno waiting for you outside, your sinus won’t be very happy about it.
The station of Viazul is a couple of blocks away from the beach. It’s easy to know which direction to go. The other way is a dead end leading to the main road, with a good view of the quay that separates Varadero from the main island. If you refer to a map of Cuba, you will see how this beach paradise juts towards the Caribbean. Whether that’s all natural or manmade, I can never be so sure. But that’s the least of your problems. Head the other way and you’ll find yourself at the beach in five minutes or so.
If all the money changers in Havana closed for the day before you can transact with them, then just change your dollars here. The first bank you’ll see to the left is open until 7 PM, if I’m not mistaken. They don’t do MXN – CUC exchanges, though. The other bank along the next road does, and the rates were kind of okay. But I still recommend a USD – CUC conversion. It will make your life easier. As for withdrawing cash with your Cirrus card, I tried it. It didn’t work.
Don’t make the mistake of going in the morning and getting back to Havana in the evening. If you decide to do that on a weekend, make sure that your return ticket is booked weeks in advance. Otherwise, you have no chance of getting on that bus. The route is kind of busy, you know. But staying in Varadero for a few days is not a bad thing if you love the beach that much. I already promised to return because I felt that my stay was too damn short. What did I love most about it, then?
There are only two venues where I can catch that ever elusive peace of mind: the rink, and the beach. Yeah, they seem to be polar opposites as far as temperatures are concerned, but when I lace up my skates and glide or rest on a hammock and just watch the waves bitch slap the turquoise waters of the sea, it gives me that sense of tranquility that you just can’t find at any urban jungle. The good news is that reclining beach chairs come cheap in Varadero at just CUC2 (~PHP94) for the entire day. Perfect.
Imagine a buff guy emerging from the water and it looks like a teaser for Baywatch Reloaded. Imagine me emerging from the water and it looks like an infomercial from the WHO asking you to join the fight against malnutrition and world hunger. Even then, I acknowledge the powers of the beach in convincing you to start living a healthy lifestyle. The problem is, that feeling almost always ends up staying there. Once you are back in the city, it becomes nothing more than a fleeting afterthought.
But I still had to take my shirt off. The 34C weather of Varadero means you will be drenched in sweat after five minutes or so if you don’t go shirtless. But this is not that a big a dilemma because the sun guarantees you need just another five minutes to dry that very same shirt. But you don’t really want to smell like human misery when you board that bus back to Havana, now do you? Water is expensive at the beachfront at CUC2. They also serve liquor, although I wasn’t in the mood for it, not with that heat.
Taking a stroll around town is also a good distraction. The main attractions are hotels and the locals themselves. Calesas are common forms of transportation here, as well as those cute yellow taxis that look so out of place. The town also has a lot of those trees with orange leaves that serve as a good counterweight against the blue and white of the beach. Food is cheap and you can get a complete meal for CUC6 (~PHP282). As for accommodations, I really wouldn’t know, but there are plenty to choose from.
[MATANZAS] Varadero Verdadero