Cuba bound

The air was warm with a mango-scented breeze when we arrived in Varadero. 

The Customs officials take their job seriously with stern faces and brusque queries. One can’t but help but feel a little intimidated. 

There was no “welcome to Cuba” during this entry interrogation. Thankfully, we were deemed “acceptable” and allowed to pass through the exit door accompanied by a loud buzzer.

Once we collected our luggage, it was off to the Cambio or money changer. You can’t buy Cuban pesos outside the country, so you need to bring cash to exchange upon arrival. 

The Convertible Peso (CUC) is given to tourists to spend and is based on the USD. Once we had some local currency, we jumped into a taxi and headed to our resort.

The beach town of Varadero is10 kilometres from the airport, but the hotel strip extends all the way to the end of the peninsula, which extends another 30-40 km beyond. Along this narrow windswept road, there is a string of international resorts ranging from sketchy two stars to contemporary five-star palaces. 

The farther from Varadero, the newer the resort. Star categories in Cuba don’t measure up to equivalent ratings of the Mayan Riviera. A five star here is a solid 3.5 star in Cancun.

The beach is the true star of this destination. Baby powder white sand stretches for kilometres allowing the avid walker an endless route.

The ocean is clean and vibrant with turquoise hues. Water sports, sailing craft, parasailers and kite surfers along with boogie boards and snorkel gear keep the vacationing clientele busy.

A tourist bus goes from all the resorts to Varadero — $5, hop on hop off all day. Scooters are also readily available for fun exploration of local towns and farm villages.

Varadero has longed been plagued with reviews about terrible food and unhygienic conditions. I felt the food was fine. By no means the same calibre of Mexican counterparts regarding variety and service, but it was plentiful and fresh. They do the best they can with the limited source of produce at hand. 

The accommodations were clean and well maintained. Stick to Barcelo, Iberostar and Melia properties and you will be fine.

The one consensus is that no one employed in the hotel industry seems to like their job. Bar service was slow everywhere we went. Reception staff ignored guests and promised services were never delivered. The general feeling is that you are being tolerated. 

Now and then a bright smile would break through and all was right in the world.

You do yourself a disservice if you don’t go to Havana. Ideally, do the overnight tour to soak up the culture and vibrant nightlife. Cuban music and dance is truly fabulous. 

A sad, aging beauty, Havana nonetheless will impress you with a quiet dignity. The tour guides provide a veritable treasure trove of facts about Cuba’s past and hopeful future.

Cuba is a diamond in the rough. Go with an open mind and adventurous heart. Go because it’s not Mexico.


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About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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