Varadero is Cuba’s biggest resort area but its beautiful beaches are absolutely free! Find out how to experience Varadero on a budget & judge for yourself if it really is the best beach in Cuba…
Varadero on a Budget: Orientation
A long, thin slice of paradise off the northern tip of Santa Marta, Varadero’s 20km of sand & beach may run unbroken but to us here at DIY Travel HQ, it’s certainly not unsegregated.
The beach is divided into 2 distinct sections, the west & the east.
On the western end lies downtown Varadero, with a mixture of local residents, day-trippers & Cuban holiday-makers. It’s a prosperous side of Cuba though far from the reality of almost every other city in the country.
The main street, Avenida 1, is lined with cafes, bars & restaurants, all in CUC prices. The casa particulares & hotels here cater to Cubans & perhaps the odd independent budget traveller… if you’re looking for Varadero on a budget, this is the area to be in.
You can also find other handy tips in our Cuba Budget Travel guide!
* Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before any trip to Cuba. We’ve been using World Nomads for over 10 years – it’s the best-value provider we’ve found & we’ve also never had any issues on the few occasions we’ve had to make a claim.
Moving into the eastern side of the beach, the clientele begins to look markedly different. The mega resorts start popping up, catered to foreigners who fly in & out from all around the world, especially Europe & Canada.
The further east you go, the more exclusive the resorts & guests.
Most wristband-wearing tourists are on all-inclusive packages, fully content to spend a week or 2 indulging in their little air-conditioned bubble or lazing at the hotel beach. Granted, down here, there are almost no other amenities & downtown is over 10km away.
While Varadero has something to offer for almost every market, it hasn’t quite got the right balance.
If the town can turn segregation into integration, life & society in this corner of Cuba could be as all-inclusive as it’s legendary holiday packages.
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Varadero Town: West
Coming from Matanzas, you enter the Varadero peninsula by crossing the bridge over Canal de Paso Malo.
Take the 1st or 2nd left off the Autopista (highway) & you’ll end up on the main strip, Avenida 1.
Along with numerous bars, restaurants, cafes & souvenir stalls, there are also many convenience stores selling drinks, alcohol & snacks for the beach.
And a handicrafts market, geared to tourists – those experiencing Varadero on a budget may be able to find a few bargains too.
You might be hungry but don’t give in to the CUC eateries… walk a little further & there’s a woman selling great food from her house on Calle 26, on your right – the restaurant-house is called “La Metchora”.
The portions are huge – we enjoyed a lasagna (35 pesos / $1.40) & plate of bacon-pork chop, rice & beans & salad (40 pesos / $1.60).
Good local Cuban street food in pesos, that’s not bread or pizza, is hard to find so take the chance for a delicious meal on the street.
If you’re confused about CUC vs CUP peso prices, check out our guide to Cuba’s dual currency system.
People don’t simply keep flying in from the other side of the world to spend their vacation at any old beach. After Havana, Varadero is holiday destination #1 in Cuba – and it delivers.
If you only have 1 week in Cuba, Varadero should make the list.
While the sand isn’t as white as in the tourist brochures, it is a very pale blonde. Who cares when the beach is soft & silky, fronting clear turquoise waters. The beach seems to stretch on as endlessly as the ocean. It’s definitely worthy of a postcard.
We visited the Western end & the beach here was beautiful to relax & swim in: the waves are calm & water is warm & shallow.
The further west you are, the more crowded the beach. Kite-surfing is very popular & we even saw a wedding being set-up:
Cuban’s haven’t quite gotten the anti-litter message and as the beaches here are used almost exclusive by locals, there’s sadly a lot of rubbish lying around. A lot of it is tied up in plastic bags though, so there’s hope for the future.
We haven’t been to any other Caribbean beach to compare it to but we flew in to Cuba from Cancun. While Varadero is stunning & very similar, it didn’t quite take our breath away as much as its Mexican counterpart.
But for us, this still means that for now, Varadero ranks at the top of the best beaches in Cuba & in the Caribbean!
Attractions in Varadero
We only visited the beach but if you have the time or desire, here are some other things to see & do if you’re in Varadero on a budget:
- Parque Josone
- Parque Central
- Parque de las 8000 Taquillas (a shopping centre)
- Inglesia de Santa Elvira
- Museo Municipal de Varadero
- Mansion Xanadu
How to Get to Varadero
Varadero on a budget travellers can consider staying in Matanzas & visit Varadero as a daytrip.
From Matanzas, head to the intersection of Calle 79 & Calle 272, where there’ll be two main roads branching out of Matanzas. Waiting on the right, you can take a local bus to Varadero for 10 pesos / $0.40.
We actually stopped at the town of Carbonera to snorkel at Playa Coral – from Matanzas, the bus cost 5 pesos.
Then from Carbonera, we caught a passing, small camiones to Varadero for 10 pesos / $0.40 (real price may be 5 pesos / $0.20).
How to Get Out of Varadero
There are camiones on Via Blanca, the road heading to Matanzas – the ride to Matanzas costs 10 pesos / $0.40 & takes around 40 minutes.
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*** The Final Word – Experience Varadero on a budget is certainly possible at Cuba’s best beach destination ***
What do you think is the best beach in the Caribbean?
Easy DIY travel outside city centres using public transport
Visited in May 2016
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