The swaying palm trees, powdery white sand, crystal-clear waters and undisturbed peace of Varadero’s stunning beaches can cast a spell upon any visitor. Situated in the 20 kilometre-long Hicacos Peninsula within the province of Matanzas in Cuba’s northern coast, this town has become the island’s most popular tourist hub, boasting over 60 hotel properties and various entertainment centres. Home to what has been described as one of the world’s most stunning beachfront; it is no wonder Varadero holds such a privileged position amongst sun-loving travellers.
Though there is no question that Varadero possesses an unbeatable charm for beach bums, there is no need for your experience to be one-hundred per cent beach-centred. If lying around on the shore with a cocktail in hand starts to feel tedious, there are several ways of bringing a little more excitement into your holidays without stepping too far from your resort. Whether you’re looking for just one fun day trip or several days of exploration, Varadero has more to offer than just idyllic beaches.
Jeep tour to Yumuri Valley
Connecting with Cuba’s stunning and well-preserved flora and fauna could be just the escape you need whilst on your beach retreat. Signing up for this tour will take you to discover some of Matanzas’ most beautiful natural sites.
Your trip begins as you hop on to a jeep with your guide and ride through the north coast of the island. You will pass through embankments, quarries, palm groves and small countryside settlements, before arriving to your stunning destination: the Yumuri Valley.
Hidden behind the hills that skirt the northern edges of Matanzas, the Yumuri Valley is positively the most beautiful natural landscape in the province. Boasting a new vista around every corner, this setting is certainly off the beaten track and an amazing place to get a taste of Cuba’s countryside as rolling pastures merge into fields of palm trees, and small forests are interrupted by plots of banana, maize, tobacco and other crops.
After exploring and snapping some shots you will arrive at the breath-taking Saturno Cave, a 20-foot-deep natural cavern flooded with crystal clear water. Observe the stunning rock formations from stalagmites to stalactites, dive into the cool waters and explore this underground world inhabited by blind fish and shrimps. Saturno Cave is truly a unique sight; its marine life can only be found living in dark limestone caves in certain parts of the world such as Africa, South America and Cuba.
After this energy-packed activity, you will get to relax as your guide takes you back to a typical Cuban ranch. Your trip back will be a treat in itself as you sail down the scenic Yumuri River, on board a motor-powered boat. Upon arrival, you will meet a friendly local family, engage in some horseback riding through the rural area and taste the delicious flavours of a homemade Cuban meal.
Cayo Blanco – catamaran cruise and swimming with dolphins
Those who love interacting with beautiful aquatic species will find this marine excursion an amazing way of creating treasured memories. Say goodbye to your hotel for a few hours and head to a different kind of seclusion by travelling to the breath-taking Cayo Blanco (White Key).
A small islet and marine reserve in the Gulf of Calzones, Cayo Blanco is only a few kilometres east of Varadero. Embark on this exhilarating seafari on board a luxurious catamaran and sail across the sparkling azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Once you have set foot in this uninhabited tropical islet, you will be able to feast your eyes upon its beautiful nature set against the backdrop of the majestic Sierra Maestra Mountains.
Take a moment to look around you and be courageous enough to embark on the underwater adventure of exploring the submarine world of one of the best diving sites in Cuba. Put your snorkel on and submerge yourself into the pristine waters of the stunning coral reefs and impressive sea terraces. As you swim by in awe, spot the colourful and diverse marine life of Cayo Blanco, which is teeming with corals, sponges, sea fans, gorgonians and a wide range of tropical fish.
Once you are satiated from all the aquatic beauty, you will have a moment of rest on the beachfront. Indulge in a delicious seafood lunch of lobster, prawns, chicken, rice, vegetables and fresh fruit right on the beach. These tasty treats will be accompanied by fruity Cuban cocktails.
Finally, your marine day trip will conclude with an exciting dolphin show. The catamaran will once again transport you to the natural habitat of these lovely and clever sea creatures. Feel delighted as you watch the tricks dolphins have been trained to perform and snap shots of the most impressive jumps and twirls. If you adore these animals, put your life jacket on and make the most of this opportunity by diving in to the water with them. Play with the dolphins and make memories that you will treasure for a lifetime.
Guama Taino village and crocodile farm
Combine wildlife and a touch of Cuban history by joining in on this trip around Guama. Boasting traces of Cuba’s first inhabitants (Tainos), the village is set in within Matanzas’ Zapata Peninsula, an area famous for its marshy ecosystems filled with crocodiles and alligators.
Your trip to Guama will be a moment to remember. Your journey commences as you embark on a speedboat that will have you sailing along the clear waters of the province’s Haitiguanico River. As you enjoy the wind in your hair and snap a few shots, you will continue to Placer de las Lisas, where the river can be seen in its full magnitude.
Your first stop will be at the Fiesta Campesina farm. Take a break and indulge in a tasty lunch of traditional Cuban pork accompanied with rice, beans and tostones (fried plantains) before taking a tour around and observing a wide variety of native animals.
From beautiful hutias (adorable rodents endemic to the island which normally inhabit trees) to singing bullfrogs and chirping birds, you will enjoy the rural life of Zapata Peninsula. The most exciting moment of your excursion comes next as you continue to a crocodile breeding farm (considered one of the largest in the Americas) and marvel at the aquatic reptiles in all their glory. If you are adventurous enough, you may even want to take a picture holding a baby crocodile.
After touring around the southern peninsula, you will once again take a speedboat to cross over the Treasure Lake (Lago del Tesoro) and arrive at Guama. The area recreates a former Taino village, giving visitors insight into the lives of the indigenous peoples that Christopher Columbus first saw when he arrived in Cuban shores during the late 15th century. Take some pictures in the typical bohio houses and learn about these peaceful people’s traditions and culture.
A day of golfing in the 18-hole course or Varadero City Tour
Those who love the sport, and would enjoy a day out in a luxurious setting will be delighted to sign up for the Varadero Golf Course day trip. The tourist town was Cuba’s first golf course location and has been the setting of important international competitions in the past. Varadero Golf Course is rated gold with 72 par and 6850 yards, and is the island’s only 18-hole course to the date.
Designed by architect Les Furber, President of the Canadian company Golf Design Service LTD (GDS), the golf course combines three styles: the classic design with broad roads bordered by trees, wide and scarcely protected greens, the Challenging or Target Golf design which consists of a modern style with narrow roads and heavily protected greens surrounded by sand traps and lakes whilst lastly the Link design has holes located alongside the sea following the shoreline, introducing the ocean as another obstacle in the game. Located a little distance from the spectacular beach, the course boasts a plethora of facilities including a golf players' reception at the caddy house with a Pro Shop and also a Snack Bar.
By signing up for this day trip you will have access to green fees and a shared golf cart. Practice your swing like a pro at Cuba’s best golfing site and see if you’re truly “up to par”. Once there, you will also have the option of arranging your own game or even signing up for classes to improve your technique. A complete driving range on site is also at your disposal. At this course, the Golf Academy has designed various programmes following international sports guidelines, rules and ethics which are open to all professionals and students who wish to enjoy this fascinating game amidst Varadero's breath-taking beaches.
If golfing isn’t exactly your passion but you would still enjoy taking a look at this 18-hole golf course, taking a city tour of Varadero could be another fun option. Accompanied by a tour guide, you will stroll along the Hicacos Peninsula for three hours of sightseeing the resort town of Varadero. After hopping on the tour bus, you will get to catch a glimpse of the most important and luxurious hotels, and get the chance to stop at various landmarks including the Varadero Museum, the Josone Park and Al Capone’s House (Casa del Al) which has been converted to a restaurant.
This tour continues with a visit to the Rum and Cigar House, where you can sample some fine spirits and quality Cuban cigars. But the highlight is certainly the final destination. The Xanadu Mansion (aka Dupont Mansion), which is the former exclusive estate of French American millionaire Irenee Dupont de Nemours, is home to the amazing Varadero Golf Course. If you wouldn’t want to indulge in the sport per se, you can simply mount to the top floor bar for a chilly drink as you gaze out at the stunning views of the sea and the ample golf course.
Matanzas City and Bellamar Caves
While Varadero may be full of glam and glitz, Matanzas counts with several other interesting and beautiful sites. Getting off the beaten track and exploring a little of the province’s urban highlights and its exotic flora and fauna is exactly what this exciting tour offers. Take a ride through the colourful city and end up in a stunning cave system that will leave you mesmerised.
Your journey begins by travelling through the charming city of Matanzas, only 42 kilometres west of Varadero. Also known as the city of bridges, Matanzas counts with as many as 17 of them, three of which cross over three important rivers. This is why the city popularly got the name of the “Venice of Cuba”. As you ride through the city, you will be able to explore interesting landmarks including historical museums and main squares. Stroll down its quaint streets, admire the beautiful colonial architecture and sample some treats at bustling food markets.
After hours of exploring Matanzas and snapping shots at its most interesting sites, you will once again hop on the car and head over to its beautiful countryside. During the ride, you can start to see how the landscape changes as you drive through sugar cane fields, small villages, exotic orchards and green areas lined with palm trees.
The final stop of this exciting excursion is the Bellamar Caves. Considered one of the of the Caribbean’s deepest and most beautiful underground formations, the Bellamar Caves boast two kilometres of underground passages covered in peculiar stalagmites, stalactites, calcite crystals, fountains and crystallised domes.
The site is also famous for possessing traces of indigenous paintings and fossils. Gaze on at the breath-taking beauty of this natural wonder as you walk through the halls and enjoy the sight of underground streams and fountains. Famous for the medicinal properties of their waters, which are naturally filtered and drinkable, the fountains are a popular attraction. Be bold and take a sip from Fountain of Youth or the Fountain of Love and see whether these waters will work wonders for you.