A March 2007 trip
to Varadero by MichaelJM
Quote: Varadero is the all-inclusive capital of Cuba and it was here that we, as all-inclusive virgins, enjoyed the experience for the first time.
Hotel | "Oasis Varadero 1920 "
Despite the numbers of visitors, we were attended to fairly quickly, given our room number, and then provided with a wristband to prove we were all inclusive, which was unceremoniously clipped onto our wrist and ‘must not be removed’. A map of the site was given to us and then we were driven to our apartment in a large golf buggy. Now, there was no way that we could complain about our accommodation. It was at the quieter end of the resort with a balcony that looked in three directions. Straight out of our bedroom, through the double French windows, we had an uninterrupted view of the sea complete with pelicans soaring past us en route to their meal. I’m always amazed how graceful they seem and how quickly they plummet like lead weights from the sky to the sea. A queen-sized bed occupied the centre of the room with a radio, CD player, and TV, coffee maker and a small fridge and plenty of chairs for both inside and outside use. There was a small dressing room with ample space to hang our clothes, an iron (if we fancied doing any washing or our clothes needed pressing) and free access to a safe.
Certainly, we were well equipped and the large bathroom, elegantly tiled, was amply provided with shower gel, shampoo, and body lotion.
Being at the end was, however, a mixed blessing because we picked up the sea breezes that whipped across the peninsula, though I’m not sure that anywhere was particularly protected from the wind. It actually gave a false sense of coolness and you could sit out in the full sunshine without getting too hot. It was good for the tanning but we needed to remind ourselves that the sun’s rays were working even though we weren’t dripping perspiration. From our apartment, we had fantastic views of sunrise and sunset and it was interesting to note how many people came to see and photograph the sun. We could just sit there and enjoy it!
The room’s décor is a 70s rag roll design with what my wife described as a prison stripe across the wall. There’s all the colours you can imagine with yellows, oranges and blues, green and turquoise and light brown—a cacophony of colour that shouldn’t work but does. That’s the Caribbean for you.
The only problem with being "out on a limb" was that the water pressure was low and the shower was often on the chilly side of warm. We did notify reception of the pressure and surprisingly it improved, but showering at peak time usually meant a "refreshing shower".
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 1, 2007
First stop after leaving the airport
Hotel | "Hotel Varadero and its grounds"
These are a maze of footpaths weaving between local flora, some of which has been labelled so at least visitors can, if they’re interested enough, recognize the vegetation.
Although there was a great variety of bird life, we felt privileged to see the frantic flapping of a green hummingbird as it sucked the nectar out of the bell-like red flowers. This was a creature of habit, as we often saw it around 7pm as we made our way to the restaurant.
We observed the antics of a long-legged kingfisher-type bird as it balanced on the model of a flamingo and dipped into one of the hotel’s fish ponds for its breakfast. We couldn’t help but be amused when it over stretched, presumably for a tastier morsel, and toppled into the water. Unconcerned it assumed its former position and lay in wait yet again. A lone egret strutted around the grounds whilst its compatriots flew over the Caribbean Sea alongside a number of pelicans in search of fish.
The grounds were awash with colour of the local flora: red, pink, orange bougainvillea, purples, and blues with the odd splash of yellow. Interspersed, were the perfectly formed bird lillies and the odd wild orchid in the woodland. Coconut trees, palms, and rubber plants were in evidence. Gardenias were plentiful and tall and strong in contrast to the small house plants that we have back home in the UK.
For the more energetic, there were tennis courts and one day we stumbled on an archery range. I had several goes but despite some expert coaching I proved to be verging on inadequate. A few steps away from here in a courtyard area was a small beer garden and an ice-cream parlour. These didn’t seem to be that busy. Indeed, on the occasion that we partook of ice-cream sundaes, we were the only customers for the duration of our sojourn.
Early afternoon, we always returned to the comfort of the wicker chairs outside the Piano Bar to enjoy Pina Colado, a cappuccino or two, and to enjoy the relative calm and shade of the tranquil environment overlooking a large pond with it’s islands of palms and the flash of orange as the waters move with the energetic movements of the resident carp.
The resort has a couple of swimming pools and "inland" from our apartment, we could just see the smaller of the two. This was relatively quiet and we preferred it; very relaxing, indeed, it was early afternoon on the first day when we decided we better head back to the apartment, just as well because we were glowing a nice shade of pink by the time we showered!
Attraction | "Mantanza province "
After the stop at El Penon, we enjoyed a real tasty Piña Colada, with as much rum as you wanted to pour into it. This white rum was exceptionally young so had absorbed few flavours from the barrel. The taste of pineapple and coconut was, however, sensational and despite my cynicism, I’d have to support my tour guides opinion that this is probably the best Piña Colada I’d ever tasted. We then took a small road and wound our way through a wooded area with goats and horses and cows munching at the greenery or the verges. Still, there is no lack of old cars on the road, ‘a museum on the street’, and we shoot past many of these antiquities as they saunter down the quiet Cuban motorway. I use the term advisedly as there are as many people weaving across the road, as there are cars. Most of these, like the people waiting at traffic lights in Havana, are looking for a free lift. Authorized hitchhiking is a feature of Cuba, emphasizing how safe people feel and the communist sentiment of sharing. Along the road groups of children ply their baseball skills and palm trees erupt out of the apparently barren earth. There’s a lot of evidence of scorched scrubland and birds of prey circle above us in the clear blue skies before diving down for their prey. Then we join back onto the ‘main road’ with a horse and cart tethered at the roadside and emergency repair work being carried out on a vintage car. A local farm worker is setting up a roadside stall selling bananas.
Well spaced-out tin-roofed shanty shacks underline the relative poverty of the agrarian worker. In contrast, the burning flame of the nearby oil well flickers above this rural landscape from the tallest hill area. This marks the final part of Havana and province as we move into Matanzas.
We crossed over the Cunehol Bridge, at 112m, it’s the highest in Cuba and had a magnificent view across the valley. It’s known as the valley of 10,000 palms and you don’t need to be a member of Mensa to know why! Once over the River Bridge—a great name for a bridge—we’re officially in Mantanzas province and can see one way to the hills and the other right down to the sea. Despite the fact that this was 'only’ a transfer from hotel to hotel, it was indeed a great and interesting journey.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 1, 2007
Between Varadero and Havana
We were impressed with a magic show and I’m always amazed at the trickery involved and, each time, I am determined to identify the deception. I failed miserably as a single scarf multiplied into many and then transformed into a dove, which when placed in an empty box ‘grew’ into two full-size ducks. I'm not even sure how the two ducks would have fit into the box, nevermind about where the dove disappeared to. The show was mainly conducted in Spanish but as it involved a lot of mime and posturing the language really didn’t matter.
Perhaps the best and most professional show that we saw was the water ballet. I’ve never watched synchronized swimming for more than about thirty seconds before and so was amazed how transfixed I became with this performance. The performance both poolside and in the pool was almost perfectly executed and in absolute synchronicity with the music. I have to say that I struggled to hold my breath as long as the swimmers did and when they emerged from underwater it was always with a smile. Or perhaps it was just relief! Dives were clean and crisp and it was fascinating to note how quickly the performers changed their wet costumes for the next bit of finery.
In contrast, the next night was billed as Cubano and a selection of Cuban music and dance. Considering this was their native dance, the dance of a nation that claims to have rhythm and love to dance, it was an absolute shambles. A couple of the dancers had the beat but the majority were out of step and most noticeable the whole ensemble was unsynchronized and lacking in choreography.
Around the pool there were additional performances ranging from a superb jazz saxophonist, a couple of upbeat vocal groups and, unfortunately, the dreaded karaoke seemed ever-popular, usually with the family and friends of those performers who may be able to sing the notes, but not necessarily in the right order or pitch. The karaoke was certainly a performance to avoid!
Ctra. de Las Morlas Varadero
+53 45 667013
Attraction | "Piano bar"
A brief chat with her revealed that she had a couple of girls, the eldest eight years was already following in her mother’s footsteps and playing the piano, with aspirations (at her tender age) of becoming a classical pianist. Ambitions are important let’s hope she makes it. Although she had some tried-and-tested tunes she was always receptive to audience requests, a quality which endeared her to everyone.
On the pianist’s night off, a classical guitarist took over and played with real gusto and enthusiasm. However, he had zero stage presence and really was performing for himself or the odd member of the audience who had bought his CD. Indeed this guy had a certain arrogance and surrounded himself with old posters, presumably of times when he performed in bigger and better venues.
At night, the bar is fairly full and it requires patience to queue for your drinks, but they generally make a good cocktail and certainly they don’t skimp on the alcohol, although you won’t be surprised to read that most of the cocktails were rum-based. They did manage an Irish Coffee, with lashings of whiskey making it a superb after dinner drink.
There’s a smell, not unpleasant, although I suppose really unhealthy, of stale cigar smoke that pervades the bar and in the corner is a store selling a whole range of cigars from small cigarillos at one peso each, to a decent hand-rolled cigar at six pesos. Although I haven’t smoked for over twenty-five years, I decided to have a go at a Cuban hand rolled cigar. It was a smoke for an occasion and took most of the night to finish. Although I enjoyed it, I shall not become an addict. I threatened to take a couple back home as a celebration, with a friend, for my retirement and that I shall do. Interestingly, the price of cigars in the hotel is actually cheaper than those in the factory shop in Havana and no more expensive than the open shops in Varadero.
Often, during the day, we wandered down to the Piano Bar for a coffee and a mid-afternoon Pina Colada. I guess it would be easy to get into this lifestyle; being waited on and enjoying the food and drink at any point of the day without having to dig deep in the wallet to find it.