Being a [wanna be] history buff, I initially gave thought to only Havana while planning out the details of my Cuba trip. Big mistake. Google search came through and led to the picturesque beach town of Varadero, the crown jewel of Cuban beaches. Located in the Matanzas province, Varadero is only 20 km long and 1 km wide but yields gorgeous white sand, luscious coconuts on palm trees and turquoise water that seems to beckon you to come hither. The Caribbean islands spoiled me to the point where I no longer seek solace in the East coast beaches at home. I knew if I didn’t go, I’d only regret it later on.
It took my small-attention-span brain all of 20 seconds to add this destination to my bucket list. Apparently, this was an ‘in spot’ before the Cuban Revolution where all the celebrities would hang out. Al Capone even had a home here but it’s now a restaurant.
Only one problem –it’s super touristy which meant the hotel prices are jacked up and out of my budget. I just got back from Morocco and wasn’t ready financially to ball out. Most of the accommodations were lavish resorts and I’m not about the ‘all-inclusive’ life. No judgment on those who swear by it; I realize people either love it or hate it and I fall into the latter category.
Travel tip: A little tip if you want to avoid high costs of beach towns, not just in Cuba but anywhere – stay in the next town over.
Prices were slashed by more than half and we got to interact with friendly locals – including three year olds who dance salsa better than you ever could. Enter Santa Marta with their cheap food and even cheaper drinks. It’s either a 20 minute walk or a quick cab ride to the beach depending on how lazy adventurous you’re feeling.
My friends and I stayed in a gorgeous new house with modern appliances and a fancy bathroom; not bad for $35 a night! (FYI: this was per night not per person). It was small for four girls but whatever; we didn’t come all the way here to stay indoors.
Our host, Susanna, recommended the best places for us to avoid the crowds. Are you ready for it? Calle 15, with their delicious $2 meals RIGHT ON THE BEACH. Choice of meat, rice, beans, plantains and a salad. Cough up another 50 cents for a drink.
This was where all locals hang out and it’s away from the high-end restaurants and tourists. Not to mention there’s more privacy. Swim, eat, nap, repeat. I don’t need to tan because I’m melanin blessed but if you aren’t as fortunate, be sure to include it as well.
Don’t forget to smoke your cigar either, it’s allowed. Can life get any better than a beautiful free beach and dirt cheap authentic Cuban food? I think not. We met a few tourists who seemed so dejected because they took a day trip to Varadero instead of spending the night. There’s a golf club somewhere too that I didn’t bother to look for.
For my adventure junkies; fear not.There’s kayak rentals for $10 for two hours and numerous scuba diving spots near Varadero with options for parasailing.
I know what you’re thinking – what about the nightlife? The liveliest bars and clubs are within walking distance from one another. If you’re a classic rock fan like myself, you’ll enjoy the Beatles Bar. They have a live band every night, playing all the classic hits. Nothing like jamming to “Living on a Prayer” with a Caribbean twist.
If authentic Latin music and dancing is what your little heart desires, head on over to Calle 62. This isn’t just the street but the name of the venue. When it closes for the night, tourists and locals head over to Havana Club next door which coincidentally opens at 2am. The party just continues but with more EDM. We encountered a man with a Santa costume on so it’s pretty safe to assume they don’t enforce strict dress code.
You can’t come to Cuba and not experience the delight that is Varadero. Some of our most memorable moments were spent in this part of Cuba with funny stories to take back home. It exceeded my expectations and as an added bonus, I was under my budget. So if you’re looking into a lazy beach getaway, please check out Varadero.