I am part of a travelers group on Facebook, and on this group, we can read, too often, “don’t go to Varadero, it’s too touristy”. Luckily I did not listen to this bad advice. It’s in Varadero where I could enjoy the most beautiful beach in the world ! !
Part 1: Travel Diary
Day 1: Boca de Camarioca
Our bus Viazul Trinidad -> Varadero leaves at 7am, hence our presence at the terminal from 6:15am to do the check-in (no check-in -> our tickets will be resold to other tourists at 6:30am). After a forced lunch break at 11am, we arrive in Varadero at 1pm (30mn in advance).
General surprise: at the Viazul bus terminal, there are NO rewinders. We even have to queue to take the few cabs that pass by. Our casa is in Boca de Camarioca, 11Km from Varadero. A yellow cab (official cab) agrees to drop us there for 10CUC, then once we are settled in his car, he tells us “Boca has two parts, one part before the bridge, and another one after the bridge. If your casa is after the bridge, it will be 15CUC “. Huh??? Welcome to Varadero, where the (yellow) cabs are sharks! We explain to him that it will be 10 CUC and not one more, he reluctantly accepts.
Finally, our casa is located BEFORE the bridge, which saves us an argument in Spanish with the driver.
The reception of the casa is ultra weird, we have the impression that we have to teach them their trade so much the lady who welcomes us is in the west (bad key, blissful smile that sucks, the lady is a little too tactile). Fortunately that the casa has a beautiful terrace and is located at 2mn with foot of a very very beautiful beach.
It is a double beach separated by a small strip of sand and is mainly frequented by locals. Today, there is a lot of wind, a kitesurfer takes advantage of it to show all his talent. At one point he passes very close to JB who is snorkelling. JB has to give up his activity: if he knocks JB out, he won’t even notice it, nobody will know. Even if after 11 months around the world, we say to ourselves that we can die in peace, we prefer to avoid it.
We dine at the casa, it will be one of the best dinners in terms of quality/price ratio.
Day 2: Playa Varadero and the mystery of the refurbished truck
There is a bus that leaves at 9am on the main road to Varadero beach. We hurry to be at the bus stop at 9am sharp. About thirty people are waiting for the bus. We worry a little by saying to ourselves that we will never be able to support the crowd like the line 13 of the Parisian subway, under the burning sun of the Caribbean. We notice a refurbished truck and some people getting on/off. We look inside: there are seats and it looks comfortable. 10CUP (moneda nacional) per person or 0,37€.
We’ve seen these trucks in other cities before, but it was thought that they were reserved for desperate locals who had to be transported with cargo/cattle. But not at all! We are far from Beijing Express. They are just refurbished trucks with more or less comfortable seats. This truck costs 10CUP, which is 10 times more expensive than the local bus (1CUP), that’s why only a small part of the locals take it. We have a red button to press to signal to the driver that we want to get off at the next stop. We get off at the nose because we have absolutely no idea where the next stop is (Note: after “investigation”, these trucks stop on the highway, at the intersections with streets 21, 26 and 45 in Varadero).
We stop at street number 21. We walk towards the beach and discover 20KM OF WHITE AND THIN SAND, with TRANSPARENT and SUPER CLEAN TURQUOISE water. I thought Punta Perdiz was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my life, but no, Vardero beach exceeds my expectations, my imagination, and the pictures I have seen.
Note: that those who advise others, on travel groups, not to go to Varadero are self-flagellating! It is CRIMINAL to advise anyone going to Cuba NOT to go to Varadero.
It’s difficult to describe the feelings I had when I first discovered the beach of Varadero. There are moments like that, when you say to yourself: I went around the world to see it! I worked hard, I did night shifts at work, sacrificed my personal life, but if it’s offering me this, it’s worth it!
This beach is 20km long, there are plenty of places where there is nobody and you can be in the shade, free of charge. But we prefer deckchairs, the sand is too fine, it is windy, we don’t want to eat sand. We want to avoid “full board” hotels (there are a lot of Canadian or Russian tourists who come to Cuba just to relax for 7 days in this kind of hotels in Varadero). That’s why we end up in a bar with deckchairs at 29th street. 2CUC/transat for the whole day. 1,5CUC the mojito. The beautiful life!
The beach of Varadero is really extraordinary. Apart from its 20Km of white sand, the water is so transparent that you can see your feet underwater. There is no waste in the water (a few coconut leaves here and there but it’s nothing). The first 5 meters are very fun, we can jump the waves, the water reaches the legs. If we want to be quiet, we just have to move away a little bit, the water arrives until the torso, there is no more wave. The water is particularly salty, you can make the star and float in the water without any effort (it looks like the Dead Sea). It’s the color of the water that particularly impresses me, this turquoise water, I think I’ve never seen like this anywhere else. It’s the type of beaches I like: you can be active if you want or just get a tan by looking at these beautiful shades of blue. And if we really want to snorkel, a guy proposes to take us by catamaran at 50m from the beach, he feeds the fishes while we snorkel for 20CUC/person/1h.
We decide to go to another beach, Playa Coral (19km away) for JB to do some snorkelling. Our attempts to find a truck fail miserably (we’ll know why a few days later). We have to take a colectivo cab which makes us pay 10CUC. It drops us in front of the diving club “El Coral” which wants to make us pay 10CUC/person for an accompanied snorkelling. We say no thanks and continue walking to another beach, also full of corals (free this time). JB rents flippers (the renter told him that the fire corals here were sharp and could injure him) and discovers a beautiful seabed. The fish are less numerous here than in Punta Perdiz but they are more varied. We have lunch here and then decide to go back home.
A local shows us the bus stop (finally a piece of land) but we don’t see any truck passing by. No bus stops for us. A little desperate (and very sunburned), we hail a yellow cab (nickname “shark”) which asks us 15CUC (while the correct price for tourists should be 5CUC, 1CUC for locals). We try lamentably to lower the price to 10CUC. It is while sitting quietly in the car that he says to us “I drop you after the bridge, not in front of the casa”. Huh? Porquéééé ???? At this price you could take us on a tour of the city, couldn’t you?
We then drown our bitterness in a cup of vanilla ice cream, which is sold to us 10 times more expensive just because we have the misfortune of being tourists.
Day 3 :
The beauty of the landscapes we saw cannot erase this feeling of being walking ATMs. We have spent 1900€ since your arrival in Cuba (86€/day). And it’s not over yet! The hostess of the casa makes me too uncomfortable by caressing my arm while asking me to leave her a positive opinion on Tripadvisor. The cab of the casa makes us pay 25CUC to drop us off in Matanzas (against 15CUC for 24km) and moreover, on the way, whereas we thought we could finally forget this casa, we are accompanied by car just to do some up-sell (a horseback excursion at 40CUC/person). To top it all off, we discover with horror that Matanzas is only an ultra polluted city capable of rotting my lungs in 10 minutes.
It’s in those moments when you say to yourself: I worked hard, I worked nights at work, sacrificed my personal life, all that to get myself feathered and breathe the smoke from the exhaust pipes ????
Day 4 :
During these lows, we have two choices:
(1) stay at the casa/hotel and sleep/watch a show
(2) go to a place where you feel good (Eiffel Tower, Iguazu, Salar de Uyuni …)
So, even though our new casa looks like a billionaire’s room (with Jacuzzi and everything), JB convinces me to come back to Varadero’s beach which is just 30km away – because that’s where I feel best.
On the indications of our host of casa, we find the official stop of the trucks 5 blocks away from the house. It’s a 40mn trip for only 10CUP (moneda nacional) per person, or 0,37€. We are dropped at the 45th street, we go along the beach to find our favorite bar at the 29th street and spend the whole day on the deckchairs.
We did well to come back to it! Today the sea is even calmer and more beautiful. You can see even better the different colors, from turquoise blue to dark blue; and the water is so calm that I was able to stay in “star” mode in the water for a long time (I could have slept or read a book actually). This beach has just reconciled me totally with Cuba and made me forget the little scams of the last few days.
The return to Matanzas is likely to be a little bit sporty, last time we couldn’t find a truck. We go along the 45th street and wait at the intersection of the highway with other locals. It is by observing them that we finally understood the rules of the game.
From Varadero, the path branches off: on the left is Cardenas (where most of the employees of the hotels/restaurants in Varadero live), and on the right is Boca, Carbonera, Matanzas (the corners that interest tourists). When a truck passes by, the driver waves to us from afar, pointing his finger to HIS LEFT to signal that he is going to Cardenas, or to HIS RIGHT to signal that he is going to Boca/Carbonera/Matanzas. So if you want to stop a truck or a cab colectivo (shared cab), do not hail, but wave with your finger to indicate which direction you want to go. If our sign agrees with its direction then it stops, otherwise it does not stop.
Bonus: When we haul like poor pigeon/bear/ATM tourists on legs, only sharks stop.
Most colectivos trucks/taxis go to Cardenas, because (1) there is more demand (2) there is a toll to go to the other direction (Boca, Carbonera, Matanzas). So there are very few trucks going in our direction.
Today is our lucky day. There are a lot of people going in our direction, which attracts the attention of the drivers. After 30 minutes of waiting, a truck finally stops for us. We still can’t believe we just made the round trip Matanzas – Varadero for 1,5€!! (compared to 25€ the day before). Youhouuu ! we should have played the lottery !
In the truck on the way back, I look at maps.me to know where we are. The Cubans are intrigued by my application, it looks like they are seeing a GPS app for the first time. One Cuban even asked me if I could send the app to his phone, he only has the “mapa cuba” app (just the map, but no geoloc). To please them all, I really put myself in “GPS” mode with final destination, and they are happy to say out loud “you know we are 4km from Matanzas? It’s really too cute!
To top it all off, Martha the cook at the casa makes us chicken “too wow” and ropa vieja (slender beef) to fall down! Accompanied by two Cuban mojitos at 1.5CUC. Too hard life!
Part 2: Practical Tips
Casa in Varadero :
The reason tells me to recommend our casa in Boca de Camarioca. It is still well located in a quiet village, the room is spacious, dinner and breakfast are excellent. But my heart tells me that the attitude of the old lady there did not make us very comfortable. I let you contact me (via comment) if you want the contact details.
We didn’t stay in Varadero, we were just passing through, but apart from the “full board” hotels which I find very old for the asking price, the city isn’t that horrible. I didn’t hear any construction noise, I wasn’t disturbed by the horde of tourists (end of April 2017), the beach is 20km long, you will always find quiet corners. I recommend you to look for a particular casa in Varadero.
And if necessary, stay in Matanzas (30km from Varadero), or Boca de Camarioca (11km from Varadero). Just follow my instructions above to find/stop a truck serving these two cities from Varadero for 10CUP (moneda nacional) per person.
Casa in Matanzas :
Our casa is 3km from the city center. It is really very good (cheap and delicious food, impeccable service, English/French speaking hosts). You can get to downtown Matanzas by taking a local bus (1CUP) or truck (5CUP) or colectivo cab (2-3CUC if you negotiate well).
Casa Dona Edita
Address: Street 131 No. 21608, between 216 & 218, quarter Playa, Matanzas 40100, Cuba
In a calle del centro comercial “la sirenita”, calle 131 number 21608, between calle 216 y 218.
Telephone: mi # es +53 52952260 alay y el de la casa es +45 261841
The bar on 29th street:
Bar Villa La Mar, 2CUC/transat, no toilets.
Just next door is the Casa de… (oops I forgot the name) where you can have lunch for 1,75CUC. There are toilets (clean but paying, give 0,10CUC).
- Lodging :
- Casa in Boca: 30CUC/night
- Casa in Matanzas: 25CUC/night
- Breakfast : 5CUC/night
- Dinner :
- Casa in Boca: 10CUC/person
- Casa in Matanzas: 8 to 10CUC/person
- Transats: 2CUC/transat for the whole day
- Beverages: between 1 and 1.5CUC
- Fins rental in Playa Coral : 5CUC/person
- Lunch in Playa Coral: 9,5CUC/person drinks included
- Transportation: avoid taking yellow cabs, they charge 2x more
- Terminal of Viazul -> Boca: 10CUC
- Matanzas -> Varadero by cab colectivo: 15CUC for two is a good price for me (even if the locals pay 2CUC/person)
- Varadero -> Matanzas by cab colectivo: 25CUC for two risks to be the price you will be charged (even if the locals pay 2CUC/person)
- Varadero -> Playa Coral by cab colectivo: 10CUC for two people is an acceptable price (even if the locals pay 1CUC/person)
- Matanzas -> Varadero by truck (or vice versa): 10CUP (moneda nacional) per person
- Matanzas -> Varadero by local bus (or vice versa): 1CUP (moneda nacional) per person
Tourist buses :
- There is a bus hop on hop off in Varadero (I’ve seen it many times) that goes through all the streets of Varadero.
- There is a bus hop on hop off in Matanzas that connects Matanzas to Varadero through some tourist points but I don’t know the schedule of this bus at all.
Points of interest in the area :
- Playa Coral for snorkelling (not many fish but they are very varied and beautiful). Don’t stop at the diving club El Coral, continue 500m, you will find a beach where you can snorkel for free.
- Cueva de Saturno (2km from Playa Coral), a cellar where you can do snorkelling
- Cueva de Bellamar near Matanzas: the largest winery in Cuba
- Beaches: Matanzas does not have beautiful beaches, go rather to Varadero to enjoy its superb beach paradise. Other beaches in the area: Playa Buey Vaca, Playa Coral, Playa Villa de los Pinos.
- The only interest of Matanzas (for me anyway) is to take the Hershey electric train to Havana. Otherwise, the city is like any other Cuban city, but much more polluted