Varadero is Cuba’s most popular tourist destination and one of the largest beach resorts in the Caribbean. This famous strip, which stretches for 20 kilometers along the Peninsula de Hicacos, a slender peninsula of land off Cuba’s north coast, boasts a sublimely beautiful 20-kilometer beach surrounded by more than 50 all-inclusive resorts. Travelers leaving the culturally rich colonial side of Cuba behind as they cross the drawbridge that separates Varadero from the mainland fall to a sybaritic paradise of sun, sand, and sea.
Water sports are the most popular activities along Varadero’s enticing stretch of palm-fringed sand. Scuba diving, sailing, snorkeling, and swimming are all possible in the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean.
Other attractions include crystal-encrusted caves, verdant parks, and close-up dolphin experiences for those who can bear to leave the beach. Read our list of the top things to do in Varadero for more suggestions on where to go.
Saturno Cave, Varadero
A trail through the bush near Varadero’s airport leads to Saturno Cave (Cueva Saturno), the star attraction of a complicated cave system. This mesmerizingly beautiful cenote, or subterranean swimming hole, provides a welcome break from the sun-baked beach. Stalactites drip from the cave’s top, and stalagmites emerge from the depths of the water.
Tourists come to swim in the azure-hued freshwater pool, dive from the crystallized columns, and marvel at the amazing rock formations. On a trip here, you’ll need water shoes, a snorkel, and a mask.
Varadero Beach, Varadero
This blonde-bombshell of a beach, which stretches for 20 kilometers along the elegant Peninsula de Hicacos, is one of the Caribbean’s best. Palapas bloom from the flour-soft sands, palms rustling in the breeze, and the shoreline falls seductively into the velvety blue sea.
More than 50 all-inclusive resorts dot the landscape, luring package vacationers from all over the world, particularly from Canada and Europe. However, there is enough room for everyone.
Snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, and sailing are just a few of the water sports available to beachgoers.
Animal lovers may kiss, snuggle, and connect with dolphins at Delfinario. The experience begins with a performance, followed by a dolphin encounter in a saltwater lagoon that is fenced. Paying customers to greet their new marine playmates one by one, patting them, swimming in the water with them, and performing fun stunts with them.
The show is documented on film and images, which guests can purchase at the conclusion of the show.
Parque Josone, Varadero
In the heart of Varadero, Parque Josone is a tranquil haven. It was originally the property of factory owner Jose Uturrio, who is said to have erected the mansion for his wife Onelia in the 1940s.
Paths wind through flower-strewn gardens, fountains gurgle, and a decorative bridge spans a tiny lake where ducks bob happily. Tourists come here to relax in the shade of the poinciana and palm trees or paddle or glide around the lake in rowboats.
The previous main villa on the grounds, as well as the guesthouse, have been converted into restaurants, making for a nice afternoon or evening adventure in Varadero. The park’s south end has a swimming pool.
Varadero Ecological Park, Varadero
At the far end of the Hicacos Peninsula, Parque Ecológico Varahicacos (Varadero Ecological Park) is about as close to nature as you can get on this resort-packed peninsula.
A white-sand beach, a range of plant species, including cacti and orchids, a bird-rich lagoon that was formerly used to mine salt, and a variety of birds, insects, and reptiles may all be found in this protected area.
The preserve has narrow hiking trails that wind their way through it, but the ground is rocky and can be difficult for little children and anyone who is unsteady on their feet. Insect repellant and sturdy hiking shoes are advised.
The two bat-infested limestone caverns here, Cueva de Ambrosio and Cueva de Musulmanes contain rock drawings and aboriginal fossils, making them ideal for budding paleontologists. Tours and interpretation of the pictographs are provided by guides.
Varadero Street Market
Varadero’s best shopping is found in the downtown Varadero Street Market. Leather products, wide-brimmed woven hats, paintings, wood carvings, jewelry, and, of course, touristy t-shirts are all available for purchase. Best of all, many of the products are produced by hand. If you want to buy a one-of-a-kind gift for someone special, you can have specific goods personalized.
Snacks and refreshments are also available for purchase if all that shopping has made you hungry.
Tourists can ride in horse-drawn carriages nearby. This is one of the most romantic things to do in Varadero for couples, but be careful to agree on a firm price before leaving.
Mansión Xanadú, Varadero
This opulent home was built in 1929 and originally belonged to Alfred Irenee Dupont de Nemours, a wealthy American entrepreneur. Dupont fled the nation after the revolution, and the villa became the property of the Cuban government.
The Mansión Xanadu, built with Italian marble, exotic woods, and thermally insulated ceramic tiles, was a luxury hideaway in its heyday.
The home is now a high-end hotel and golf clubhouse. Non-guests are welcome to visit and enjoy a meal at the restaurant while taking in the wonderful sea views from the second level. Some of the original furnishings, as well as information on Dupont and a collection of antique photographs, are on show.
Snorkeling at Coral Beach, Varadero
If snorkeling is top on your list of things to do in Varadero, the best place to explore underwater from the shore is Coral Beach. Rimmed by sand and rocks, the waters here are home to schools of tropical fish and graceful coral gardens.
If you’re a confident swimmer/snorkeler, you can visit the reserve on your own. If you’re less confident, or if you want to scuba dive, it’s best to book a tour, as the current can be strong here. It’s also a good idea to avoid low tide, as it can be tricky to navigate around the coral.
Access to the beach is about three kilometers off the Via Blanca, between Matanzas and Varadero. You can also enter from the Flora y Fauna Reserve. Bring aqua shoes, as the rocks and coral can be sharp.