On the way to Havana, in between Matanzas and Havana, you cross the highest bridge in Cuba, the Puente de Bacunayagua. At 110 metres, it is an engineering marvel. Right after you cross the bridge, on your right, there is an exit to a restaurant, bar, and shops overlooking the bridge and the Yumuri valley below. It is well worth your time to make a stop here. Sample one of their pina coladas, I'm sure it will be THE best you will taste in Cuba! You can sit on the outdoor patio and soak up the views while you enjoy your beverage. There are some very nice items available for purchase here as well, many different from anything else I've seen anywhere in Cuba.
No visit to Cuba would be complete without a visit to Old Havana. This city is so vibrant, the architecture so stunning, the contrast of old and new is stark. Havana is about a 1.5 hour drive from Varadero. For $150 and up (per person!) you can take your choice of bus tours to Havana. Or, if you want to save a little money, befriend one of the gentlemen working in your resort. Most will gladly take you on a tour on their day off (or they know of someone else who will) for a fraction of that price. On our first visit to Havana, we hired a local guide for $50 per person. For that price, he rented a car, paid for gas and tolls and took us all over Havana. It was a really great day. The second time we went to Havana (3 months later) we rented a car on our own and went without a guide. (The cost was roughly $100 for 4 people.) I wouldn't recommend this for your first visit, though, as it is difficult to know where to go if you've never been there before.
There are many, many museums in Havana: The Museum of Fine Art, The Museum of the Revolution, the Museum of Colonial Art, the Museum of Music, the Museum of Cigars, The Museum of Jose Marti, The Car Museum, The Museum of Science.... the list goes on and on. If museums are your thing, you won't run out of them in Havana!
You should know that a visit to Havana will involve lots of walking. You park your car somewhere and tour around on foot. Plan to spend 5 to 7 hours touring on foot. So if you have back or leg problems the tour bus would likely be a better option.
One of the must things to do in my opinion, is to make a day trip to Havana which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We booked our HAVANA HISTORY DAY TOUR through our Nolitours representative at the cost of 67 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) - about $70.00 CDN.
The bus picked us up at 8:00 a.m. and after picking up some more people at other resorts, we were on our way to Havana, which is 83 miles or 134 km away. We drove through the town of Varadero and then on to Matanzas and finally - Havana, arriving around 11:00 a.m. We did a walking tour to Cathedral Square, to see the wonderful Cathedral and to look inside. We then went down a side street to Hemingway's favourite bar - Bodeguita Del Medio" where he had his usual Mojito. Then it was time for lunch at a typical Cuban restaurant which was called "El Patio". There we had a lunch with a choice of chicken, pork or fish. I had the chicken which came with a cole slaw and rice. You also could have a drink and coffee with dessert.
After lunch we had free time until 2:00 p.m.
After getting back on to the bus, we headed for "Revolution Square" and then to the Christopher Columbus necropolis (cemetery). We were then taken to a cigar store "Romeo Y Julieta" where some people bought cigars and bottles of rum. A cigar factory tour was not part of the tour.
The last stop was near Central Park where some very beautiful Havana buildings were located such as the Capitolio which very much resembled the Washington DC Capital building.
About 4:00 p.m. we all boarded the bus for the trip back to Varadero. Overall a very nice tour and very well worth going.
Our pal Yosvany invited us to his Birthday Pig Roast last year. We had such a blast with his family and friends that they threw a Pig Roast for us when we came back this year. All the kids just love Peter Pan, always following him to see what's up his sleeve (more candy, balloons...???) The family farm is in the Matanzas hills. Yosvany's Tia and Tio are the best chefs we know in Cuba...
This is a good way to get out of 'sanitised' resorts & international-standard hotels & seeing the 'real' Cuba.
1950s cars can give way to 1930s cars & horses & carts!
We rented a Japanese Suzuki jeep, but more-upmarket models like Mercedes are available.
We finally found a place to stop and have a couple of beers and to watch the locals. Coliseo is located at RR junction and on central highway in sugarcane and cattle region.
The town is about 12K south of Cardenas and +20K from Varadero.
Some of the locals tried to talk with us, but we didn't know enough Spanish to communicate well.
This covered outdoor eatery is next to the rail road tracks. Beer was only $.80 Convertible Pesos. They also served food, but we just drank beer.
Only go here if you want to check out small town life in Cuba. Don’t bother going if you expect it to be tourist like Varadero. We wanted to see their culture.
Bring your own toilette paper!
We ventured another 40K farther southeast, but we should have turned around. We got lost in the plantation area south of Jovellanos. The city of Jevellanos was like Cardenas, run down and we couldn’t find a cantina! The plantations were odd. Large 5 story apartment buildings in the middle of citrus fields and nothing else around them.
Check out this city 9K from Varadero and you will find out how run down the rest of Cuba is. One section looked like a war zone with all of the collapsed buildings. I rode around on a scooter checking the place out and also gave candy and pencils to kids.
This is a very strange "Sitial Historico" dedicated to Che we found in an alcove area of an art market in Varadero. It's in the first outdoor art market on the left side of 1ra Ave. E. (If you were coming into town from the direction of the hotel zone.)
The monument had something to do with this being the place that he declared they would establish environmental protection areas for lizards.
I'm going to see if I can find out more details about it.
Don't forget that the beach isn't everything. Spend some time in the little city of Varadero and bring happiness to the locals. I actually had a man who let me visit his home. I almost wanted to cry because he was so poor but I saw in his eyes that he was very proud of his couple of chikens and a old little wooden house he called his casa. I gave him two dollars and you can't imagine how happy he looked, it really seemed as if he had won the lottery. It made me feel really good. Here is the picture of my friend with the nice little man.
While walking along Avenida Primera, the main drag, you will come to an old church. This is the home of 'Pastores por la Paz' (The Pastors for Peace). Everytime to Varadero I enjoy seeing the bus which has been decorated by the Pastors and the children in protest of the U.S. sanctioning of Cuba.
varadero itself i found a bit boring. you go up the street and down the street go to a few markets maybe the museum and thats nearly all
When you are in Varadero, try to take a boat cruise at the inner channel marinas to the outlaying islands with untouched natural settings and fine sand beaches.