Four full days of Havanna had passed and so it was time for a change of scenery. Next stop: Varadero. The bus ride from Havanna to Varadero took about three hours with a short stop at a viewpoint were the travellers could admire the highest bridge in Cuba, the Puente de Bacunayagua, soaring over 100 meters above the bottom of the ravine below. Daunting!
The destination was the adults only all inclusive Royalton Hicacos Resort in Varadero on the Hicacos Peninsula, known for its 20 km long white sandy beach. Varadero has been a magnet for tourists apparently since the 1870s and the tourist business appears to continue flourishing, with dozens of resort hotels lining the one road connecting the narrow peninsula to the mainland.
A total of nine days and nights were spent enjoying the life of luxury. The days mainly consisted of relaxing on the beach or by the pool with pile of books, cooling off in the waves of the Caribbean ocean, sipping drinks in the pool bar (literally in the pool), taking walks on the beach, and eating generous amounts of quite tasty and surprisingly varying food at the breakfast and dinner buffets as well as Tania’s Cuban Sandwich Grill, a must for lunch! The routine of heading to the pool bar for afternoon drinks around 4 pm became so exact that towards the end of the first week, the bartenders began mixing some Miami Vices even before anyone’s feet were in the pool.
To balance out all the food, there were plenty of activities available, ranging from zumba, yoga, water aerobics, and paddle boats to mini golf, pool, and various garden games all the way to a foam party in the main pool. A snorkeling trip to a small nearby reef was quite enjoyable, and half of the travellers also went on a couple scuba diving trips while the other half explored the town of Varadero, mainly full of market stalls selling all kinds of handicrafts and clothing to tourists. The main site to see in town was the Beatles Bar, with a life-size statue of the quartet out front. They seriously love The Beatles in Cuba!
There was also a Cuban day, complete with lunch under the palm trees, local fruits, a pig roasted over an open flame, and yet more dancing and latin rhythms.
However, the best activity by far was the four hour fishing trip on a private fishing boat, skippered by an ancient-looking man named Papi. At the start, the travellers were told that this was not a good time of the year for fishing, so expectations were quite low. Therefore, when a barracuda was caught within 20 minutes of setting the lines out, all felt that the day had gotten off to a pretty good start.
Then came the hours of boredom…
Finally, after 2.5 hours out on the sea, jackpot! Within less than an hour, four more barracudas had been pulled out of the water (unfortunately the last one got away at the last moment, so only four remained to be taken back to shore). Incredible! Even Papi got excited and celebrated with a glass of rum; naturally, the beverages on board included a full liter of the stuff. And we even say a dolphin family on the way back to shore! By far the most exciting day of the whole trip.
Evenings at the Royalton began with beautiful sunsets and pre-dinner drinks followed by dinner at the buffet or one of the a la carte restaurants on site, continued on to after dinner drinks, and ended each night with a varying evening spectacle. And varying meant varying in all kinds of ways: the shows included acrobats, opera, aquatic ballet, a fashion show, magicians, Michael Jackson, and a whole lot of latin dancing. The quality varied as much as the content, but in some odd way it still felt that missing the evening extravaganza wasn’t an option.
All in all, Varadero was a perfect place for relaxation, completely stress free (except for the hassle of trying to organize fishing and scuba diving trips, but more about that in the next post). However, the resort could have been almost anywhere else in the Caribbean, as there was not that much Cuban about it, only the occasional well refurbished classic car parked out front waiting for tourists heading to the town. If you want to really experience Cuba, head somewhere else. As a combination, spending time in both Havanna and Varadero was quite nicely balanced, giving the opportunity to both see the bizarre surreality of a city partially stuck in time and enjoy the tropical sun, sea, and sand, all with just one set of really long flights!