First week in Cuba – Sun, sea and sand in Varadero
a week in
We have arrived at a new destination: Cuba ! This special island has been on our bucket list for a long time, but until now it has remained a dream. Last year we were almost certain to include Cuba in our tour through Mexico and America , but we heard that it was very difficult to travel from America to Cuba. That’s why we didn’t go back then. Now we still had the irresistible urge to discover the island as it is today. In the future, this country cannot but change and we would like to see it in its current state, with all its charms. Before all the technology and innovation takes over. So we left for Cuba last week for a two week trip. Our first destination in our first week in Cuba is Varadero . Nothing but sun, sea and sand. Or a few other surprising activities…
Request a visa
A week before our journey to Cuba, we received a message from our tour operator that our flight tickets did not include a visa for Cuba. Panic attack. We had heard that it is very difficult to get a (tourist) visa for Cuba. We nervously called the embassy of Cuba to find out if we could come and get a visa ourselves. “Please call again tomorrow” said the voice on the other end when we had finally done our whole explanation.
Of course we were even more unsure at this point and continued to look for a solution. Finally we called our tour operator again and this lady was able to inform us that a tourist visa for Cuba is always included in the outward journey. Did the previous employee not know this? Anyway, to make a long story short: our visa was ready. We just had to pick it up at the airport. Very easy!
A day before our flight was due to leave, we received a text message that our flight would be delayed. Instead of leaving at half past nine in the morning, we would leave at four in the afternoon. Again not good news. And we also found it very strange to receive a text message instead of an official email. Also on the website of the airport the flight times had not changed. Even more suspicious. Again we called our tour operator several times to make sure we had the correct hours. Four o’clock in the afternoon turned out to be the correct time of departure. Later than expected, but luckily it was a pleasant flight. Due to this enormous delay, we were also entitled to 600 euros/person in credit. For this you only have to arrange some documents, but it is definitely not much work. Our airline tickets were fully refunded this way. A great start to our journey!
Back in time
Once on Cuban soil, everything went very smoothly. The border control, luggage pick up and taxi drive to the hotel. A tip: take enough money at the airport because Cuba has few ATMs and everything needs to be paid in cash. Time has really stood still here. That’s not a lie. You immediately see cars from the 50s, little to no technological equipment and unfortunately no free internet. For wifi you need to pay in our hotel and it is not available everywhere. Apparently wireless internet has not been around for very long and the internet is managed by the government. That is why you (often) have to pay for it. Of course there are also hotels where WiFi is free.
Our first destination in Cuba is paradise Varadero. Think of waving palm trees, pearly white beaches and a clear blue sea. It doesn’t get more exotic. These are the kind of beaches you see in magazines and dream about. Our hotel is right on the beach and that is how it should be. If you want to stay in Varadero, we recommend that you always book a hotel on the beach. In this place you simply have to do that to fully enjoy the exotic island life.
The temperatures also require cooling down. We are exposed to temperatures of over thirty degrees every day. Smoking hot. There is no country where we have already been, that we experienced this heat. A splash in the water is therefore very rewarding and that is what we have been doing most of our time here. Swim, sunbathe, rub and repeat .
After a few hours on the beach at thirty degrees, cooling down is welcome. And although we have a beautiful pool where you can find that cooling, the clear sea invites you to swim. As you may or may not know yet, Sigrid is terrified of swimming in the sea. The feeling of underwater life scares her. That fear is now completely a thing of the past because she has swam here in the ocean! The fact that you can see the bottom completely and the water is exceptionally warm for swimming, makes it the ideal place to get rid of your fears.
We wouldn’t be Travel Reasons if we didn’t push our limits every now and then. Living continuously within the four walls of a hotel is simply not for us. We always want a bit of action or adventure. That is why we continued to explore around Varadero. Because in Varadero itself there is little to do outside of beach life. We chose to visit the closest town near Varadero. This is the city of Matanzas and is located in one of the largest provinces in the country. It is about half an hour’s drive from Varadero. The perfect day trip away from the hotel.
Caves of Matanzas
Matanzas is known for many things, but especially for the impressive caves that you can visit. We went there with a guide and were impressed by the different types of stalagmites and stalactites that you can find. Unfortunately, some beautiful parts are only accessible to experienced ecologists. The organization of the caves partly makes up for this with a 3D film showing the protected parts of the caves. We also saw a few gems inside the caves, but we still expected more. We have seen caves like this before in Belgium.
Although we have not been in Matanzas for very long, we have seen the most beautiful places. We visited an ancient pharmacy store where everything from that time has remained intact. The medicinal drinks, the cash register, the storage area, the surgical instruments and the inventories written by themselves. An impressive place where you are catapulted back in time! On the square opposite the pharmacy you can not only enjoy the glowing midday sun, but also some fascinating statues and memorial statues.
Finally, crossing the street behind this square will take you to one of the best bars in Matanzas: Velasco. This is a well-known hotel with an even more famous bar where you can drink the best mojitos in Cuba. Cuba is of course known for its many cocktails such as cuba libre, mojito and pina colada. The Velasco bar also has its own cocktail, the Valasco cocktail, made from rum and a type of liquor. This was not really our thing but you can definitely give it a try when you are there. Cocktails are also super cheap here. You can drink one for three pesos (about four dollars). That price is unfortunately nothing compared to most other prices in Cuba which are quite high. For example, you have to pay 1 peso for the toilet everywhere and the tour guides also expect tips of about 10 percent. In other words: not exactly a cheap country.
Road trippers of the
The following days there was time for even more action. We went by bus to the Caribbean coast of Cuba. Driving to this southern point takes approximately two hours. But that is more than worth the long drive. When we thought it couldn’t get better, this place just surpassed this thought. Here you don’t see beaches, but rock formations, a kind of volcanic stone, explained our guide, where the bright blue sea is beautifully silhouetted.
We also had the opportunity to snorkel here. Something that we had only done in Europe before. It was a dream to do that one day in such an exotic destination. But that fear of swimming in the sea between fish was still somewhat present. Doubtful but brave we went into the sea and soon we saw colorful fish swimming around us. Excited but also a little scared, we went snorkelling! A very nice experience that we will remember for a long time.
Along the way we made a few stops such as at a crocodile farm where they breed and shelter small to large crocodiles. We felt a little uncomfortable on this visit. Especially when one of the employees came over with a caiman on his shoulder to take pictures with the animal. We made it very clear that we were absolutely against this and we ended this tour in a few minutes. Unfortunately, we have also seen in other places that animals are not treated well here. That always makes us sad. All we can do is make clear that this is not okay, and hope that something will soon change in the mindset of the Cuban people.
Mexico, is that you?
The streets and also the culture of Cuba remind us a bit of Mexico. Also not incomprehensible because Mexico is close to Cuba. There are many differences between the two countries, but also similarities. Apparently in Cuba they also have cenotes (a kind of natural pool surrounded by rocks and plants) like in Mexico. We visited one: Cuevas de los Peces. It is a beautiful piece of nature where you can swim or snorkel among the fish. It is not that big so sometimes it can be crowded. We were lucky and could enjoy the beautiful weather and the surroundings in peace. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area!
Week in Cuba
It has been a wonderful week in tropically warm Cuba. We enjoyed a few days of sun, sea and sand and also saw life outside of tourism in the countryside. We already did adventure activities and saw the breathtaking nature of this country. Cuba has already exceeded our expectations and the best, we believe, is yet to come.
Next week we will continue our journey through Cuba and we will go to Havana. A world famous city and we can’t wait to discover it! Have you already been to Varadero or Havana? Do you prefer sun, sea and sand or do you prefer city life?