Cigar Aficionado

Vamos a Varadero

I just got back from Varadero yesterday afternoon after spending a couple of nights there with my 14-year-old son Jack. We drove to the beach in my friend’s old Toyota, and despite the bad road from Havana, we made it there and back. It’s about a two-hour drive.

The roads were full of people constantly nagging me for a ride. They looked so upset when I didn’t pick them up. It continues to make me feel guilty. But I am certainly not going to start taking public transport, which can range from an open horse drawn cart to a battered, second hand yellow school bus from Canada. There are always lines of people waiting at bus stops. My son asked “Why does there seem to be so many people waiting around the roads with nothing to do?” He couldn’t believe that they were all waiting for public transport.

It’s not that easy getting around Cuba – by private or public transport!

There are lots of checkpoints and police along the road too. I always think they are going to stop me for something, not that I am doing anything wrong. Apparently, they are handing out more and more tickets these days for everything from speeding to talking on the mobile phone while driving. You can still smoke a cigar and drive though!
I find Cuban drivers very erratic at best. They are either driving too fast or too slow or darting in and out of traffic or hogging the fast lane. I saw a horse-drawn cart receiving a ticket from a traffic cop just outside of Matanzas yesterday. I hope he wasn’t speeding—LOL!

Photo by James Suckling

My son Jack at Cayo Blanco.

We stayed the two nights in the Iberostar Varadero. It is an all inclusive holiday resort, and it is considered the best in Varadero.With about 14 miles of gorgeous beaches, Varadero, which is about 80 miles from Havana, was first made a popular, upper class holiday destination in the 1950s and later more popular and cultural in the 1960s and 1970s. The big push to make it an international tourist destination was in the 1990s. Originally, only a few of the hotels were all-inclusive but now all are.

The Iberostar reminded me of a Hilton or Hyatt in Cancún. It seemed to be made mostly of marble and concrete. It was massive with about 300 or so rooms, various swimming pools, a beautiful beach, five or six restaurants, tennis courts, volleyball courts, and just about everything else you could think a mid-ranged beach resort could have. It was mostly full of Canadians on a package holiday. I am not sure what everyone paid but it was a nightly price with everything included, as I noted above. It was about $100 a head a night.

The only problem with the Iberostar was that I didn’t feel like I was in Cuba. Sure, I spoke Spanish with the staff and they were incredibly friendly and helpful. So I felt like I was in Cuba because Cubans were working there. I have to say that I was impressed with the service. It was really professional. It was comparable to the best in Latin America. But the Varadero experience is not my thing. It makes you feel like you are everywhere and nowhere. It could be anywhere in the Caribbean or Latin America, from Mexico to Dominican Republic to Costa Rica.

Of course, I guess that’s what most people want when they pay for an all-inclusive holiday? They want cheap sun, simple food and lots of drink. But they have no ties or emotions involved with the place. If the price is better somewhere else, they will go there, regardless if it is Cuba or Mexico.

Photo by James Suckling

The main beach of Varadero.

The future for Varadero has to include some high-end accommodations for the sophisticated independent traveler. I think all-inclusive is a dead end. But maybe I am wrong? I will talk more about this tomorrow.

Then again, maybe if cigars were included in the all-inclusive, nightly price I would have been more happy? I smoked a new production Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1 that was fresh, perfumed and flowery with a delicious, mild and refined palate. It was just a right thing after a delicate dinner of grilled fish. 89 points, non blind.

"Someday.....someday indeed. Many people envy you James!" —February 12, 2009 01:43 AM