Varadero Beach was first described in 1555 when the dry dock (varadero in Spanish) that serviced the peninsula’s salt mines became active. The dock would accommodate Spain’s Latin American Fleet through 1587. The salt mines were operational until eventually closing in 1961, 74 years after the city of Varadero was formally founded on December 5, 1887. The original settlement consisted of ten families from the city of Cardenas who chose to construct vacation homes near the center of today’s city.
Today, Varadero’s famed Playa Las Calaveras is regarded as one of the world’s greatest beaches and the top beach in the Caribbean. Yordi and Dave just returned and are pleased to vouch for Varadero’s broad appeal. The beach and 1.23 kilometer wide peninsula host prominent all-inclusive vacation resorts that accommodate more than 1 million tourists, of which most are either Canadian or European, every year. The Hicacos Peninsula lies between the Bay of Cardenas and the Straits of Florida. While the eastern end of the peninsula can be reached by car from Havana on Via Blanca, most visitors arrive by way of the Juan Gualbereto Gomez International Airport, the second most important airport on the island nation.
Due to the nature of People-to-People restrictions, this multi-faceted paradise has rarely been enjoyed by most Americans. However, with more than 20,000 rooms, of which the majority are luxurious and distributed between four and five star hotels, and featuring a spectacular marina – hotel – shopping complex funded by the Chinese and called Marina Gaviota, Varadero is ready for a swell in tourism. It was no accident that when NBC News began covering new Cuban-American relations, one of the first places the news tram visited was this resort community.
Varadero’s intriguing history more parallels the needs of the communist economy than the theories espoused by the country’s communist leader, Fidel Castro. Only a very few Cubans can afford to reside on the peninsula even though many service personnel staff the area’s hotels, restaurants, bars and assorted tourist havens.
Soon after the city was founded, the 20 kilometers of white sandy beaches and the sea’s spectacularly blue waters attracted most of Cuba’s elite professionals and successful entrepreneurs to build vacation homes in the area. National and international Tourism gained a lift in 1930 when American millionaire Irenee du Pont Nemours chose the area for his expansive Xanadu estate. With a nine-hole golf course that he later expanded to 18 championship caliber holes, the Varadero area became a paradise for the rich, famous and infamous.
When Castro’s revolution succeeded, he viewed Varadero and other landmarks of capitalism as contrary to the model of his society, Subsequently, he nationalized all the property and businesses in Varadero and in many other areas of the country. To represent his more socialist approach to tourism, Castro constructed the Park of 8000 Cubicles (Parque de las 8000 Taquillas) in 1960. In the new setting, visitors would leave their belongings in the basement of the park and make use of the beach, sanitary and culinary services offered above ground. Varadero became more accessible to Cuba’s general population and and many concerts, sporting events and festivals were staged at the town’s central park, which is between 44th and 48th streets.
But, when Cuba lost financial backing from Russia, Castro needed revenues from tourism and permitted the construction of hotels and other tourist attractions beginning in the 1990’s. Many of the hotels were partnerships with large international providers like Melia, Barcelo and TRYP. With the new initiative, the native population began to decline even as employment showed a significant rise.
Yordi and Dave recently returned from Varadero. Although a very different environment than Havana, Cienfuegos Santiago de Cuba and just about every other Cuban destination, Varadero’s tourism potential is undeniable. Americans will love the beaches, hotels, marina, golf course, clear reefs, caves and natural reserves, restaurants, nightlife and ever present music. Does your trip to Cuba include Varadero? Contact Dave or Yordi at info@Travelguidecuba.com to learn more about Varadero and other Cuban destinations.