Things to do in Varadero, Cuba: the original gangster’s paradise

White sand, turquoise water and coconut trees at Varadero Cuba

Varadero, Cuba is the stuff dreams are made of: a seemingly endless white sandy beach, lapped by bright turquoise water and lined with lush coconut trees.  No wonder so many millionaires and gangsters chose it as their holiday destination back in the day!

Find out why you should consider visiting Varadero and get inspired by the things to do in Varadero, Cuba.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.

Why Is Varadero Famous?

Varadero is famous for its long white sandy beach and clear turquoise water.  The beach stretches for 20km, along the northern side of the Hicacos Peninsula, which faces into the straits of Florida.

varadero's turquoise water seen through a wooden gate
A glimpse of Varadero’s famous beach

It is also famous for having once been a key destination for wealthy Americans – and some gangsters. Before the Cuban revolution, in the 1920s to the 1950s, many American businessmen had interests in Cuba: casinos, hotels etc. And Varadero was where they had their holiday homes. Al Capone had a house that still stands today.

Since the 1990s, the area has been developed for tourism and many luxury hotels were built.  However, it is still possible to enjoy Varadero independently and on a smaller travel budget.

Is Varadero Worth Visiting?

I would definitely recommend it!  When I planned my trip to Cuba I was thinking about the streets of Havana, great music, cigars, classic cars, Che Guevara. It was almost a bonus that there are also phenomenal beaches! So, after the vibrancy of Havana, the few days my husband and I spent at Varadero were just blissful.

turquoise sea seen between two coconut trees at varadero beach - the best thing to do in varadero
Blissful beauty: Varadero beach

I’d go as far as to say this was the first beach I really enjoyed being on. I’ve always loved being in the sea, but I often feel awkward and conspicuous on beaches themselves. I suspect one of the reasons I liked it there (other than the miles of white sand and turquoise water) was because it was almost deserted – there were just a handful of other people and all we could hear was the roar of the ocean. It felt like therapy.

However, if you’re really keen to experience Cuban culture, you won’t find much of that at Varadero, as it is a heavily touristified location.  To experience ‘real Cuba’, explore Havana, Trinidad de Cuba or any of the non-resort destinations.

Things To Do In Varadero

Enjoy Varadero Beach

Relaxing on Playa Varadero (Varadero Beach) is definitely the best thing to do in Varadero.  The beach really is gorgeous: soft, fine white sand, lined with tropical palm trees and coconut trees. There are parasols dotted around for shade, and when I was there, a beach attendant who could cut open a coconut to give us a fresh drink. It is hard to beat sitting on a Caribbean beach with a fresh coconut milk drink and a view of the turquoise sea!

white sand, parasols and turquoise sea at Varadero beach in Cuba
Cuban paradise: Varadero beach, which I had almost to myself!

The water is gorgeously vibrant – I couldn’t keep my eyes off it!

However, it can have fairly strong currents. When I was there, at one point, we were told not to swim as the current was fierce, so I just splashed around in the surf.

Watch The Sunset Over The Ocean

Varadero beach is generally west-facing, which is great if you love sunsets! There are several bars and restaurants along the waterfront that offer sunset dining options.

sunset over the ocean, seen behind beach parasols at Varadero in Cuba
Varadero sunset

Go Scuba Diving

With such lovely clear water, a great thing to do in Varadero is to go scuba diving. There are many scuba diving sites in the area, including Atlantic coral reefs, a wreck of the Russian guard frigate BP 385 MONCADA and caves.

I tried to do scuba diving on my visit, but unfortunately, the water was too rough and the trip was cancelled.

For more information, check out Diving in Cuba and Atlantis Varadero.

Boat Trips

As well as getting in the water, you can get out on the water. Many of the hotels offer all sorts of boat experiences, including catamaran cruises, kayaking and fishing charters.

turquoise sea at Varadero beach in Cuba
Varadero’s gorgeous turquoise sea

Visit An Historical Mansion

Given Varadero’s unique history, you might want to visit one of the old mansions from the pre-revolution days.

Al Capone’s former home is on Avenida Kawama. It was taken over by the Cuban government and is now a beachfront restaurant called La Casa De Al. Read more here.

Mansión Xanadu is a hotel and restaurant that was formerly a mansion built by an American millionaire, Alfred Irénée Dupont. In 1963 it was named ‘Las Américas’ and converted into a restaurant. The dining room still has the original furniture.

Take A Hike In Nature

At the north-eastern tip of the peninsula is Hicacos Point Natural Park / Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos, an ecological preserve containing much natural flora and fauna, including ‘El Patriarca’, a cactus thought to be 600 years old. Within the park are the Ambrosio Cave, Mangón Lake (home to 31 species of birds and 24 species of reptiles) and the ruins of the La Calavera (The Skull) Salt Works.

There’s a self-guided path you can take through the park.

See Some Ancient Cave Paintings

Within Hicacos Point Natural Park, there are a couple of caves. Visiting one or both of these is an interesting thing to do in Varadero:

  • Cueva de Ambrosio (or Ambrosio Cave) has cave drawings dating back 3,000 years. It is one of the largest collections of Indian pictographs in the Caribbean islands.
  • Cueva de Musulmanes has 2500-year-old human remains!

Play A Round Of Golf

If golf is your thing, Varadero Golf Club has a course located pretty much mid-way along the peninsula.

Map: Things To Do In Varadero, Cuba

Here’s a map of Varadero beach and the various things to do.

Practical information about Varadero

When To Go To Varadero

The main thing to think about when planning a trip to Cuba (and elsewhere in the Caribbean) is hurricane season, which is between June and November.

The peak season is between December and April – after hurricane season and before the hot summer months. I went in April and I had gloriously hot sunny days – so bring good sun protection! It was also relatively quiet: the beach on the western end of the peninsula (away from the big hotels) was almost empty and it felt really peaceful.

Where Is Varadero Beach?

Varadero is in Matanzas province, on the north coast of Cuba. It is approx. 134 km east of the capital, Havana.

How To Get To Varadero

Varadero is served by Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport, which is 16km west of the peninsula. Flights arrive here from North and Central America, the Caribbean but also from Europe, South America and Africa. Check Skyscanner for good flight deals.

There aren’t many trains in Cuba, so if you’re not flying in, you’ll need to either drive or take a bus to get to Varadero. Buses run from Havana to Varadero and take approximately 2-3 hours. The return journey from Varadero to Havana is a similar time.

Where To Stay In Varadero

There are many 4-star and 5-star hotels in Varadero, mainly congregated along the mid and eastern end of the peninsula – basically, the further you go along the peninsula, the more expensive and ‘resorty’ it becomes.

shady sand with an old bicycle and a glimpse of bight turquoise see between the trees at Varadero
Our regular walk to the beach at Varadero

We went to Cuba on a pretty low budget, so couldn’t afford to stay at the fancy Varadero hotels, and there were no Casas Particulares, so we found a little budget hotel at the bottom of the peninsula. It had some tiny ants in the rooms, but they didn’t bother us and the food was ok. Plus it was only a short walk to the amazing beach. So each day, we walked towards this turquoise scene – it was the most tropical place I’d ever seen and I felt like I was in paradise.

I hope I’ve convinced you to consider adding Varadero to your travel wishlist!

Since I went there, I’ve been lucky enough to go to a few other amazing beaches, including the Maldives, Mauritius, Croatia and Montenegro, but this is still up there among the most beautiful I’ve been on!

If you like this article, I'd be delighted if you shared it!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top