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Anyone writing about Cuba cannot avoid the Peninsula de Hicacos better known as Varadero if only because its 20 kilometers of beaches attract one of every four tourists to the island.
As elsewhere in the name of a religion, the Spanish conquistadores chased out the indigenous Siboney tribes who had been here for centuries. In the Ambrosio cave wall drawings describe these massacres (matanzas); in the Los Musulmanes grotto, it is said bones were found which were dated to the year 500 of our era.
It was on December 5th 1887 that the nearby Cardenas city council gave Varadero the status of burrough where fishermen already lived and which developed eventually into a bourgeois neighbourhood with large wooden houses, some of which remain, built by the founding families known as "los decenviros".
These casas particulares (see old photo below) were rented to tourists and Habaneros; ie, the first casas in Cuba rented were here in Varadero where, only since January 2011, it is now legal to do so.
SELLING THE FARM
The rich owners (rhum distilleries, coffee plantations, sugar mills) had been living here since 1828 and had settled in a community by purchasing the land tracts of Finca Varadero from its owner Don Bernardo García Carrillo located today between (calles) 30 and 49 streets.
With the exploitation of the local salt reserves (found in Magon lake), workers started populating the peninsula.
The name Varadero refers to the movement of fishing boats on the sand, a natural sanding process while hicacos (Chrysobalanus Icaco) is a fruit which grows on the chonta palm tree which grew abundantly on local land.
As the regional roads were not yet solid and the peninsula was separated from the island (the bridge was not yet built), the only access to Varadero was by a daily steamboat, the Caridad, which left from Cardenas.
The next major event was the building of a private compound by the Iturrioz family in 1910 the space is today called Parque Josone.
After the first local hotel was built in 1931 (La Torre), the Cuban bourgeoisie stopped traveling to Europe because of the second world war (1939-1945) : these two events starting the (beach) ball rolling.
A DOZEN IN 48
More than a dozen (private) hotels in the area were in operation by 1948, about the time when Varadero was officially designated a tourist zone, the first in Cuba. Although the mafia ran the casinos in Havana, there were none here but many were planned in the late Fifties, just before the Revolucion kicked the gangsters out.
It was only in 1976 that Varadero became a municipality. Four years later, the government built the first two hotels of the Revolucion, the Siboney and the Atabey.
Since June 2009, with the opening of yet another 400-bedroom luxury hotel, Varadero boasts 17,430 bedrooms spread over 50 hotel properties of which 87% are rated 4 or 5 stars. The three Cuban hotel chains which own and run these hotels are Gran Caribe (with 33% of rooms), Gaviota (32%) and Cubanacán (28%).
Ecology-wise, about 54% of the Hicacos land mass is now man-made and close to 20% still made up of protected areas.
Helping develop the hospitality industry are the Spanish Sol Meliá, Barceló and Iberostar chains, the French Accor group and the Jamaïcan Superclub and Sandals properties which are all involved in joint ventures with the Cuban hotel chains, whether in co-property or management of some 30 of the peninsula's resorts.
The airport is 23 km west and, since January 2009, Cuban authorities have begun an expansion program which aims to eventually double the number of the aeropuerto's users.
Today, some 22 international airlines bring in about 50 flights each week. The airport is far from an attraction as its passengers spend on average about 18 minutes on its premises.
Viazul Bus with four departures to/from La Habana via Guanabo, Matanzas and the airport; new route leaves here for Santiago in the East (Oriente). See above
Besides offering harbor to the dozens of pleausre boats from numerous countries, the local marinas also serve as Centros de Buceo (Scuba Diving Centers) where equipment rentals, basic or specialized lessons are given and where trips are made to offshore reefs. No need to go far to see the beauty as some 40 types of coral and 70 of mollusks. but who's counting ?
Best is the Barracuda Centro de Buceo (40cuc per dive) using three dive boats. Centro de Buceo Acua on avenida Kawama is a good alternative.
Aeropuerto Juan Gualberto Gomez about 18km (11 miles) west, towards Matanzas. Taxi fare : 20-30cuc. Tel. (45) 61-3036
Cubataxi (45) 61-3674, Transgaviota (45) 61-2620, Transtur (45) 61-2133
DIY BEACH WALK
Take the Habana Bus Tour to the very end (last stop on itin) of the peninsula at the Princesa del Mar Resort and walk back on the beach whilst bringing lots of suntan cream, an umbrella (as the hard day's sun is torrid) or at least a cap, a towel and lunch (as you will not be allowed on the resorts' remises.
The long walk will have you passing in front of every resort, up to the Arenas Doradas Hotel where you have to get back on the road. Take the same bus to your casa or stop at the Varadero Golf Club Hotel (the famous Xanadu house of the Duponts) for a refreshing cocktail at the top floor bar.
|HEED THE HINTS IN THIS FINE PRINT ::: CAVEAT EMPTOR ::: BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED
::: Make sure that in your first email or phone call you specify that you want to book a room in that particular casa and that you will reconfirm your booking on arrival in Cuba. Unless you only want a room in any house which may be of the same quality, not the specific casa you booked through photos on these websites ::: So as to not abandon expecting owners with empty rooms, reconfirm (or call ahead to cancel) your booking by phone as soon as you can after arriving in Cuba ::: Please write or phone a casa owner to cancel a booking. As late as it may seem, it allows them a chance to rebook. ::: Children under the age of 16 may share a bedroom with adults for free. Specify the child's age when booking. ::: Since October 2010, maximum bedroom capacity is not limited to two adults ::: Also, large casas are not limited to renting only two bedrooms per night. ::: At the end of the casa name, the V signals the casa was suggested by travelers or owners but not verified by the website staff. If you try it and like it, write us about it. ::: Unless otherwise mentioned, the average room rates and service prices are : 20-25cuc per bedroom per night [up to 40+ for 4 in a room]; breakfasts 3-5cuc, dinners 7-10cuc ::: Any casa particular anywhere in Cuba must have a hot water shower, otherwise it cannot have a permit to rent ::: Please share your Complaints, comments & suggestions webmaster [@]cubacasas.net
||BOOK BY PHONE
• From Canada and the USA : 011 53 (add phone # preceded by 45 for Varadero) • From Europe, Great Britain, Scandinavia and Mexico : 00 53 (add phone # preceded by 45 for Varadero) ••• HOW TO DIAL A CUBAN PHONE NUMBER HERE ••• CELL PHONE NUMBERS on our town lists and casa pages are preceded by 05 for calls originating Havana; from anywhere else in Cuba, dial 015 + the 7 digits of the cell.
BOOK BY EMAIL :
Click on logo to open a message addressed to that casa in your email application; or right-click to copy address. Spanish vocabulary here. Google translate here.
Three ac bedrooms, two in back, ensuites
Avenida 2da (Segunda) No 2308 e/ 23 y 24, located some 100 m from the seaside. Tel. (45) 61-2848 cell 05-292-9272
One ground apart and one bedroom upstairs
Avenida Playa #3301 (Apto. 3B), esq. (corner) of calle 33 on the playa in an apartment block. Tel (45) 61-3497 cell 05-293-1284
|LA CHINA V
Two ac bedrooms, ensuites, pool, meals served
Calle 26 Nº 213, entre Segunda y Tercera (2da y 3ra) avenidas 120 meters from playa. Tel (45) 61-3327 Jessica Lopez cell 05-271-5277
BUDGET-TYPE (CHEAP & AFFORDABLE) HOTELS
There are affordable hotel rooms to be had locally; below, a handful of our recommendations.
|HOTEL DOS MARES - 34 bedrooms
Calle 53, entre Avenida Primera and the playa, neighbour of the Pullman and about 90 m from the beach. (45) 61-27-02 (same as Pullman)
Really not your typical seaside resort. Rates : 50-60cuc for a double room. Web page here.
Rough Guides says :
" Atypically for Varadero, this agreeable little hotel feels more like those found in provincial colonial towns. What it lacks in facilities it makes up for with plenty of character and a pleasant intimacy. "
|HOTEL PULLMAN - 16 bedrooms
Avenida 1, entre 49 et 50. Tel. (45) 61-27-02 (same as Dos Mares)
Some say its tower gives it a toy-like look and its atmosphere is more city-like than sea-like. Air-conditioned bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, satellite TV and telephone. Web page here.
|VILLA SOTAVENTO - 107 bedrooms
Avenida Primera entre 13 et 14, in the Acuazul group of buildings. Tel. (45) 66-71-32
The Sotavento is made up of an ensemble of 6 buildings including about 25 casas located on one or two-floor buildings located seaside. Each unit has its own private bathroom, satellite TV, telephone, air-conditioning and wall safe, beach chairs. Web page here.
|VILLA LA MAR - 260 rooms
Avenida Playa, e/ 28 y 30 Tel (45) 61-4517
Close to the Turquino this small property is also a bargain, very basic with a dining room/snack bar.
Problem might be the Cuban clients who unfortunately tend to demand (and always get) noisy music up to the wee hours and the buffet is awful; luckily, nearby restaurants are much better : Lai-Lai, El Toro.
|A TRIO OF RESTAURANTS
La Casona del Arte Cubana Calle 47, e/1ra y Playa
We decided to give it a try and it was amazing We had the grilled pork and grilled chicken and it was cooked well and was seasoned perfectly. The art work was very nice and the service was extremely good. The prices were very inexpensive . We enjoyed it so much we returned 2 days later...
Paladar Nonna Tina Italiano Calle 38 #5 entre 1ra y Playa
Surprisingly good pizza and pretty decent Pasta. Nice courtyard with some rabbits etc to amuse the kids. Nice service. Great place to escape from the 'all inclusive' food in your resort.
Waco's Club International Ave 3ra #212, e/ 58 y 59 Tel: (45) 612126
At our friendly frontdesk, LiLi told us about Waco's. We hailed a cab, address in hand to go out for our annual family dinner..(last year we went to the Coral). They were waiting for us, table reserved in a beautiful quiet spot.The service and food was impeccable. I could not rate this restaurant high enough for the experience, the memories are priceless.
Nos vemos el próximo año!
Our choices; critics : trip advisor January-June 2013
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