First week in Cuba – Sun, sea and beach in Varadero
We have arrived at a new destination: Cuba ! This special island had been on our bucket list for a long time, but until now it was a dream come true. Last year we were almost certain to include Cuba in our tour of Mexico and America, but we heard that it was very difficult to travel from America to Cuba. That’s part of the reason we didn’t go then. Now we still had the irresistible urge to discover the island as it is today. In the future, this country will change and we would like to see it in its current state, with all its charms. For all the technology and innovation it takes over. So we left last week for Cuba for a two-week trip. Our first destination in our first week of Cuba is Varadero. Nothing but sun, sea and beach. Or a few other surprising activities…
A week before our trip to Cuba we received word from our tour operator that there was no visa for Cuba included in our plane tickets. Panic with us. We had heard that it is very difficult to get a (tourist) visa for Cuba. Nervously we 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 side when we finally had our whole explanation done.
Of course, we were even more uncertain on this point and we continued to look for a solution. Eventually we called our tour operator one more time and this lady was able to inform us that a tourist visa for Cuba is always included in the outward journey. Didn’t the previous employee know this? Anyway, to cut a long story short: our visa was in order. We just had to pick it up at the airport. Very easy!
On to Cuba
A day before our flight was due to depart we received a text message saying our flight would be delayed. Instead of leaving at 9:30 in the morning, we were supposed to leave at 4:00 in the afternoon. Again, no nice news. And we also found it very strange to get an SMS instead of an official email. Also on the airport’s website, flight hours had not changed. More distrust on our part. Again we called several times with our tour operator to make sure we had the right hours. Four o’clock in the afternoon turned out to be the correct hour of departure. Later than anticipated, but luckily it was a pleasant flight. Due to this huge delay we were also entitled to 600 euro/person credit. For this you just need to get some documents in order, but it is definitely not much work. Our flight tickets were fully refunded in this way. A nice start to our journey!
Back in time
Once on Cuban soil, everything went very smoothly. The checks, picking up our luggage and taking the taxi to the hotel. A tip: take enough money from the airport because Cuba has very few ATMs and everything is cash to pay. Time has really stood still here. That’s not a lie. You immediately see cars from the 50’s, little to no technological equipment and unfortunately no free internet. Wifi is available in our hotel for a fee and is not available everywhere. Apparently, wireless internet doesn’t exist here for very long and the internet is managed by the government. That’s why you have to pay (often) for it. Of course, there are also hotels where wifi is free.
Our first destination in Cuba is paradise Varadero. Think of swaying palm trees, pearly white beaches and a clear blue sea. It doesn’t get any more exotic. This is the kind of beaches you see in magazines and dream of. Our hotel is right on the beach and that’s the way it should be. If you want to stay in Varadero, we recommend that you always book a hotel on the beach. In this place it just has to be in order to fully enjoy the exotic island life.
The temperatures also require cooling. We are exposed to temperatures of over thirty degrees every day. So it’s very hot. There is no country where we have been before that we have been so warm. A splash in the water is therefore very good and that is also what we have done most of our time here. Swimming, sunbathing, smearing and repeat.
After a few hours lying on the beach at thirty degrees, cooling is welcome. And although we have a beautiful pool where you can find that cooling off, the clear sea invites you to swim in. As you may know, or maybe not yet, Sigrid is terrified of swimming in the sea. The feeling of the ignorant underwater scares her. That fear is now completely a thing of the past because she swam here in the ocean! The fact that you see the bottom completely here and the water is exceptionally warm for swimming makes it the ideal place to get rid of your fears.
We wouldn’t be Roadtrippers or the Sun if we didn’t push our limits from time to time. Continuously living within the four walls of a hotel, is just not laid away for us. We always want a bit of action or adventure. That’s 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 nearest town near Varadero. This is the city of Matanzas and is located in one of the largest provinces of the country. It’s about a half-hour drive from Varadero. The perfect getaway for a day out of the hotel.
Caves of Matanzas
Matanzas is known for many things, but especially for the impressive caves you can visit there. We went there with a guide and were impressed by the different types of stalagmites and stalactites you can find there. Unfortunately, there are some beautiful parts only accessible to experienced game ecologists. The organization of the caves makes up for this in part with a 3D film that shows them of the protected parts of the caves. We also saw a few gems inside the caves but still remained a bit hungry. We’ve seen caves like this before in Belgium.
Although we haven’t been to Matanzas for very long, we’ve seen the most beautiful places. We visited an age-old pharmacy shop where everything from that time remained intact. The medicinal drinks, the cash register, the storage room, the surgical instruments and the self-written inventories. An impressive place where you will be catapulted back in time! On the square directly opposite the pharmacy shop you can not only enjoy the glowing midday sun, but also a few fascinating stands and commemorative images.
Finally, if you cross the street behind this square, you’ll end up in one of Matanzas’ best bars: Velasco. This is a well-known hotel with an even better known 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 kind of liqueur. This wasn’t really our thing but you can definitely give it a try when you get there. Cocktails are also dirt cheap here. For three pesos (about three euros) you drink one. Unfortunately, that price is 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 also the guides on tours expect tips of about 10 percent. In other words, not a cheap country right away.
Roadtrippers of the Caribbean
The next few days there was time for even more action. We took the bus to the Caribbean coast of Cuba. Driving to this southern point takes about two hours. But that’s more than worth driving far. If we thought it couldn’t be more paradisiacal, this place just surpassed this thought. Here you see no beaches but rock formations, a kind of volcanic stone our guide explained, where the bright blue sea is beautiful.
We also had the opportunity to snorkel at this place. Something we had only done in Europe before. It was a dream to do that once in such an exotic destination. But that fear of swimming in the sea between fish was still a bit present. Doubting but bravely we went into the sea and soon we saw colourful fish swimming all around us. Just scream with enthusiasm, but also of fear, and snorkel! A very beautiful experience that will stay with us for a long time to come.
Along the way we made a few stops like at a crocodile farm where they breed and catch small to large crocodiles. We felt a little uncomfortable on this visit. Especially when one of the employees with a caiman on his shoulder came to take pictures with the animal. We made it very clear that we were absolutely against this and are out of this farm again in a few minutes. Unfortunately, we have already seen in other places that animals are not treated well here. It always saddens us. All we can do about it now is to make it clear that this is not possible, 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 swimming pool surrounded by rocks and planting) 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’s not that big, so sometimes it can be crowded. We were lucky and were able to enjoy the beautiful weather and the surroundings in peace. Totally worth visiting if you are in the area!
This week in Cuba
It was already a beautiful week in tropical warm Cuba. We enjoyed a few days of sunshine, sea and beach and also saw life outside of tourism in the countryside. We already did adventurous activities and saw the breathtaking nature of this country. Cuba has already exceeded our expectations and the best, in our opinion, is yet to come.
Next week in Cuba
In the coming week we will continue our journey through Cuba and go to Havana. A world-famous city and we can’t wait to discover it! Have you been to Varadero or Havana? Do you prefer sun, sea and beach or rather city life? Let us know in the comments or on ourFacebook page. See you next week!