The best things to do in Varadero Cuba
Welcome to our guide on the best things to do in Varadero! After spending two weeks in this stunning Cuban beach paradise and exploring the nearby area, we’ve assembled a list of the top attractions so you can do the same. From boat trips to the tropical island of Cayo Blanco, to street markets and cultural experiences, there’s something in and around Varadero for every taste.
As well as attractions in the Varadero area and neighbouring town of Matanzas, we’ve also included some excellent day-trips you can take from your hotel.
Read on for the very best things to do in Varadero and start planning your trip!
Relax on Varadero Beach
Starting with the star of the show and a key reason why you’re probably visiting Varadero; the beach! We’ve travelled across the world and not many beaches are quite like the 13 mile strip at Varadero. It boasts powdery white sand, a vibrant turquoise sea and miles upon miles of beautiful beach scenery. At the time of writing, it’s rated #2 beach in the world on Tripadvisor, and we can see why.
If you’re staying in Varadero, your hotel likely has access to its own section of the beach. As it’s so long and spread out, you’ll never see any crowds; leaving plenty of space for relaxation. The sea has warm temperatures year-round and has very little shells or seaweed. As one of the best things to do in Varadero, we recommend adding as many beach days as you can to your itinerary.
Explore the Varadero Downtown area
Whilst Varadero is a huge strip of beaches and hotels, it does have a central town area near the start of the peninsula. 1st Avenue is the go-to place for bars, restaurants, shops and nightlife. It’s also the destination for a small market, public access to Varadero beach and a few other attractions that are worth checking out.
Varadero Boulevard is the central hub of town. This newly renovated complex of shops, restaurants and cafes really comes alive on an evening! Top things to do here include a visit to the chocolate café, rum and cigar shops, enjoying a drink at Beatles Bar and taking a photo with the Varadero sign.
We recommend Varadero Boulevard as the drop off destination for your taxi. You can then explore 1st Avenue on foot and stop by any restaurant or shop that catches your eye. You also have direct access to the public beach from here.
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Go for a stroll in Josone Park
Also located in the Downtown Varadero area, Josone Park is a small botanical garden with neatly manicured hedges, trees and tropical flowers. It’s a popular meeting point for locals and is a nice place to enjoy on a sunny day. Go for a stroll through the park, have a snack on a park bench, or rent a pedal boat and drift along the lake. Josone is colourful, tropical and a great place to spend a couple of hours.
Go shopping at Varadero Flea Market
If you’re like us and you love a good market on vacation, Varadero Street Market is calling your name. Slightly further along 1st Avenue in the Downtown area, the market is home to a collection of small stalls with shade from the sun. They sell everything from Cuban art and small wooden souvenirs, to clothing, house decorations and snacks. It’s very much a tourist market, so don’t expect to find any cultural experiences here. However, it’s great for those that want some souvenirs to take home.
Although we found prices to be very cheap, it’s welcomed to barter and negotiate the best prices with market stall owners. Expect to spend 30 minutes or so walking around the market.
Hidden a short drive from Varadero, right next to the airport, is an intriguing cave known as Saturno. The cave has been carved out of the side of the mountain over thousands of years and features a number of interesting rock formations. Descend down the staircase to the heart of the cave and you’ll also find a small pool of water. This ‘cenote-like’ cave pool has water that’s a bright shade of blue, providing impressive natural scenery and a great place to swim.
Arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds at Saturno Cave and have this cool natural attraction all to yourself. The fresh water is a much cooler temperature than the sea in Varadero, making it a refreshing break from the sun. We recommend spending an hour or so here. Explore the cave, swim in the natural pool and wander along the tropical walkways.
Bellamar Cave is one of the best things to do in Varadero for those that like off-the-beaten-track adventures. We were amazed that this place didn’t have more hype and interest! Bellamar is located in Matanzas, a 40-minute drive from Varadero. It’s the site of a huge complex of underground caves that was stumbled upon by a worker in 1861. The caves were mapped out and explored, only to find a winding labyrinth of snow-white stalagmites and stalactites that date back over 300,000 years.
Walk down into the caves with a guide and they’ll show you an open section of the cave complex. It features wide caverns of hollow rock, giant rock formations hanging from the ceiling and a number of fossilised remains buried within the rock face. It’s a very cool place to visit and a welcome break from the sun.
Go snorkelling or scuba diving at Coral Bay Beach
As a tropical Caribbean island, Cuba has no shortage of sea life. Manta rays, colourful tropical fish and giant sea turtles can all be found in the waters near Varadero. One thing you’ll find out about Varadero Beach, is that the sea can be quite rough and windy. Therefore, you’re going to want a calmer beach to snorkel and scuba dive.
This is where Coral Beach is perfect! The beach is located a short drive south of Varadero Beach, in an area with calmer seas. It’s the top place for a snorkelling tour, but you can also opt for a more intense scuba diving excursion. Whilst you can visit the beach yourself and swim 200m offshore to see the sea life for yourself, we recommend joining a guided tour instead. The local guides at Underwater Cuba have excellent Tripadvisor reviews. They’ll take you to all the best spots and ensure you remain safe.
Explore Ambrosio Cave and Varahicacos Ecological Reserve
A less known but very cool thing to do in Varadero is to visit a small nature reserve called Varahicacos. This eco-park is a protected piece of land near the far end of the Varadero beach strip, a short walk from a number of popular hotels. The reserve has a winding walking trail under the canopy of the forest, with stop off points that show you various different plants, trees, caves and animal habitats. It’s a great way to learn about Cuba’s tropical nature!
We recommend visiting Varahicacos Ecological Reserve in the morning whilst the weather isn’t too hot. Consequently, you’ll have a much more enjoyable trekking experience. The trail should take you around an hour to complete and costs $5 per person.
In addition to the eco-reserve, you can visit the nearby Ambrosio Cave. The cave is a short walk down the main road. Ambrosia is a lot like the caves on the Varahicacos nature trail, but far more impressive, carved deep into the heart of the rock, and with a labyrinth of different tunnels.
Ride a speedboat along the Canimar River
If you’re looking for one of the most adventurous things to do in Varadero, head on down to the underside of Canimar bridge on the Canimar River. A fun activity on many tours to Matanzas, but also available if visiting by taxi, this thrilling speed boat ride will give you an up-close view of the winding river. The river covers 19km; 12km of which you can navigate by boat. It features lush Caribbean vegetation and a number of different bird species.
We recommend including the Canimar River speed boat ride as part of a wider Matanzas tour. The experience cost $35 for 30 minutes when we visited and it was well worth it!
Visit Matanzas town
If you want to see an authentic Cuban town away from all the tourists, Matanzas town is the place to go. It’s only a 40-minute drive from Varadero town and is home for many of the locals that work in the Varadero hotels. It provides a unique sightseeing experience of Cuban life, with colourful colonial buildings, a scenic seafront and several quaint churches and squares.
We recommend booking a walking tour to get the best experience of Matanzas life. The guide will take you to the local shops, give you an insight into the history of the province and take you to all the best sights. We personally loved Monserrate viewpoint. It features stunning views of the Yumuri Valley on one side, and Matanzas town on the other.
Combine a trip to Matanzas town with Bellamar Cave, Saturno Cave and the Canimar River cruise, as they’re all in the same area.
Enjoy a Pina Colada with a view at Bacunayagua Bridge
The perfect stop-off point whilst visiting Matanzas or heading to Havana, Bacunayagua Bridge is the tallest and longest bridge in Cuba. It’s also considered one of the marvels of Cuban engineering. It sits above the Yumuri Valley, providing a stunning backdrop of jungle scenery.
To see the bridge in its full glory, head to the small bar that overlooks the bridge. They serve up fresh Pina Colada cocktails in a carved out pineapple, and when we were there, a band of Cuban musicians were playing.
Ride around Varadero in a classic 1950’s car
As soon as you arrive in Cuba you’ll see the vast array of colourful classic cars, many of which were made in the US in the 1950’s. Ford, Cadillac and Dodge cars are everywhere to be seen! Not only do classic cars look good, they provide a cool background to your photos. Jump in a classic-car taxi or book a tour with a company such as Cuban Compass Tours and enjoy being driven around Varadero in style. If you’re lucky enough to spot a convertible taxi with the top down, even better!
Board a catamaran and head to Cayo Blanco
One of our favourite things to do in Varadero is to board a catamaran at the marina, onward to the lush tropical paradise of Cayo Blanco. A regatta of catamarans depart every morning, sailing towards this secluded island. On board, they have an open bar, nets to sunbathe on, and plenty of entertainment from the crew. It’s a fun experience that takes you directly to the island, with a short stop for snorkelling along the way.
When you arrive on Cayo Blanco island, you’ll be greeted by a freshly made BBQ lunch with tropical fruit. You then have a few hours to relax and enjoy the powdery white sands of the island. The sea here is calm, the atmosphere is peaceful and it makes the perfect beach day. Tours to the island are all organised and your drinks and food are included in the set cost of the tour.
Eat, drink and shop at Varadero Marina
The same destination where you’ll board a Catamaran to Cayo Blanco, Varadero Marina is also a great place to eat and drink. It has a number of trendy new stores, with international fashion brands housed in colourful Caribbean-style buildings, plus a small street market.
There isn’t a huge deal to see at Varadero Marina. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to relax with a drink and watch the boats sail by. This area is newly renovated and they’re constantly adding new attractions.
Ride the open-top bus around the whole Varadero peninsula
A taxi will get you around quickly in Varadero. However, to see the region at a more leisurely pace, we highly recommend the open top tourist bus. This frequent bus transportation stops in all of the hotel areas along the Varadero beach trip, covering attractions from Varadero Town, all the way to the marina at the end of the peninsula.
As its name suggests, you can hop on and hop off as much as you like during the day. A ticket costs $5 per person for one full day of access. Sit back, take in the breeze of the top deck and enjoy seeing every corner of Varadero. It’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get around if you don’t mind a longer journey.
Sample the local rum and cigars
Cuba is famous for its cigars and rum and is one of the best places in the world for both. If you’re a smoker, or just fancy trying one of the country’s legendary cigars, stop by Casa del Habano near Varadero Boulevard. They have a great selection, across a range of different prices. Less than 20m away from the specialist cigar shop is another boutique called The House of Rum. You can sample a variety of local rums and buy a couple of bottles to take home.
Check out the Varadero nightlife scene and dance the night away
Cuba is no stranger to nightlife. One of its biggest exports is music! To experience the local nightlife scene, head to the Downtown Varadero area any evening of the week. You’ll find live music, relaxed cocktail bars and the late night ‘Havana Club’. We personally recommend starting your evening in Beatles Bar, which is themed around, you guessed it, The Beatles! From there, you can venture to whatever bar looks lively and exciting.
For a quieter nightlife experience, pull up a chair in a casual rum bar, book a live show, or enjoy the entertainment back at the hotel. Many of the larger hotels have some excellent nightlife programmes.
Stop for Varadero Golf Club for a game of golf
If you enjoy a spot of golf on vacation, head over to the 18 hole, 72 par golf course known as Varadero Golf Club. This ‘first-of-its-kind in Cuba’ course is located in the resort area, with lush tropical surroundings and a nice view of the sea. They offer various golf packages and equipment can be rented for your visit. Find out more and book a session on their website here.
Enjoy an action-packed afternoon of water sports
Some like to relax on Varadero’s 13 mile stretch of beach; others prefer to see it in its full glory on a jet-ski! Water sports are a great way to have fun during your beach day when you’re bored of relaxing in the hot sun. Like any tourist beach destination, you have a good choice of jet-ski’s, sail boats, paddleboards and peddle boats, all wating to take you out to sea.
Have you ever fancied teaming up with your partner to sail a small yacht? Now is your chance! Water sports are one of the best things to do in Varadero for the adventurers out there. If you’re staying in a luxury beach resort, you may find that some water sports are included free of charge.
Relax in a luxury all-inclusive resort
One of the biggest reasons tourists visit Varadero is to relax in the hot Caribbean sun and enjoy the luxuries of a 5-star resort. Hotels in Cuba cost significantly less than other Caribbean islands, so you get much more for your money here. Resorts range from sprawling complexes of restaurants, entertainment and swimming pools, to small boutique options near the main town.
To maximise your beach time at Varadero, we recommend booking a top-rated hotel and relaxing until your heart’s content. You are on vacation, after all! We stayed at the Iberostar Selection Varadero and highly recommend it.
Day trip ideas
As you can see from our list above, Varadero is full of sightseeing opportunities, relaxation spots and adventure opportunities. However, it doesn’t really paint a picture of the real Cuba. To experience Cuban life in full and see other beautiful towns and cities, we recommend booking a day-tour.
Tours can be booked online with a private tour company, with your travel agent, or at your hotel reception. Here are some of the best Varadero day trips.
Everyone has heard of Havana! Is a trip to Cuba really the same without it? We suggest a full day trip to this iconic global city. The drive from Varadero takes 2 hours, so you can easily visit and return in one day if you leave first thing on a morning. Havana is home to an abundance of colonial architecture, grand naval fortresses, colourful squares and plenty of historic attractions and museums. It also has a healthy dose of nightlife!
We recommend spending the entire day in Havana, exploring both the popular attractions, but also some off-the-beaten-track areas. Seeing how the locals live will really open your eyes to a different side of Cuba. Check out our guide here for more tips on seeing Havana in one day.
Zapata Swamp and the Bay of Pigs
For all the nature lovers out there, you’re going to love the vast swamplands of Zapata. Located directly south of Varadero, around a 1hr30min drive, Zapata is the largest swampland in the Caribbean. It boasts endless species of insects, birds, reptiles and vegetation, plus a number of nice walking trails.
A full day trip will take you to the Zapata swamplands, a crocodile farm, local villages and the historic Bay of the Pigs. This coastal area was the site of an attempted invasion of Cuba in 1961, supported by the US Government and Cuban exiles. The bay has a lot of historical significance, but is also a great place to swim. Relax in the sea or snorkel amongst the tropical fish.
Trinidad and Cienfuegos
An epic day trip from Varadero but a very long day out, Trinidad and Cienfuegos are two iconic Cuban towns on the country’s south coast. Located just over an hour apart from each other, these colourful colonial towns are full of Cuban culture. Rows of vibrant buildings are surrounded by scenic farmland, with many historic buildings and monuments to be explored. Both towns have something unique to offer and are regarded as must-see destinations in Cuba.
A day trip from Varadero is a long day of driving, so many tourists opt for closer excursion options. However, we highly encourage you to explore these towns if you have time. A private driver can take you to both cities, plus the surrounding jungles and waterfalls. You’ll then arrive back at your hotel in Varadero later that evening.
That wraps up our guide on the best things to do in Varadero! We absolutely loved our vacation in this Cuban haven for relaxation and can’t wait to return. It boasts one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, provides a doorway to some amazing cultural experiences, and the Cuban people were some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.
We hope you enjoy your trip to Varadero and can add many of our recommendations to your itinerary! If you have any questions about Varadero or the places we’ve featured, leave a comment below. 😊
By RickyAuthor bio:
An adventurer at heart that loves anything outdoors. Beaches, mountains and amazing scenery is everything I love about travel! I also enjoy home comforts and need a nice place to relax and re-charge after every trip.