When we think of Cuba, it’s normally all about the crumbling buildings of capital Havana and ageing American cars.
But one of its biggest draws is Varadero, Cuba’s premier beach resort, located on the 12-mile-long Hicacos Peninsula on the island’s north coast.
It has an uninterrupted stretch of the softest, whitest sand anywhere and is regularly voted one of the top five beaches in the world.
Communist riviera: The Varadero peninsula is perfect for snorkelling. It is Cuba’s premier beach resort, located on the 12-mile-long Hicacos Peninsula on the island’s north coast
Add to this some excellent hotels, Cuba’s only 18-hole golf course, well-run watersports clubs and the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve, and it makes a great choice if you’re after a spot of winter sun.
Cuba has lagged behind other Caribbean destinations in terms of luxury, service and food, but oh how things have changed of late.
And the rum rum (Cuban slang for newsy gossip) is that Varadero is now the best bargain in the Caribbean, with hotels slashing rates to get tourism going again.
Flights from Gatwick to Varadero will resume on December 3 and from Manchester on December 7.
Thanks to average winter temperature highs of 27c (80f) and with Cuba now designated a travel corridor (no quarantine on return to the UK), it’s definitely all go for Varadero this winter. Read on for our pick of the best places to visit…
Varadero has an uninterrupted stretch of the softest, whitest sand anywhere and is regularly voted one of the top five beaches in the world
The Caribbean decor of sunshine yellows and sky blues on display at Iberostar Varadero will put you instantly in beach mode.
This is a lively resort with 386 generous rooms spread across 11 low-rise buildings, set in exotic gardens next to the ocean.
There’s a scuba-diving centre and watersports kiosk with paddle boards, kayaks and pedalos, while skippered catamaran trips depart at regular intervals
Kids are kept busy with a full programme of activities. For adults, a small spa is tucked away in a quiet corner. Barbecue lunches are served pool and beachside, but by night there’s choice of all-encompassing buffet, Japanese or Cuban.
Try Cuban classic ropa vieja — a rich beef casserole with sweet peppers served with fried plantain.
Best for: Families.
How to do it: Seven nights all-inclusive, including Gatwick flights and transfers, from £1,061 pp on December 17 (firstchoice.co.uk).
Entertainment in Cuban colours on the beach at the Royalton Hicacos resort. The resort is sandwiched between jungle and a stretch of white sand that many consider the prettiest in Varadero
Royalton Hicacos is an adults-only tropical retreat sandwiched between jungle and a stretch of white sand that many consider the prettiest in Varadero.
Lagoon pools meander through the tropical garden and between the thatched roofs of the resort’s main buildings, creating a desert island feel. The 404 rooms have an old-school Caribbean feel: rattan chairs, beds draped with mosquito nets and whirring fans.
But they do not skimp on comfort, with king-sized beds as standard. Nice touches include a gelato station and jazz bar. Enjoy seafood at The Pearl, or steaks at the Beach Grill, two of the five dining options.
Best for: Couples.
How to do it: Seven nights all-inclusive, including Gatwick flights and transfers from £1,114 pp on January 21 (tui.co.uk).
The Iberostar Tainos is just a five-minute drive from Varahicacos Ecological Reserve, pictured, which is home to 31 species of bird and 24 species of reptile
Just a five-minute drive from Varahicacos Ecological Reserve, home to 31 species of bird and 24 reptile, Iberostar Tainos is a 272-room traditionally-decorated resort. Expect lime green and coral colour schemes — plus palm leaf parasols.
All rooms (although a little dated) have beach and sea views. What it may lack in style, it makes up for in charm and is perhaps one of the most authentic Cuban experiences you’ll find in Varadero.
Watersports, kids’ club activities and salsa dancing lessons — which can be put into practice at the weekly Cuban show — are all on offer here.
Best for: Nature lovers.
How to do it: Seven nights all-inclusive, including flights from Manchester and transfers in Cuba, from £901 pp on January 18 (tui.co.uk).
STYLE IN THE SUN
Wheely retro: Vintage U.S cars are one of Cuba’s most famous sights. The country has average winter temperature highs of 27c (80f)
NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Visitors must complete a Health Declaration form stating the address of their accommodation, and will need to apply for a Tourist Card (visa) from the Cuban Embassy.
You’re not asked for proof of a negative Covid-19 test. Instead, on arrival at Varadero you’ll be given a PCR (swab) test, the results of which are ready within 48 hours. If you arrive on a non-charter flight, you will need to self-isolate until you have a second negative result.
Before departure, you can amend your Tui holiday for free if you contract Covid-19, need to isolate, or the area you live in goes into lockdown.
Havana is currently off-limits, although this may soon change.
One of a new breed of contemporary Cuban hotels, Ocean Vista Azul is a 501-room resort that carries off a boutique designer look despite its size. White, bright rooms are splashed with colourful furnishings and artwork, and the six restaurants and bars are stylish.
As well as a gym, spa, family pool, kids’ club and water sports centre, there’s a club just for 13 to 16-year-olds. Its trump card is a gorgeous infinity pool with sea views. A two-minute walk along a private path takes you to the beach.
Best for: Families with teens.
How to do it: Seven nights all-inclusive, including Manchester flights and transfers, from £1,004 pp, on February 8 (firstchoice.co.uk).
Sol Palmeras is a vast horseshoe-shaped resort with 408 rooms and 200 beach bungalows and suites.
It knows happy kids equals happy parents, going all-out to keep little ones smiling with dawn-to-dusk activities and entertainment from pool fun to mini discos.
Add bouncy castles, mini golf, lagoon-sized pools and restaurants serving favourites including Mexican and Italian, and the scene is set for a perfect family holiday. For adults, there’s a spa, watersports centre offering catamaran sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and paddle-boarding.
And it’s next door to Cuba’s only 18-hole golf course.
Best for: Families and golfers.
How to do it: Seven nights all-inclusive, including Manchester flights and transfers, from £1,013 pp, on January 25 (tui.co.uk).
Iconic: A billboard of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in Varadero, which is now the best bargain in the Caribbean, with hotels slashing rates to get tourism going again
Who says big and blocky can’t be beautiful? The 827-room Iberostar Bella Vista has a forest backdrop and is beside a gorgeous horseshoe of sand. There’s everything you would expect from a large resort — kids’ club, watersports, two vast pools and more, including a mini waterpark, Balinese-style beach beds, plus a spa.
Upgrade to a prestige room and you have access to a private pool. There are six restaurants including Italian and Cuban.
Best for: All ages.
How to do it: Seven nights all-inclusive, including Manchester flights and transfers, from £958 pp on January 4 (firstchoice.co.uk).
Cuba is now a designated travel corridor (no quarantine on return to the UK) so it’s definitely all go for Varadero, pictured, this winter
All about location, Memories Jibacoa is an adults-only resort set in 19 acres of gardens below a jungle-clad hill. A coral reef is close by, making it a great option for snorkellers and divers.
Alternatively, hike or horse-ride up the hillside for fine views of the peninsula. It may not be the most modern resort, with the decor of its 240 rooms cheery but a tad old-fashioned, but you can’t beat it as a beauty spot.
There are four restaurants, a spa offering rum massages, a pool, tennis courts and a watersports centre. Guests aged over 16 years are welcome.
Best for: Couples, plus snorkellers and divers.
How to do it: Seven nights all-inclusive, including Gatwick flights and transfers, cost from £878 pp, departing on December 17 (tui.co.uk).