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If you’re on your way to Varadero, Cuba chances are you’re looking forward to a relaxing stay, fancy amenities, pleasant weather and, of course, sun-bathing beach time to let your worries wash away with the waves. If that’s your ideal Cuba trip, then Varadero is for you! But let’s not be fooled, as Varadero is not the epitome of Cuba. Not far beyond your resort, you can experience Cuba as Cubans experience it — from local markets to nightlife hotspots.
At the downtown Varadero flea market, you can browse and buy local artisanal crafts. You’ll find wooden cigar boxes, straw bags, clothes, wooden trinkets, hats, jewelry, art and more. Take a Hop On Hop Off bus for $5 from any designated bus stop. Many Varadero resorts are within walking distance of the bus stops. The double-decker bus will take you to the market where you can explore the handmade products and souvenirs.
Saturn Caves and Bellamar Caves
Less than an hour by car from Varadero, in the city of Matanzas, you’ll find natural underwater caves. Cueva de Saturno offers 20-meter depths for scuba dives. Not a diver? You can snorkel or swim through the icicle-shaped mineral formations and see fish and blind shrimp. The arguably more impressive Bellamar Caves – which at 40 meters deep and 750 meters long, are among Cuba’s largest — include walkways and galleries that display breathtaking mineral formations, fountains, and crystals. Organized tours to the caves are available or you can save money by making the trip on your own.
Pro-tip: Go in the morning or late afternoon to beat the rush.
City of Matanzas
At first sight, the shabby-looking this city may seem to have little to offer. However, Matanzas was once known as the ‘Athens of Cuba’ with its literary and musical background; it also is the birthplace of poets and writers, making it a real cultural treasure. Check out the Libertad Square, visit the farmer’s market, and pop into the French Pharmaceutical Museum for something different.
Another golden nugget of Matanzas includes Monserrat Hermitage, a temple from 1872 with a full landscape view of Matanzas city and bay as well as Yumuri valley. The city’s theater, Teatro Sauto, is also worth checking out as it was named a national monument in 1978. With neo-classical architecture, it remains an important cultural symbol of the city and presents programs of ballet, opera, zarzuela, music, shows, and drama.
Varadero at night
Back in Varadero, you’re not bound to your resort for nightlife. In fact, hitting the town’s hot spots might be your best chance to interact with locals. These clubs appeal to both locals and tourists who want to dance, drink and party the night away.
Palacio de la Rumba
This club is open from 10 pm to 3 am and offers live Cuban salsa music on the weekend, often by some of the best bands in Cuba. Throughout the night music is also spun by a DJ who plays a variety of international music genres. The cover charge is 10 Cuban pesos, all drinks included.
At Calle 62 a 12-piece salsa band plays a variety of music within the Latin music genre, and the street is closed off for people to gather outside and dance. Open from 9 pm to 2 am, Calle 62 has a relaxed, upbeat atmosphere.