Varadero in Cuba is a tropical beach paradise, and the locals' warm friendliness makes you feel instantly welcome. Set on the Hicacos Peninsula in the province of Matanzas, its 20km coastline is fringed by golden stretches of sand. Visitors can head inland to explore the town's many cenotes (natural sinkholes) or visit the naturally diverse Varahicacos Ecological Reserve. In the evenings, Varadero's coastal strip comes alive with traditional music and dancing, giving a taste of local culture. With its salsa beats, strong rum cocktails, mouthwatering fresh fruit and laid-back atmosphere, it's hard not to fall in love with this enchanting island.
Hostels in Varadero include a friendly family-owned home near the beach and private apartments in a nearby fishing village. Some hostels serve up complimentary breakfasts, as well as snacks and drinks throughout the day. Look for a Varadero hostel with a backyard, where you can chill out with a book after an afternoon of sightseeing. A few properties even provide airport transfers and taxi services to help you get around town. Most Varadero hostels have towels and TVs, while air con and free Wi-Fi are standard.
The main town of Varadero is a mix of apartments and pristine beaches, giving way to the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve at the tip of the peninsula. Nearby, the city of Matanzas is best known for its colonial architecture. Once a wealthy spa town, the hamlet of San Miguel de los Baños was abandoned in the 1950s. Today, its crumbling buildings and Romanesque bathhouses give visitors a glimpse of the past.
Nightlife options in Varadero are varied, with over 100 venues including cabaret clubs and bars selling various types of local rum. By day, nature lovers can explore the astonishing Cuevas de Bellamar, which is one of the oldest cave networks in Cuba. Also worth a visit is the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve for its walking trails and numerous species of native plants. Take time out at Josone Park, where you can watch musicians perform in the evenings. Cayo Santa María is a small island connected to the mainland by a causeway, and is another peaceful spot.
The airport closest to Varadero is Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport, which is about a 30-minute taxi ride away. To get around town, visitors can hire a scooter or ride a traditional horse-drawn carriage. There are local buses and taxi services, too. If you're looking to explore more of Cuba, the Terminal de Ómnibus in the centre of Varadero has buses to other cities such as Havana.