Your senses can be overwhelmed when you visit a truly exotic city. Everything is so beautifully, wonderfully different. You feel like you could spend the rest of your days here and still not see everything. Having said that, it can be slightly disappointing to realise that there were other amazing sights to see just outside of the city, something a day trip would have taken care of. Some day trips from major cities are not a closely guarded secret.
Visitors to Paris know that the majesty of Versailles is just a short train ride away. Visitors to Berlin, on the other hand, might be surprised to learn that the Polish border is just over 90 minutes away (“What did you do today?” “I went to Poland, did some shopping, and was home in time for dinner”).
If you’re lucky enough to visit Havana, the luminous capital of Cuba, you could easily spend years exploring the city. You shouldn’t just limit yourself to the city, and there are some amazing sights to be seen not so far from Havana. A day trip from Havana to Varadero allows you see another side of this intoxicating country.
Welcome to Varadero
Like so many corners of Cuba, Varadero is a wonderful contradiction. Its geographical location (positioned on the narrow Hicacos Peninsula, which dramatically juts out from the mainland) makes it a logical focal point for the tourism industry.
The peninsula is at most 2.5 km wide (and sometimes only 800 meters), meaning that it’s physically impossible to not be near the ocean. There were many grand mansions and hotels here which were seized by the state following the Cuban revolution and fell into disrepair. These crumbling beauties are still here, and many streets in Varadero feel like an eerie ghost town, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the town. You can walk past these decomposing buildings, but please don’t attempt to explore inside.
They’re simply not safe. Varadero is where you will find a lot of all-inclusive resorts, but if that doesn’t take your fancy during your trip from Havana to Varadero, there’s plenty else to do. You don’t have to be a resort guest to take advantage of the town’s beaches, and there are a vast number of bars and restaurants in Varadero.
The Specifics of Getting from Havana to Varadero
You have two main options for getting to Varadero, and those are catching the bus or getting a taxi. Buses from Havana to Varadero are operated by a company called Viazul, taking from two to three hours (depending on traffic and the number of stops). There are only four departures in each direction per day, so be mindful of the timetable.
The frequency of services is subject to change (more buses can be added during peak season), but the last bus back to Havana usually leaves at 5pm, and from Havana to Varadero at 6pm. The Havana bus arrives and departs from Via Azul (next to the zoo), and the Varadero bus station is on Calle 36.
You can expect to pay around 10 CUC (Cuban convertible peso, equivalent to the US dollar) each way. If there are a few of you, you can also get a taxi. The distance from Havana to Varadero is only 133 km (83 miles) and you don’t have to worry about the time the last bus leaves. You can negotiate the price with the driver, but it will generally be around 80 CUC. This is not a bad deal if there are three or four of you all wanting to go from Havana to Varadero together.
You could also arrange a day tour with a private tour company who will take care of all the transportation for you.
Getting from Havana to Varadero is not difficult or expensive, but you might not want to spend so much time on the road in a single day. There are a lot of cheap Casa Particulares in Varadero (bed and breakfasts) so you can easily spend a night there. Be sure to book this in advance, as the town tends to fill up during the summer months.
Still, if worst comes to worst you can just stay up all night and party, before catching the first bus back to Havana in the morning (which leaves at 8am). The bus is actually quite comfortable, so you can get a few hours of shut eye on the way back to the capital before starting your day in Havana. Please don’t be tempted to sleep on the beach.
Varadero (much like the rest of Cuba) is relatively safe, and yet you don’t want to be caught on the beach with nowhere to shelter if a tropical storm happens to blow through the area.