Written by Kieran Proctor

48 Hours In Varadero Cuba: The Ultimate Guide

Varadero, a vibrant resort town in Cuba, is a must-visit location for travelers worldwide. With its pristine beaches, dynamic history ...

Varadero, a vibrant resort town in Cuba, is a must-visit location for travelers worldwide. With its pristine beaches, dynamic history and welcoming locals, a vacation in Varadero is an experience you won’t soon forget.

In this detailed guide, I’ll walk you through an ideal 48-hour itinerary in Varadero, ensuring you have a unique and unforgettable experience. As someone who spends months each and every year, living in Cuba, I’ve visited Varadero more times than I can count. And the activities below, are what I recommend you do while on vacation in Varadero.

Introduction To Varadero Cuba

Located on the Hicacos Peninsula, Varadero is a beach town that’s a slice of paradise. Its white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and swaying palm trees make Varadero feel like a dream. It’s no wonder it’s considered one of Cuba’s top beach destinations!

Beyond its natural beauty, Varadero is also known for its historical attractions and cultural experiences, making it a well-rounded travel destination. It’s more than just one of the largest beach resort towns in the Caribbean. Whether you’re a beach lover or a foodie, Varadero has something for everyone!

To help you plan your next vacation in Varadero, here’s some handy resources:

Flights To Varadero Cuba

If you’re booking into an all-inclusive resort, the easiest option to get there is to fly directly into Varadero. Canadian airlines flying direct to Cuba often land at the Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport (VRA), just outside Matanzas township.

Yet, for those of us flying in from Colombia, Europe or Mexico, our airlines often land at the José Martí International Airport (HAV) in Havana. And if you are landing in Havana, it makes more sense to spend at least 48 hours in Havana, before traveling to Varadero.

To find the cheapest airline fares and to see which airfares you can get flying direct to Varadero, I suggest looking on WayAway using the widget below and also checking OMIO, if you’re coming from Europe.

Flying With Vapes (Or Valuables) To Varadero Cuba

I need to put a note here for those of you who vape. Though Cuba has no specific laws regarding vaping and vapes are legal in Cuba, Varadero’s Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport (VRA) has been known to confiscate them.

Officials at this airport, have been known to steal items from peoples suitcases (i.e. GoPro cameras, jewelry, toiletries and cash) and you should not pack anything valuable in your suitcase. In particular, you should not pack vapes in your suitcase, unless you’re prepared to have them taken.

It’s part of a long running problem with the Varadero airport. And anything ‘confiscated’ or ‘lost in transit’, will be sold by the airport staff member who takes them. This most often happens on your departure from Cuba (so you can’t complain), but it has also been know to happen on arrival.

Getting To Varadero From Havana

The trip from Havana to Varadero, is about 150 kilometers long. And you have five (5) transport options to transit between Havana and Varadero. Depending on the mode of transportation you select, the trip can take anywhere from 2.5-4 hours, or more.

There are five main transportation options to consider:

  1. Private Car Transfer
  2. Shared Transfer
  3. Viazul Bus
  4. Taxi or La Nave (Cuba’s Uber equivalent)
  5. Rental Car

Each option varies in price, travel time and convenience. So it’s important to choose the one that best fits your needs and preferences. For the positives, negatives and costs associated with travel each option, see transiting between Havana and Varadero on this site.

Essential Items For A Trip To Varadero Cuba

There are three (3) essential items you must have with you when arriving in Varadero, or any other part of Cuba. Those items are a valid visa, travelers medical insurance covering Cuba and a good VPN.


Day One In Varadero: Rest & Relaxation

On your first day in Varadero, you’re likely tired and sore from travel and work. So take your first day in Varadero to rest, recuperate, relax and recharge.

Just check-in to your hotel, explore the resort and surrounding area and bask in that glorious Caribbean sunshine. Plus, if you’re coming from Canadian, North American or European winters, you likely need that Caribbean sunshine to get some sort of tan. So you stop reflecting the sunlight and blinding everyone else!

Varadero Beach Cuba
Varadero Beach Cuba

Morning: Arrival And Exploration

Once you’ve made your way to Varadero, take some time to settle in and familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Most accommodations in Varadero are either on the beach, or within walking distance of the beach, so you won’t have to venture too far to start exploring.

If you’re staying in an ‘all inclusive’ resort, you should start your day by enquiring as to where and when you can access meals. You will want to know where the resort’s restaurants and bars are located. And what time they open and close each day.

I would also recommend getting the wifi password, so you can access the internet. But only if you have NordVPN installed. Without a VPN in Cuba, the wifi won’t allow you to access much at all.

Melia International 'all-inclusive' resort in Varadero Cuba
Meliá Internacional is one of the better all-inclusive resorts in Varadero

Midday: Visit Varadero Beach

After exploring your resort, spend some time at Varadero Beach (Playa Varadero), also known as Blue Beach (Playa Azul). With its white sand and turquoise waters, it’s the perfect place to unwind and soak up some Caribbean sun. You can also participate in various water sports like jet-skiing, snorkeling and sailing.

If the wind is blowing on the section of beach in front of your hotel, consider moving down the beach to a different spot. When it’s windy in Varadero the waves can get quite large, making swimming treacherous. But there are parts of Varadero Beach, that are more sheltered than others.

One of the best sections of Varadero Beach is in front of the Xanadu Mansion (former Dupont House). Due to the shape of Varadero Beach, it’s often sheltered from the wind. So do check out the section of beach in front of Xanadu Mansion, if the wind is spoiling the beach in front of your resort.

Varadero Beach from Xanadu Mansion (Dupont House)
Varadero Beach in front of Xanadu Mansion in Varadero Cuba

Afternoon: Take A Tour Of Varadero

No visit to Cuba would be complete without cruising around town in one of Cuba’s famous 1950’s American cars. Now, if someone approaches you on the street and is offering to sell you a ticket for a ride in one of the cars, this is most often a scam. Your best option to ride in one of the cars, is to book online with a reputable provider.

I recommend booking a ride in one of Cuba’s iconic 1950’s cars, that’s combined with a tour of Varadero. That way, you get the photo opportunities and you get to explore Varadero. And you’ll learn about the best bars, restaurants and beaches, while you’re cruising around Varadero in style.

Evening: Dinner At The Best Restaurants in Varadero

After a day of beach fun, you could have dinner at your resort. But the restaurants in the resorts are often of a much lower quality than the local restaurants. If you want better food, or you want to explore nightlife, visit one of the restaurants in Varadero below.

The restaurants listed below, are favorites among locals and tourists alike. I’ve ranked them based on the quality of their food, pricing and overall vibe. Because of their popularity, I recommend booking in advance.

Below is a list of the best restaurants in Varadero. Click each restaurant for it’s location on Google Maps:

Local Beer Tip: If you’re going to order a beer, order the Cristal verde (green Cristal) or for a stronger beer, the Bucanero. Don’t order the Cristal Extra (white Cristal), locals don’t drink the white Cristal. Green Cristal is the original Cuban beer and the green Cristal, is the one you want.

Local Food Tip: Don’t go out for Italian food in Varadero. Cuban’s don’t know how to cook Italian food. The pasta will be undercooked and it will have the consistency of chewing gum. The pizza will just be a huge mess of cheese. Go out for lobster and fresh seafood, or local cuban pork, if you want the best food in Varadero.

enchilado de langosta in Varadero Cuba
Enchilado de langosta (Cuban Creole Lobster) in Varadero

Day Two In Varadero: Exploration & Adventure

On day two, you have a choice to make. You can either take a half day tour and then relax in the afternoon. Or you can go for a full day of exploration and adventure!

Your best full day options are to either take a luxury catamaran ride out to Cayo Blanco and snorkel pristine coral reefs, swim with dolphins and eat as much fresh caught seafood as you can handle. All while contending with a never ending supply of Cuban cocktails.

Or, you can take the Yumurí Valley Jeep Tour. Where you will see parts of Cuba few rarely see. Such as the Canimar River, Coral Beach, Saturno cave system and the Yumurí Valley itself. You’ll visit Matanzas and the Hermitage of Monserrate. But, moreover, you’ll be able to say that you drove a jeep through the wilds of Cuba.

Now, if you’re going to choose either of the full day options (I’ve taken both), you will need to book in advance. These options can’t be booked same day or the day before. And both tours do book out, sometimes months in advance.

So, my advice to you, is that if you want to really have an experience in Varadero to write home about, book as far ahead as possible. If you miss out on the full day options, or don’t have the time, you’ll find in this article below a more subdued itinerary for your second day.

Morning: Explore Matanzas And The Bellamar Cave Systems

For those of you who don’t have the time, money, or will to take a full day tour from Varadero, you should start your day with a tour of Matanzas and a visit to the Bellamar Cave System.

Matanzas is the birthplace of Cuban of Rumba, the ‘Cuban Venice’ (it has 17 bridges) and the ‘Athens of Cuba’ (birthplace of Cuba’s poets). It’s also home to the Bellamar and Saturn Cave systems. And it’s located on its northern side is the Yumurí Valley.

Now, the Matanzas and Bellamar Caves Tour hits all the main sights in Matanzas and it visits the Bellamar caves. The tour visits Plaza de la Libertad, the neoclassical and baroque Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo and Plaza de la Vigia.

It also ventures up to my favorite spot in the area, the Hermitage of Montserrate. The Hermitage of Montserrate provides you with the best, Instagram worthy views, out over Matanzas township and the Yumurí Valley.

The Matanzas and Bellamar Caves Tour will pick you up from your all-inclusive resort or Airbnb at 9am. It will then drop you off at your accommodation, or a restaurant of your choice, at around 1:30 in the afternoon.

Lunch: Visit Xanadu Mansion And Varadero Golf Course

Kickback after your morning of exploring Matanzas and its surrounds, by visiting the Xanadu Mansion, a grand estate built by Irenee Dupont in 1927. Seized after the Revolution, Xanadu now functions as a tourist attraction, restaurant and hotel. The Xanadu Mansion offers beautiful views of Varadero Beach.

Xanadu Mansion serves lunch on its terrace, with some of the best ocean views you’ll find in Varadero. You can then tour the mansion and see the largest pipe organ in Latin America, the best wine cellar in Cuba and have a cocktail on the top floor, while looking out over Varadero Beach.

Right next to the mansion, you’ll find the Varadero Golf Course. Even if you’re not a golfer, the well-manicured lawns and stunning ocean views. do make it worth visiting. But, I’d recommend taking a dip in the Caribbean sea right in front of the mansion, before investigating the golf course.

My own favorite swimming spot on Varadero Beach, is directly in front of Xanadu (Dupont house).

Afternoon: A Swim At Varadero Beach And Then Golden Hour

In the afternoon, have a swim on Varadero beach. Soak up some more of that Caribbean sun and then head back to your hotel or accommodation.

If you’re in an all-inclusive resort like Meliá Internacional, they’re likely hosting a cocktail hour for sunset on the beach. Grab a cocktail and watch the sunset over the Caribbean Sea, with your fellow guests.

If you’re not much of the cocktail type, or you don’t feel like swimming, you could visit the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve. Located on the Hicacos Peninsula, the same strip of land Varadero sits on, the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve is home to 2500 year old human remains and ancient cave paintings.

Varahicacos Ecological Reserve on the Hicacos peninsula in Varadero Cuba
The entry to Varahicacos Ecological Reserve in Varadero Cuba

Evening: Enjoy Local Cuisine At One Of The Best Restaurants In Varadero

For dinner, visit another of the local restaurants (listed above) and try some traditional Cuban dishes. No matter which of the best restaurants in Varadero you choose from my list above, you’re sure to enjoy the rich flavors of Cuban cuisine.

Personally, I always recommend everyone try the Enchilado de langosta (Cuban Creole Lobster), Lobster tails or something more traditional like Ropa Vieja.

Day Three In Varadero: Bonus Day In Varadero

If you have longer than 48 hours in Varadero, I would recommend taking the second of the full day tours, if you took one of them the day before. If you took the luxury catamaran ride out to Cayo Blanco on your second day, take the Yumurí Valley Jeep Tour on your third day in Varadero.

Yet, if you did take one of the full day tours the day before, but only have half a day to spare on your third day in Varadero, take the Matanzas and Bellamar Caves Tour. You’ll be back at your accommodation ready to check out by 1:30 in the afternoon. And most of the all-inclusive resorts have late checkouts.

With a greater amount of time in Varadero, you can even visit Viñales from Varadero. 7 days is ample time for rest and relaxation, while also being able to incorporate all the exploration and adventure you can handle.

So, if you do have longer than 48 hours, hit all three of the full day tours below and spend the rest of your days just soaking in the Caribbean sun at your resort. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking the terrible resort food is representative of all that’s available in Varadero, or the rest of Cuba!

Visiting Viñales on my YouTube Channel – filmed in 2023 in Viñales Cuba

Final Thoughts On Your 48 Hours In Varadero Cuba

Spending 48 hours in Varadero is a whirlwind of experiences. From lounging on beautiful beaches, to exploring historical sites and indulging in local cuisine, Varadero offers a unique blend of relaxation and adventure.

Remember, the key to a successful Cuban vacation is packing the essentials, planning ahead, allowing sufficient travel time and staying hydrated (with Cristal verde!). With these tips in mind, your 48 hours in Varadero will undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience. And you’ll have plenty of photos to show off to your friends and family, once you’re home!

If you’re driving from Havana to Varadero, don’t forget to snap a picture of the famous entry to the resort zone!

Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?

I’ve made my Cuba travel guide available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.

My ultimate guide to Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Read the most up to date guide to traveling in Cuba.