Cuba Part 5 – The last stop in Cuba…(Varadero) – June 2009

– As I was already at the end of my rope when I arrived in Varadero, it was another rough start to the city. I hadn’t made any reservations prior to my arrival. The tour lady I met in Cinefuego suggested waiting till I got to the new city as there are lots of deals when you show up and go to the travel agents there. It’s so strange for me to think it’s better to arrive somewhere and then get a deal as I normally expect that when you plan in advance.

– I knew of one hotel that a friend recommended and I was going to go there. I met two girls on my bus that had stayed there and they also said it was nice and clean and right on the beach. So when I got there, my room was so small, noisy and the TV didn’t work and I just wanted a little TV for a change. So I tried to switch rooms, but that one wasn’t good and the third one wasn’t either so I finally decided to leave. I really wanted one of the all inclusive resorts as I was tired and just wanted a nice few days on the beach.

– I headed off to the tour office to see what specials they had. Of course….it started to pour down so much rain and this didn’t help with my mood. I finally decided on one of the resorts. It was as 3 star all-inclusive and I figured give it a day and see if I wanted to stay longer or move elsewhere. The first place was Tortuga resort and was right on the beach with a big pool. I think I paid 43 CUC ($54). Only issue was once I got to the hotel, the room wasn’t available yet and it was raining, so I didn’t want to sit at the pool or beach. I did make quick use of the all you can drink bracelet and sat at the bar.

– With my first mojito in my hand, it was at that moment that I learned that Michael Jackson had just died. I couldn’t believe it. I was glued to the TV for the next few days watching more and more about Michael’s death, then I heard about Farrah Fawcett and then I heard about Ed McMahon’s death as well. It was a crazy week and I was just catching up on it all. I immediately felt sad for my friend Lex, one of Ed’s sons. So sorry for your loss Lex.

– For about two days, I did little more than watch TV in my hotel room, cruise the beach and pool and hang out. I actually got tired of all the rules at the resort…as there were rules for everything but no one told me. Such as I wanted to get a pool towel at the towel hut, but later learned I had to pay a deposit at the front desk to get a ticket to then get a towel. I didn’t have any cash on me since it’s an all inclusive and wasn’t in the mood to go all the way back to my room, then the front desk and then back to the towel hut as everything was so far apart. I just wanted to hit the beach. So frustrated…I just went to the beach without a towel. It would have been so easy to tell guests about this deposit when you check in. There were more rule issues and it just made me mad.

– I hate the say, the food at the resort was horrible and really not anything I wanted to eat (outside of breakfast as there was fresh fruit and eggs). Lunch and dinner were just so scary and I’m not that picky. The really couldn’t even tell what meats they were serving and sometimes there were signs, but what they called chicken, didn’t look like any chicken I know. And who wants to eat rabbit or deep fried fish that was sitting around looking gross. I made a nice dinner of pasta with some sort of cheese and some way over cooked carrots. Sounds great huh? At least there was fruit so I had a big plate of fruit as well. After two days of this, I decided i wanted to move resorts to something a little nicer and maybe where I would meet some other tourists. This resort I was at was mostly locals on holiday and I was ready to talk to someone else that was traveling.

– So I went back to the tour agent and got a special deal for a 4 star resort at the eastern end of Varadero (closer to all the luxury resorts that most tourists go to). I think I paid 59 CUC a night for that ($73). So I was off to the Villa Cuba. I knew it should have been 4-5 CUC in a taxi, but of course all the taxi drivers tried to rip me off and charge 10-15 CUC. I laughed and decided to take the local horse draw carriage. This cost me only 52 national pesos (which is about 2 CUC or $3) and was much nicer in the open air carriage. Plus I was able to chat with the driver in Spanish, met other nice locals that got on (as it was a collective horse carriage ride). I knew I paid 4 times what the locals did, but this ride was much more affordable and I didn’t care as I wasn’t being ripped off like the taxi’s wanted to.

– I will say, once I got to the new resort, it felt better. My room was available, the place looked nicer and the sun was coming out. I think two days at the beach with rules, bad food and no sun didn’t help my mood. Now I had a few more days to enjoy the sun and beach and it was great.

– Villa Cuba had much better food, more bars all over the property and a nice bar. So I just relaxed and read on the beach in the morning, then moved to the pool in the afternoon and usually got a little TV in here or there. I had HBO in my room and lots of CNN. I felt like I was on vacation for once.

– I also met some fun Canadians in the water. Cynthia and a few others were there for a week and we had a few good drinks and hung out so I felt more normal and had fun.

– Most of the people I met at Villa Cuba were in Cuba for a week vacation and stayed at the all- inclusive resort the whole time and maybe took a day trip to Havana….but I would say these people missed out as there is much more to see and do in Cuba besides the all-inclusive resorts. If you want a nice beach, great food and all-inclusive resorts…there are much better options than Cuba. I would recommend to other to fly into Havana and spend some time there, go to Vinales, maybe Trinidad and end with a few days at the beach in Varadero. That way you can get out and see more of the country as the all-inclusive resort is not all that.

– I had to return to Havana for a night so I could get my flight home the next morning. When I was at a big hotel using the Internet, I head a “Hi Megan” and it was Randi from Norway, who I met in Trinidad. She and her friend were back in Havana as well for a flight and it was fun to meet up again. So we decided to grab dinner and drinks and had a fun night.

– So my time in Cuba ended on a positive note. I have had no many people ask what I thought of Cuba and I would say I have mixed feelings. There are things I really liked, things I hated. Overall it was expensive compared to other countries and what you got for your money wasn’t much. I think this would be a better place to come as a stand alone trip, and not at the end of a 15 month round the world trip as i was just tired and all the annoyances were too much for me towards the end. The best part was all the architecture, beautiful scenery and taking it all in. I would like to return to Cuba when the government changes as I think it will be fainting to compare (like I was able to compare the differences with the USSR in the 90’s and Russia now).

– Off to catch my flight to Toronto, Canada and can’t wait to see my Aunt, Uncle and cousins and have a little time to relax and be normal.

Logistics:
3 star resort – Villa Tortuga (west side of Varadero)
www.gran-caribe.com
Calle 9 e/ Boulevard y Ave. Kawama

4 star resort – Villa Cuba (east side of Varadero)
Ave de las Americas Km 3
www.gran-caribe.com (same chain as previous resort but nicer)

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