When we decided upon an all-inclusive vacation, Cuba was definitely our first choice. To me it held everything in a holiday – sun, beach, pool and a chance to explore another country, one steeped in history and culture.
We stayed in Varadero, a small peninsula dotted with beautiful resorts. Varadero is capitalism at its finest, surprising really, on this small communist island. Police or military presence was not obvious, although we did clear a checkpoint as we entered and left our resort area.
A friend told me Varadero boasted one of the world’s most beautiful beaches and I have to agree. Photos we returned with, although bright with greens of various hues, did not do it justice. As well as the beach, the resort had everything you would want for your holiday. Our resort, the Sirenas La Salina was at capacity with almost 1,000 rooms and many families; if you do the math, we were probably close to 2,500 people. The systems must have been challenged – only 400 clean beach towels reached pool side in the morning and bath towels showed up long after the maid cleaned the rooms. But our maid never lost her humor! I was glad that we remembered to bring her special gifts and left a little something every day. Cubans are well looked after for health and dental care but there is little to spend on extras – things we take for granted chewing gum, toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant…oh, and toilet paper.
Our days quickly took shape, a leisurely breakfast at the buffet, a good book at the pool, lunch at the snack bar, happy hour at the pool, a walk on the beach, and a lovely dinner…We became experts at ordering fabulous cappuccinos in our favorite piano bar.
A good friend who stayed in Varadero last year, highly recommended the Havana tour but without the Tropicana inclusion. This was a good idea as the length of day was just perfect. We started bright and early for Havana and our tour guide, a university graduate, was as brilliant as he was charming. We learned about the history of Cuba, the issues around Guantanamo, the revolutionary hero Che Guevara, Fidel and Raoul Castro, hand-rolled authentic cigars, Habana Club Rum (vitamin R), free education, and a love of baseball.
Cuba does not trade with the U.S. Noticeable then was the absence of products that you and I take for granted – Coca Cola for instance. But the Cubans still love and keep their U.S. cars running, but nothing newer than 1959. Following that date, you see the Russian vehicles, Lada’s for instance, and since the Russians left in the late 1990’s, other vehicles, such as Toyotas. Also with the large number of tourists arriving almost daily needing to be transported to the resorts, new and efficient Chinese tour buses are everywhere.
Old Havana is a lovely City but the old buildings and amazing architecture are showing signs of wear – I expect as much as from economics as from the sea air. New Havana is a bustling city with some high rise office buildings and lovely hotels. Education is free with many up to date universities and colleges. Whether you stroll the Old Havana section or the newer bustling Havana – it is clearly a city that is timeless – no matter where you look.
We did take in the Tropicana show in Varadero – the costumes, lights, performers were wonderful. Having a full bottle of rum put in front of you, hand-rolled cigars, a well stocked ice bucket, fiesta cola and glasses – certainly enhanced the camaraderie with the performers. An evening not to be missed in your visit to Varadero!
Taking this excursion after a long winter, I felt as though I had been brought back to life – true relaxation, no cell phones, very slow Internet (so a great excuse not to email), Vitamin D, Vitamin R and many amigos to look after every need. If you get the opportunity, this is a vacation not to be missed!
Deb Quick lives in Quesnel and is a Flight Centre Associate. Deb offers full service home-based travel at 250-992-5169 or www.AskDeb.ca