When my mam announced that we would be going all inclusive in Varadero, Cuba for my sister’s birthday I was picturing cigars, vintage cars and rum. I wasn’t disappointed. I know a lot of people have preconceived notions about Cuba. If you’re concerned about anything make sure to check out this ultimate guide to travelling through Cuba so that you’re super prepared. NOW, let’s get down to the good stuff.
The first thing I noticed about Cuba was the vintage cars, they’re everywhere. I half expected Danny Zuko to rock up and start singing Grease Lightning! I felt the overwhelming desire to slick my hair back with a pocket comb. Buicks, Dodges and Chevrolets all over the place. I’m not even that into cars but I LOVED it. Being inside one felt like sitting in a booth in an American Diner (Eddie Rockets or something like that).
Where Did I Stay?
We stayed at the Paradisus resort in the all inclusive Varadero Cuba five star resort set on the beach surrounded by a nature reserve. Sounds fancy, right? It was. It had a DRESS CODE and everything for some of the restaurants. Luckily I can scrub up quite nicely when I need to.
Now, I must admit that I was dubious about the whole “resort” thing, let alone an all inclusive one where you have no need to leave. I mean, it’s all a bit too much couture instead of culture, right? However, Paradisus surprised me. There were salsa lessons and spanish lessons for everyone to take part in as well as rum tasting and traditional cocktail-making. There were Cuban theme nights and a Cuban Fusion restaurant on site.
All of this combined with a day trip or two (so you don’t get cabin fever) really ensures that you don’t miss out on the Cuban culture. Oh and every room has a complimentary bottle of Havana Club rum, so that’s basically culture, kind of….. that’s what I’ll tell myself anyway!
The one thing I will say about the resort was that the wifi was terrible. I had to pay by the hour and when it did work it only worked in the lobby. Soooo I went on a bit of a data detox which, to be honest, I probably needed.
How Inclusive is All Inclusive?
The big question! What was included? Well, let’s start with beverages. There was the bottle of Havana Club in the room. Then there was the mini bar in the room which contained soft drinks and beer. This was refilled daily. All cocktails and drinks were included at all the bars. Only a very small selection of premium drinks were not included but they were things like specialist whiskies and other such spirits that I would never be interested in drinking anyway.
All food was included. There was a 24hr snack bar, a buffet restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, a beach bar and a host of other themed restaurants including Mexican, Italian and Japanese. You could also order room service if you didn’t want to go out. Basically, all inclusive Varadero Cuba really is as straightforward as that, ALL inclusive.
If you felt like doing activities instead of lounging by the pool most water sports, even diving, were included. There was also a tennis court, gym, spa, shooting range, yoga on the beach and aqua aerobics, to name a few. All inclusive does NOT have to be boring.
The Cuban FlagThe Cuban Flag flying high in Havana
Old Town HavanaOld Town Havana
Pool CubaChilling by the pool with my sister
Bel Air HavanaOur vintage Bel Air car in Havana
Che HavanaMe and Che
senorita CubaOur towel senorita!
Cuba sunsetA beautiful Cuban Sunset. Never seen anything like it before!
The day trip to Havana was probably my mother’s most anticipated moment of our trip. Unfortunately for her, my sister and I had spent the night before staying up playing drinking games with our lovely new Canadian friends and, consequently, were a little worse for wear. I like to think we were delightful but, in reality, we were probably fairly unpleasant for the first hour or so.
We hopped in our bright purple Bel Air (I know, I kept singing the Fresh Prince theme tune in my head) vintage car with our driver, Alberto, and sped off towards the cultural hub of Havana. Unfortunately for us Alberto was having issues with the air con….. so we were left to sweat it out in the back with legs sticking to seats for the 2.5hr drive. Not ideal, but one can’t complain too much.
Once we arrived we burst out of the car and onto the streets of Havana, Cuba. We saw Cuba’s answer to Christ the Redeemer and then the world’s longest cigar (81.8 metres if you were wondering). Next it was on to the Cuban Old Town full of beautiful old buildings, Che Guevara memorabilia and crazy people asking you for money.
At this point the sun was beating down on us and I was ready to beat people out of my way to get to the closest patch of shade. I am SO PALE. Thankfully we swiftly moved on to the site of the Papal visit in 2012 where there are giant faces of Che and Fidel on the sides of two buildings.
Then, it was time for lunch. Before we’d left for Cuba my mother turned to me and said, “I heard that all the restaurant are in people’s houses, I wonder where we’ll be able to eat in Havana?”. I, of course, told her to chill out, it’s a capital city, we’re hardly going to end up eating dinner in someone’s front room. Lo and behold, where does Alberto take us for lunch? A restaurant in the back room of someone’s house. This is a BIG thing in Cuba. And the food was amazing.
The cost of the tour for the day was 50 CUC per person which is about 45 euro. That was the only thing that wasn’t included.
Need more info about Havana? Then check out this guide to 48hrs in Havana. If you want to visit a different city in Cuba, how about Trinidad de Cuba? Check out Getting Stamped’s guide to Trinidad Cuba for everything you need to know about the place.
NOW, the least easy thing about going on an all inclusive trip to the Varadero, Cuba (let’s be honest, there is no HARD part) is trying to figure out how much to tip. I mean, who do you tip? When do you tip then? How much?
Fear not, I have done my research. In Cuba, they have 2 currencies; one for locals and one for tourists. 36 of the local currency is worth 1 tourist CUC . According to our local guide 2-5 CUC is a great tip.
Obviously tipping is completely personal, but it is expected. Most people will tip their favourite servers and members of staff on the last day of their stay. For example, we had an amazing member of the activities staff that we tipped 20 CUC at the end of the week. Just make sure you check what day their day off is so that you don’t miss them. We also tipped our maid, several service staff in the restaurants, all of our drivers and our tour guide on the trip to Havana.
When leaving Cuba from Havana airport make sure that you pay the airport tax (25 CUC) BEFORE you go to check in. BEFORE. There’s a little desk that says it’s the KLM and Air France office, that’s where you pay the tax, it’s not very well sign posted. In fact, Havana airport in general is atrocious. Not to be a diva about it, but bad airports absolutely wreck my head.
Make sure you’re there 3 hours before your flight. The security and passport control take forever and you end up in a sea of people with no visible end. Also, there is no air-conditioning so be prepared to sweat up a storm. Bring a change of clothes in your hand luggage.
You can’t change Cuban CUC outside of Cuba so TRY and get rid of them all in the airport before you leave, unless you want them as a souvenir. Stock up on some cigars and Havana Club rum!