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Varadero has been Cuba’s trendiest beach town for more than a century. In 1926, U.S. industrialist Irénée Du Pont bought most of the peninsula beyond the town and built a large estate, complete with a golf course, called Xanadu. Having reputedly paid four cents a square meter for his land, he profited handsomely by selling off parcels at 120 pesos a meter. Al Capone and dictator Fulgencio Batista built vacation homes as Varadero metamorphosed into a Miami in miniature, peaking in the 1950s, when “yanqui” corporations put up ritzy hotels and casinos. Since the 1990s, the Cuban Government has added dozens of new, even ritzier, all-inclusive hotels, most of them managed by foreign hotel corporations, such as Blau, Barceló, Oasis, Sandals, Sol Meliá and Superclubs.
The dining in town is somewhat desultory. However, you can easily fill a few days off the beach by dining at Las Américas (Du Pont’s Xanadu, which today operates as a hotel and restaurant); with a round of golf at the 18-hole Varadero Golf Club; hiking in Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos; and watching dolphins perform at the Delfinario (you can also swim with them for a hefty additional fee). The sightseeing is otherwise limited, although hotel tour desks offer excursions to Matanzas, the Bay of Pigs, and Havana. And catamarans and other sail-craft offer daytime sightseeing and party excursions. For many, though, Varadero’s main draw is the excellent diving offshore, in the gin-clear waters of Parque Marino Cayo Piedras del Norte, where scuba aficionados give a new meaning to raptures of the deep—there’s even a Soviet AN-24 aircraft, and a gunboat, still laden with missiles!
*A character in Roberto Fernández’s Raining Backwards
August 2014 This article formed part of the August 2014 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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