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Venturing into Varadero

Cuba is known for its long stretches of beautiful beaches and numerous all-inclusive resorts where travelers can escape the cold and dreary weather back home to enjoy a week of warm temperatures, 24/7 food, and free-flowing mojitos, all with a single hotel wristband. One of the most popular places to visit in Cuba is Varadero. While it may be hard to tear yourself away from the swim-up bars, palm tree-covered lounge chairs, and the ocean view at your resort, taking a short trip into the town of Varadero is definitely a must while you’re there.

Casa de Al Capone

Casa de Al

The town of Varadero is just a short scooter, taxi or bus ride away from the main hotel strip. I took the safer and cheaper option and went there by bus. With such over-priced and typical souvenirs at our hotel gift shop, one of the places I wanted to visit in town was the local market. It smelled like Home Depot when I entered it because of the potent smell of wood. The market had a wide range of hand-crafted wooden items like jewellery boxes, maracas, toy cars, and domino boxes which can be personalized on the spot. As a discount shopper, I was ready to haggle, but these items were just two or three pesos each. I was surprised since postcards in Cuba cost one peso or more.

In addition to these wooden items, they have a lot of unique hand-made necklaces and bracelets, as well as colourful artwork. I bought a few canvases that featured the old American cars on them in various colours. No matter how many times I saw them on the streets of Cuba, I could not get enough of those cars.

While I had been to many markets in Caribbean islands before, what I liked about this one was that the shop keepers weren’t aggressive. They just greeted you with an “Hola,” and left you alone to browse at their offerings. If only merchants in big cities could be this way.

Another stop I made in Varadero was to “Casa de Al.” The “Al” referred to Al Capone. Having done a whole project on him in Grade 10 history class, I was excited to visit this place. The bus driver said, however, that Al Capone had never actually stayed at this house. I couldn’t believe I had been lured again by a tourist trap! The driver did point out though that some members of the mafia had stayed at that house while in Cuba. So, all was not lost. The unique grey and blue house has since been turned into an Italian restaurant. At the back, you have a beautiful view of the ocean, and there were even a few pelicans there too.

I had never seen a pelican in real life before, so I had no clue how they would react to people being so close to them. Would they try to come after us like Canadian geese or would they just fly away like pigeons? They did neither. They just stayed there on the sand and enjoyed their photo op by the tourist paparazzi around them.

I also made a stop at the Dupont Mansion while in town. This property is owned by the Dupont family whose company became the largest diversified chemical products empire in the world. The mansion is beautiful inside, with its wooden staircase and old artwork. It was very pristine and very classy. I felt a little underdressed there wearing just a tank top, shorts, and sandals. The best part of this property though is the top floor. It has a bar with a live band playing upbeat Cuban music. The bar opens out to a terrace, which provides an unobstructed panoramic view of the city.

So, while it was hard to tear myself away from the all-inclusive resort life I had been living, I was glad that I went to the town of Varadero to visit a few spots there. The trip only took about half the day, so there was still plenty of time left when I got back to hit the beach. Thankfully my sunscreen covered up the faint Home Depot scent I had brought back with me.

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