Luxuriant and luxurious holidays in Cuba! – World Meanderings (n°7)
Varadero on the Northern coast of Cuba is worldwide known for its 20 km long sandy beach, its crystal clear waters and sunshine synonymous with leisure holydays. But it has much more to offer if you want to discover the matchless Cuban nature while enjoying a luxury stay in a new style hotel: the Paradisus Princesa del Mar by Melia with its Royal Service.
What to do in Varadero
Varadero formerly called Playa Azul, the Blue Beach, is located on the Hicacos Peninsula 140 km east of Havana and has been a dream destination for tourists since 1870. During the 1990’s Cuba opened its doors again to tourists and many hotels were built on this beautiful shore. Most of the local wild areas have been destroyed but you can still get an idea of how the peninsula formerly looked like if you go to Varahicacos Ecological Reserve. This small park is still worth a visit. Make sure to have good hiking shoes to walk on the rocky trails going through the park and try to avoid the sink-holes! Then you are ready to enjoy this little place of nature: there are plenty of cactus trees, lots of epiphytic orchids, mangroves. Don’t miss the small caves eroded by the sea in the peninsula limestone.
Of course water activities are a must in Varadero. There are many boat trips to enjoy the ocean. You can get on board a catamaran and reach Cayo Blanco a deserted island with a beautiful white sandy beach or go to “Rancho Cangrejo” to swim with the dolphins. Varadero is a famous spot for deep-sea fishing: marlin, tuna, barracuda, swordfish and many other tropical species are waiting for sport fishing enthusiasts! In Cuba it can only be “Catch and Release”, in order to preserve these species. Each fish is photographed, weighed and measured before being returned to the sea.
To discover more about Cuban wild life you’ll have to go150 km south of Varadero to the Zapata Peninsula, one of the most popular day trip from Varadero even if one day is not enough to discover all its wonders. The UNESCO declared Biosphere Reserve is open to the public but you will need a guide to discover this wild area: its tracts of open swampland are the largest and best preserved of the Caribbean contrasting with dense forests, lagoons and mangroves. It’s a unique unspoilt and rich habitat for Cuban wild life: boar, mongoose, iguana, crocodile, flamingo and even the smallest bird on earth: the bee hummingbird. This amazing bird locally called zunzuncito, can only be seen in Cuba and is no bigger than a bumblebee, weighing less than 2 grams!
Close by you can visit a convincingly reconstructed Taino Indian village in Boca de Guama. The Tainos were Indians living in Cuba during its pre-Colombian period and even if most of them didn’t survive the Spanish invasion many Cubans claim to have Tainos ancestors. They used to live in small boughs and leaves huts, men and married women wore loincloths while girls wore nothing at all… Thanks to the wonderful Cuban climate! They slept in hammocks that they made with cotton and that became so popular with European sailors: the word hammock has Taino origin. A charming boat trip on a huge lake will take you to their peaceful island where you will get an idea of their way of life. You can even have a plate of roasted crocodile meat that is surprisingly tasty!
There are 30 km of beaches on the Zapata Peninsula shore with few tourists making you feel like Robinson on a desert island! The beaches of Playa Giron, Playa Larga and the famous Bay of the Pigs are excellent places for diving. Some of the best diving spots in the Caribbean are at swimming distance of the shore. In the Bay of the Pigs an underwater cliff drops sheer into the ocean covered with multicoloured corals, sponges, gorgonians and tropical fishes swim in crystal clear waters: a true enchantment for your senses! If you don’t feel claustrophobic there are flooded caves safe enough to discover with a professional guide. Cuban diving instructors are reliable with ACUC certificates (American and Canadian Underwater Certification) and keep the rules of security. Even if you are a beginner and are lucky enough to do your first dive in this wonderful underwater world feel confident about their expertise. On the other hand they won’t demand your PADI, NAUI, or TDI certifications to let you dive but will simply assess your skills while diving: easy and safe!
To discover the Zapata Peninsula, the excursions’ desk of your hotel will propose a guided group tour on board a big tourist coach that directly picks up guests at their hotels. But if you look for a more exclusive journey, you can contact Solways Premium, the luxury Cuban tourist services’ company. A very modern comfortable car with your own private driver and guide will allow you to perfectly organize your trip at your own rhythm, stopping where and when you want, a convenient way to avoid the tourist traps and the so long pee breaks that are unescapable with group journeys…
Thanks to a strong politic will Cuban nature is still well preserved in its National Parks and Biosphere Reserves allowing us to discover animal and botanical species not to be seen anywhere else in the world living in magnificent landscapes. But after a tiring day hiking in the forests, going canoeing or scuba diving it just feels great to go back to civilisation and get all the comfort you can ask for in a rare Cuban hotel such as the Princesa del Mar Royal Service.
The Princesa del Mar Royal Service by Melia in Varadero
Newly open in 2013 the “Royal Service” is a luxury and secluded all-inclusive hotel hidden inside the 5 Star Paradisus Princesa del Mar Hotel that is set on a beautiful part of Varadero beach. The concept of Melia “Royal Service is an exclusive boutique hotel inside a luxury hotel. Regular guests of the Paradisus Princessa del Mar have no access to the exclusive Royal Service complex. If there are many all-inclusive hotels by now in Cuba, very few offer what you will find here: by creating this ultra-all-inclusive formula Melia really intends to include all those services that will make you feel special and cared for, exclusivity, lavishness and privacy. It really deserves to be called an ultra-all-inclusive luxury eco-resort for adults only: breakfast, lunch and “à la carte” dinner in one of the exclusive restaurants or served in your suite, luggage packing and unpacking, butler service24/24, free internet access (a rarity in Cuba!), private transfers from and to Varadero International Airport, pool towels in your room with a complimentary beach bag, personalized tennis lessons, golf and diving reservations, one YHI Spa hydrothermal circuit per person per stay… These are a few examples of the advantages you’ll get for no additional charge.
If space is a major criterion to define luxury it’s certainly what you’ll get at the Royal Service. The smallest suite is 69 sq meters with a king-size bed and a salon area elegantly furnished with colourful modern style armchairs and cushions. In the stylish bathroom the bathtub is big enough for two and if asked your butler can prepare a scented bath with salts, flowers and candles: a perfect and romantic moment! Bathrobes and slippers are provided as well as a personalized premium bar
Among the 168 suites surrounding the huge 3 lagoon-style swimming pools the 20 stunning Garden Swim-Up-Pool junior suites with a terrace, an outdoor Balinese bed and a direct access to the pool probably are the guests’ favourite choice! You’ll only have to walk no more than three steps and dive into the pool to get to the pool restaurant-bar for a pizza or a grilled fish or steak. Furthermore a large part of the amazing beach where the sea has incredible turquoise colours is reserved for the Royal Service guests offering them a haven of peace to rest and to enjoy the beach activities away from the crowd. All along the day the beach bar waiters take care of the Royal Service guests bringing them drinks and snacks.
The Bellamar Royal Service is an unusual round gourmet restaurant serving a mouth-watering cuisine and if you feel like it you can have lobster every day for dinner while enjoying live music performed by small bands. The Hill Top Hide-Away is an elegant restaurant set on a small hill overlooking the hotel from which you’ll get a wonderful sea view and a not less wonderful cuisine! If these two restaurants are reserved for the Royal Service guests you can also have meals in any of the other restaurants of the Paradisus Princesa del Mar resort and enjoy a Japanese, French, Italian or exotic meal or a snack at the beach restaurant.
Of course Cuba wouldn’t be Cuba without rum and one of its delicious cocktail! At the exclusive Lobby Lounge bar Claude, the head barman, will be delighted to make you one of his delicious cocktails. His Margaritas are almost impossible to resist, but who would want to anyway?
Whatever choice you make between active or resting holidays in Cuba, be sure that you will never forget the kindness and friendliness of the Cuban people who seem always ready to meet foreigners and share with them their “Cuban state of mind”.
Text ©Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny