The Cuban girl looked at me and gave me the nametag, necessary information, and she said:
– Nĭ Hăo. (“Hello” in Chinese)
As usual, I responded very quickly:
– I am not Chinese, i am Vietnamese.
She raised her eyebrow, looked at me, and gave me a bright smile:
– Vietnam, very nice. Welcome to Cuba!
I arrived in Varadero in the afternoon when the last rays of sunshine still lingered on the branches of Delonix regia in the airport. The airport where I arrived looked really small, and I was a bit nervous because it was the first time I went to a country which was not popular with Vietnamese tourists. However, the anxiety could not wash away my excitement for the journey ahead.
In all of Cuba’s travel guides, Varadero is a must-see place to enjoy sunny summer holidays and the immense blue sea. It is a small town featuring a 20-kilometer long headland stretching out to the sea. This town is in the perfect location to develop tourism, I think. On the headland, people have built many resorts. It is so wonderful when you can stay on the land amidst the sea. The ocean view is what you will definitely be offered in Varadero; just open your eyes and you can admire the sea. Even when sitting in the carriage, traveling along the road to the central market, stopping at any place, you can admire the beautiful public beach. Or you can see muscular young men or topless girls sunbathing and enjoying the sea breeze on the beach, or hear the Lambada music in the air bringing a sense of excitement to any visitor.
There is a word I have not mentioned until now – The Caribbean Sea. The world’s most beautiful beaches are located in this area. Cuba, an isolated island of the world surrounded by lush green beaches, will be an ideal place for you to experience summer days. The color of the sea looks very magical; it is light blue and clear along the beach, turns into emerald green when traveling to further locations, and covered in dark blue on the horizon. Honestly, I was a true Vietnamese, I also did not have much passion for the sea, but for the first time, I did not want to leave the sea. The water was cool and crystal clear, and the color of the water looked really beautiful. During the days in the resort, I often woke up late in the morning, then went bathing, eating, reading, sleeping, then eating again, and walking. One evening, I made an exception, I went to the small dance floor of the resort; everyone from children to adults went up to the stage. Here, dancing was in their blood. Seeing me standing alone, a group of young men pulled me in. Drinking cocktails and listening to Latin music, I was really in the mood for a dance.
However, you should not hold too much expectation for this small town amidst the sea. You can hardly find anything but the blue ocean, and you might not find many places or historical places to visit. I got out of the resort and boarded an old taxi to get out of town. In this little town along the sea, you can find many horse carriages on the road. Some Cubans curiously looked at me, an Asian girl. Services in Havana are much better than Varadero’s. People in Varadero often try to overcharge tourists. Maybe they think that visitors have a lot of money, while they have nothing except for their blessed blue beaches. But the way they harried and overcharged sometimes made me uncomfortable. On the way, I met an Australian named Kathy and a Russian couple; they all had the same thought.
Almost everyone was overcharged when riding the horse carriages, overcharged exchange rates, or taken on a longer route by the taxi. I think it is the consequence of the long-term embargo.
In the afternoon, I admired the sun diving into the sea and the water covered in orange. Every afternoon was as beautiful as a dream, but somehow it was quite monotonous. At that time, I just wished that people would provide more exciting services for visitors. One summer, I was in Cuba, lying on a blue chair at one of the most famous beaches in the world, watching the sunset. That was my most wonderful summer.
Like many other islands in the Caribbean Sea, Cuba has a tropical climate with two seasons. The dry season is the best time to visit because of low rainfall, moderate humidity, and excellent temperatures for visitors to visit the long coastline. May to October is the rainy season, the temperature is approximately 30 Celsius, but the Cuban sea still shimmers on sunny days.
At present, most visitors to Cuba are Canadian, followed by tourists from European countries such as Italy, France, Spain, England, Germany, and the United States. Although the United States is located next to Cuba, due to some political issues, it takes a lot of transits to fly from the United States to Cuba. For example, when I was in Miami, only 530 kilometers from Cuba, I could not buy a ticket. That was a few years ago. It has changed since then and the good news is that for those who travel from the US to Cuba, the ticket price for a flight from Miami to Cuba is around USD200 per a round-trip flight, the fare to other cities may be higher.
If you cannot find flights to the US, flying from Canada is a great solution, you can find flights from most major cities such as Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver.
Sunwing, a travel company, has its own airline in the United States that offers very affordable tours. This means that the travel company will provide you with airline tickets, visas, meals, and sleeping place. And visitors will take care of the rest expense. And I chose a Toronto – Varadero 7-day tour that cost about CAD700 (Canadian dollars – CAD. CAD1 ~ VND17,831 current exchange rate). This is a very affordable price, and it is also possible to get a discount. Generally, you will have many options.
5-star hotels in Cuba are very expensive and there are not many options for you to choose from. Most hotels do not offer free wifi, and internet codes are sold hourly. If you book Sunwings’ tour packages, room rates and air tickets are very attractive. But it is recommended to stay in an Airbnb, hosted by locals, to have a better understanding of the lives of the Cubans.
Cuban cuisine is diverse, influenced by Spain, the Caribbean, and neighboring United States. You are offered a variety of choices like the typical bugger Frita, the grilled corns with cheese Elote, the Spanish-inspired Paella cooked Cuban-style, and other famous dishes.
Tam Nguyen | Wanderlust Tips