Most travelers headed to the Cuban beach paradise of Varadero are more than happy with sitting on a beach chair and basking in the sun for the duration of their vacation. More than just one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, Varadero ranks among the best beaches in the entire world, winning spots year after year atop many a “best of” list.
Looking for some Varadero excursions to break up your beachy vacation? You’re in luck – we’ve traveled to Varadero too many times to count and know every inch of the area surrounding Varadero. These are the very best day trips from Varadero to consider as you plan your stay.
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Best Varadero Excursions
Looking for some quick recommendations for the best Varadero excursions and day trips for your stay? These are our top picks for the best day trips from Varadero:
- Best Overall Day Trip from Varadero: Havana
- Easiest Day Trip from Varadero: Varadero’s Caves
- Most Unique Day Trip from Varadero: Yumurí Valley
- Best Beachy Day Trip from Varadero: Cayo Blanco
For travelers that are spending their entire Cuba itinerary in Varadero, perhaps staying at one of the resorts in Varadero that have made it Cuba’s number one resort town, the answer is clear: a day trip to Havana is a must. Just over two hours west of Varadero, Havana is bursting with things to see and do, all of which makes it such a bucket list destination.
For travelers who are planning to spend a few days in both Havana and Varadero, day trips from Varadero to either the area’s caves or Yumurí Valley are our top recommendations – both will show you a totally different side of Cuba. Head out on a catamaran excursion to Cayo Blanco for a day trip to one of the other pristine beaches in the area.
Day Trips from Varadero
You can’t say you’ve experienced Cuba without having explored Havana! Havana is Cuba’s capital of pretty much everything, home to the island’s best food, its most important historic and political monuments, and the most impressive art, entertainment, and travel experiences on the island.
While you’ll need at least three days in Havana to experience the best of the city, it’s well worth it to take a day trip to Havana from Varadero if that’s all the time your itinerary allows. Spend the day exploring Old Havana, eating ice cream at Coppelia, and taking in the view over the city from the Spanish colonial El Morro fortress before enjoying a sunset drink at Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski’s rooftop bar.
There are a number of ways to get from Varadero to Havana (and back again), but for a quick one-day trip, we generally recommend travelers book a private transfer from Varadero to Havana or even an organized small-group day trip to Havana from Varadero.
2. Explore Varadero’s Caves
Mexico is famous for the cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula, awe-inspiring caves often filled with water that dot the tropical forest landscape. While Cuba doesn’t have quite as many caves as its neighbor, the numerous caves near Varadero make for some of the most popular Varadero excursions.
Plan to visit some of the closest caves to Varadero on your own or join in on one of the many cave tours in Varadero that visit several caves in one excursion. When taking into consideration transportation costs, they are generally the easiest and most economical way to visit several in one day.
Cuevas de Bellamar and Cueva de Ambrosio are some of the best-known caves in the area and some of the most dramatic. These impressive subterranean worlds make for a fascinating break from the beach and are the perfect place to escape from the heat of the Cuban sun on a hot day in Varadero.
3. Cayo Blanco
Varadero’s world-famous beachfront is nothing to scoff at, but if you’re looking for a beachy day trip, consider embarking on one of the popular Cayo Blanco catamaran cruises that depart directly from Varadero.
Take a catamaran cruise to the nearby deserted island known as Cayo Blanco, which has beautiful white beaches and is surrounded by corals and reefs. These excursions include delicious buffet lunches on the island and drinks, as well as all the equipment you’ll need for snorkeling and spending time at the beach.
Keep in mind that due to restrictions about Cuban citizens embarking from the island on boats, those with Cuban citizenship and a Cuban passport unfortunately can not partake in these cruises.
Read More: 12+ Best Beaches in Cuba
4. Yumurí Valley
Head towards Varadero from Havana’s eastern beaches (Playas del Este) and just before you reach Matanzas you’ll roll through the Valle de Yumurí – the Yumurí Valley. If you’re looking to connect with Cuba’s stunning and lush, if little-visited, countryside, there is no better Varadero excursion than this.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy the lush valley, including cruising down the Canimar River, visiting farmhouses with farm-to-table restaurants, and exploring caves. The best excursions to the Yumurí Valley will include a little bit of all these highlights, plus some stops along the way to enjoy the best viewpoints in the province.
Jeep tours of the Yumurí Valley are by far the easiest way to explore the Valley, though hiring a private driver from Varadero to take you through the valley and make stops along the way is another option, especially if you’re traveling with friends or family.
For travelers who have already explored Havana but would love to use a Varadero excursion to explore even more of Cuba’s vibrant cities, Matanzas is a great choice. Matanzas is known as the “Athens of Cuba” for its rich cultural and historical legacy, meaning that there’s plenty to see here.
Spend time exploring the charming plazas, churches, and museums of the historic center of Matanzas – there’s plenty to see here including the historic Museo Farmaceutico with its old medicine cabinets and bottles that will make you feel like you’re stepping back in time, and the new Lolo Galeria that is helping launch a rebirth of the city’s modern art scene.
Excursions from Varadero to Matanzas often include stops at some of Varadero caves, making for an easy way to enjoy the best of day trips from Varadero at once. Or, you can get from Varadero to Matanzas quite easily on your own, whether by taxi or public transport; it’s just 45 minutes from Varadero and on the way from Havana.
Read More: 10+ Best Things To Do in Matanzas, Cuba
Located just half an hour west of Varadero along the coast, Cárdenas is a small but vibrant city with a nice historical center and a lot to love. While the city itself isn’t as grand as others you might want to visit on Varadero excursions, there’s plenty here to warrant a visit.
More generalized excursions from Varadero to Cárdenas to choose from include an overview of the city and its role as one of the largest sugar-producing hubs in the country ages ago, with excursions focusing specifically on its role in rum production and tobacco.
However, you can also do cooking classes in Cárdenas – which are some of my favorite recommendations for travelers in Varadero, and a great way to connect with locals. They’re really a highlight.
You can find four-hour excursions or six-hour excursions from Varadero to Cárdenas, which offer a great amount of flexibility depending on how much time you’re looking to part from the beaches of Varadero.
7. Cienaga de Zapata
Nestled directly south of Varadero on the southern coast of the country, Ciénaga de Zapata is one of Cuba’s richest and most diverse natural areas. For a destination with a name that translates directly to Zapata Swamplands, it may not sound incredibly appealing to visitors, but it has a lot to offer.
Spot Cuban crocodiles, kayak through mangroves, and encounter flamingos and vibrant tropical birds along the way. This area is rich with wildlife and is home to many species that are totally unique to Cuba, offering hiking trails, waterways, and plenty of sites to explore.
One easy way to visit the Cienaga de Zapata from Varadero is to take an excursion to the Boca de Guama and the Hatiguanico River, located within Cienaga de Zapata. You can book excursions online with Civitatis, which is probably the most hassle-free way to see the area.
If you have a bit more time, you can also join a diving tour from neighboring Playa Larga or Playa Girón in the Bay of Pigs, though that may be pushing it for a day in which you’ll have to return to Varadero. Spend at least one night in the area to enjoy everything this incredible corner of Cuba has to offer.
Read More: 5+ Best Places for Hiking in Cuba
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Located less than three hours south of Varadero, the bustling yet beautiful city of Cienfuegos makes for a great day trip destination from Varadero.
Spend a day exploring some of the city’s beautiful 19th-century French architecture, so unique to Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean that it was given a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Visiting buildings like the stunning Teatro Tomás Terry and walking the bayfront malecón promenade are a few of the best things to do in Cienfuegos along the way.
In our opinion, it’s a city in Cuba that far too few visitors experience. You’ll love getting to know this hidden gem as part of a Varadero excursion.
You’ll find some organized Varadero excursions that include visits to both Cienfuegos and Trinidad – within one day.
While it is technically possible to embark on one of these journeys, we don’t recommend them for most travelers. It’s an incredibly long journey to reach both cities, and you’ll spend so much time in the car that you won’t have much time to enjoy any of these places.
Both Cienfuegos and the beautiful colonial city of Trinidad are certainly worth a visit! Trinidad particularly makes for the perfect destination to visit after a stay in Varadero, with its beautiful and historic streets making it among the most well-preserved colonial capital in the Caribbean. There’s just too much here – and it’s too far from Varadero – to be able to do it justice in one day trip.
9. Santa Clara
The central Cuban city of Santa Clara doesn’t have the French-style architecture of Cienfuegos or the age-old colonial heritage of Trinidad, but with what it does offer it’s the perfect spot for day trips from Varadero.
Santa Clara’s biggest attraction is the mausoleum of the famed revolutionary Che Guevara, a must-visit destination in Cuba for history lovers. Spend an hour exploring this incredible museum and mausoleum before wandering through the small historic center of the city.
You won’t find many organized day trips from Varadero to Santa Clara as it doesn’t tend to be as popular as some of the bigger-name destinations like Havana, Matanzas, or Cienfuegos. Private transportation or grabbing a shared taxi or bus at the Varadero bus terminal is likely your best bet.
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10. The Bay of Pigs
You may have never heard of the Cuban beaches Playa Girón or Playa Larga, but surely you’ve heard of the Bay of Pigs. From Varadero take a day trip across the island to Cuba’s southern coast to explore some of the beachy destinations and the other interesting attractions at the world-famous, or infamous, Bay of Pigs.
In addition to the shores of white, sandy Playa Larga and rockier Playa Girón, the Bay of Pigs area is also known for offering some of the best snorkeling and diving in Cuba. In addition to more generalized organized Varadero excursions to the Bay of Pigs, you’ll also find diving excursions from Varadero to Playa Giron and the Bay of Pigs for certified divers looking for a memorable dive retreat.
Nearby, the Ciénaga de Zapata has more to offer as well. Kayaking through mangrove forests, spot Cuban crocodiles and flamingos, and much more as you explore the area for the day. It would take at least one overnight to explore both the Bay of Pigs and the Ciénaga de Zapata areas well, but you can get a good taste of the experience on day trips from Varadero.
Read More: 15+ Best Places to Visit in Cuba
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.