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140km (87 miles) E of Havana; 40km (25 miles) NE of Matanzas

Varadero is Cuba's most renowned and popular beach destination (with prices to match). Varadero is the common name for the entire length of the Hicacos Peninsula. The peninsula, which takes its name from a local spiny cactus, is 21km (13 miles) long, with a nearly continuous broad band of fine white sand fronting a clear blue sea. Backed by mangroves and the calm waters of Cárdenas Bay, it is less than a mile at its widest point. Large resort hotels take up a large percentage of the entire length of this peninsula. There are three distinct parts of the peninsula: the far eastern end is home to the most expensive, remote upscale resorts where the beaches are quieter. Downtown, from Calles 10 to 64, is part of Varadero town; this is dominated by a cluster of mostly cheaper hotels that are on and off the beach. (This is also the most popular with Cuban visitors.) During the summer months, this beach is extremely busy. At the far western end are a handful of medium-sized and moderately priced hotels. The beach here is lovely and remarkably empty even in the height of summer.

Home to indigenous populations and a base camp for itinerant Taíno and Carib fishermen, Varadero was largely ignored throughout the Spanish colonial period. While it was first developed as a summer retreat by some 10 families from Cárdenas in 1887, its real potential as a tourist destination was realized relatively late. The first hotel was built here in 1910, and U.S. industrial magnate Irénée Dupont built his Xanadú Mansion here in 1928. A small cadre of celebrities and gangsters followed, including Al Capone. Still, at the time of the Revolution, there were only three hotels in Varadero. Today, there are more than 55, with more than 15,000 rooms . . . and construction continues. Note: Examine your bills carefully to make sure that you are not overcharged in all shops, bars, and taxis.