If you want to take out a Hobie Cat, windsurfer, paddle boat, or sea kayak, chances are your hotel will have them, either as part of your all-inclusive package or for hire. If not, simply hit the beach and walk a bit until you find some for rent.
There are three main marinas on Varadero: Marina Gaviota Varadero, at the far eastern end of the Autopista del Sur (tel. 45/66-7755); Marina Dársena Varadero, at the western end of the Autopista del Sur (tel. 45/61-4448); and Marina Chapelín, Autopista del Sur Km 12.5 (tel. 45/66-7550). The latter two also operate under the umbrella name of Marlin (tel. 45/66-8000; www.nauticamarlin.com). At any of these, you can charter a sailboat, organize a fishing excursion, or arrange to go scuba diving. Moreover, the tour agencies and hotel activities desks can book any of these activities.
Fishing -- The waters off Varadero provide the opportunity to go deep-sea fishing (tel. 45/66-7565) for marlin, sailfish, tuna, snapper, dolphin, and more. Rates are CUC$340 for a boat for up to four fisherman. Non-fisherman pay CUC$30.
Fishing trips can also be arranged to the Ciénaga de Zapata area in southern Matanzas province. See "The Zapata Peninsula & Playa Girón," later in this chapter, for more details.
Sailing -- There are many charter sailboat options available at each of the marinas mentioned above. The most popular outfit, Seafari, Marina Chapelín (tel. 45/66-8338), has a fleet of broad and comfortable catamarans. A range of cruise options is available, from half-day and full-day cruises to simple sunset sails. Many of the sailing adventures make stops at the small, uninhabited cays off the eastern coast of the peninsula, including Cayo Blanco; these trips can include lunch on one of the cays, as well as snorkeling adventures on close-in coral reefs. Rates are CUC$63-CUC$75 for a full day. Many of these boats are outfitted with a bar or two and carry either a live band or loud, recorded dance music. Some boats head out for a floating sunset party or a raging dance party under the moonlight.
The popular Boat Adventure, Marina Chapelín (tel. 45/66-8440), is a 2-hour tour on small, sit-on-top motorized watercraft, or Aqua-Rays, through the canals and mangroves backing the peninsula. A guide leads a caravan of the small craft, which can hold up to two adults. This tour leaves roughly every hour, with a total of eight departures daily; it's CUC$41 per person.
The Discover Tour (Jeep & Boat Safari; tel. 45/66-8000) involves speedboating up the Rio Canimar, swimming in the Saturno Cave, visiting Matanzas, and off-roading in jeeps for CUC$73.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling -- Most of the large hotels on Varadero either have their own dive operations or can arrange scuba-diving and snorkeling trips around the area. Scuba diving and snorkeling off Varadero is generally pretty good, although rarely spectacular. There's an assortment of sites, including a black coral bed, various coral reefs, and wrecks. True aficionados prefer the diving found in southern Matanzas province off the coasts of Playa Larga and Playa Girón. It's about a 90-minute drive from Varadero, and all of the dive operations here offer trips to these dive spots, an especially good choice if a northern wind is blowing and the waters are rough off of Varadero. If your hotel can't arrange this for you, contact Centro Internacional de Buceo Barracuda, Calle 59 and Avenida 1 (tel. 45/61-3481; www.nauticamarlin.com). Dives are CUC$50 and Open Water courses CUC$365. Two new dive centers have opened: Acua (tel. 45/66-8063), located at the western end of the peninsula, and Marina Chapelín (tel. 45/66- 8871), located at the eastern end of the peninsula. There is a recompression chamber at Varadero.
One popular scuba-diving and snorkeling site worth mentioning is the Cueva de Saturno, located outside of Matanzas, on the road to the airport. This large cave houses a large deep cenote (pool) that can be explored with a mask and snorkel. The cave is open daily from 9am to 6pm; admission is CUC$5, or CUC$10 with lunch and an alcoholic drink. Most agencies and hotels can arrange a half-day trip for CUC$30 per person including snorkeling at Playa Coral where squid can be seen.