How to pick the best all-inclusive family vacation in sunny Cuba
Published Saturday April 5th, 2008
Appeared on page G2
Cuba is the Caribbean's largest island. Shaped like an alligator, it is
an archipelago made of 4195 islets. The largest of these, appropriately
named Isla Grande, boasts 5746 km of coastline, 300 natural beaches and
one of the largest tracts of coral reef in the world.
Every winter, sun-worshippers flock in droves to Holguin, Varadero and
Cayo Coco. In April, you will find rock-bottom prices to these idyllic
Depending on what type of vacation you're looking for, each city
presents a very different opportunity. Here is what you should know
before booking your next trip:
The province of Holguin is located in the south of Cuba. It features
some of the country's most stunning and serene landscapes. Columbus
described the coast of Holguin as one of the most beautiful he had ever
laid eyes on. Few would disagree. The turquoise beaches, verdant green
hills, pastoral drives and pristine national parks are in abundance in
Holguin, thus making it an ideal family destination.
The resorts are distributed along the areas three beaches: Playa
Pesquero, Playa Esmeralda and Guardalavaca. The best beach is Playa
Esmeralda where you will find two resorts, Sol Luna y Mares and
Paradisus. Along Playa Pesquero sits the resort of the same name. The
latter is not only one of Cuba's top hotels, but it is also their
largest hotel, with 933 rooms and land the size of a small village with
activities and services to match.
The city of Varadero is located in the Matanzas Province. It is Cuba's
second most industrialized province after Habana. The infrastructure is
based on petroleum, fruit production and sugar milling. Varadero's 20 km
of white sandy coast is dotted with one non-descript hotel after
another. This is the place to go if you are young, single and want to
party. The main advantage to a vacation in Varadero is that it is close
enough to allow a day trip to Havana.
This is Cuba's fourth largest island and the main tourist destination
after Varadero. Interestingly, Cayo Coco was largely uninhabited till
1992 when the first resort was opened. It is now closed to all Cubans
other than those who work at the hotels. The only activities and sights
on the island are the man made Parque Natural, the Marlin Marina, which
offers deep sea fishing and the Marlin Dive Center. This makes Cayo Coco
an ideal destination if you don't want to leave your resort and plan on
doing nothing other than spending every day at the beach. Not
necessarily a bad way to spend your vacation, but you won't get to
experience much Cuban culture either.
PICKING YOUR HOTEL
In Cuba, if you want to be able to eat the food, don't travel at
anything less than a four star. Even then, not all four stars are
created equal. Ask your friends, your travel agent, or better yet, look
up other travellers' reviews on the internet. Otherwise, you risk being
disappointed. The best website for reviews I've found is
If you want a real deal, book at the last minute. It can be stressful to
book your trip three days before departure, but that's when you will
find the best prices.
I know people who book their trip on the eve of their holiday! If you
are more than two people travelling however, this tactic is a little
risky. I also wouldn't try it in December, but in April it can save you
hundreds of dollars. Enjoy the sun and don't forget to wear sunscreen.
* Lili Nasseri, a family doctor, enjoys travelling and writing in her
free time. Her Maritime Travel column appears the first Saturday of each
month in Travel & Leisure.