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Varadero, Cuba: from cacti to Capone

What’s 20km long but only 1.2km at its widest point and boasts some of the most exciting holiday experiences you could dream of? Sounds like it could be the start of a joke but in fact we’re talking about Varadero, Cuba. While Havana may be the first place you think of when the Caribbean island is mentioned, this small peninsula that is connected to the mainland by road packs an awful lot in to its relatively small area.

First and foremost, Varadero has some stunning beaches, and because the peninsula is so narrow, you’re never more than a few minutes walk from the azure blue waters. The beaches have that quintessential tropical feel, with white sand and a gentle breeze. There’s plenty of room if you just want to sit or lie in the sun but if you’re that little bit more active and adventurous, there are plenty of watersports on offer. From the relative sedateness of a pedalo to the fruity fun of a banana boat, there are many ways to enjoy the crystal clear waters, should you ever tire of just relaxing under the sun and basking in the average 25 degree temperatures.

Scuba diving and snorkelling is also popular on Varadero and it’s not hard to see why. There are 32 dive sites in the area and they offer everything from cave diving to night diving to open water diving, where you might be lucky enough to spot a dolphin or two.

If wildlife and the natural world is more your thing and you want to get away from the beaches and the luxury all-inclusive resorts for a while, the north-eastern end of the peninsula is where you’ll find the Hicacos Point Natural Park. The highlight here is the Ambrosio Cave, where you’ll find centuries-old artwork on the walls and a whole lot of bats. If you are scared of the flying mammals, you might wish to avoid it but there’s nothing to worry about as the bats are happy to leave the tourists alone! While in the park, take the opportunity to see the amazing El Patriarca giant cactus, believed to be the oldest living thing in Cuba (other than Castro) at more than 500 years old.

For something a little different, book a round of golf at Varadero Golf Club. It’s the only 18-hole course in Cuba and boasts an amazing location. Club hire is available and you don’t need a handicap to play a round. Children are also welcome but do make sure you book a tee time in advance. Even if you’re not a golfer, the clubhouse’s position means it’s worth dropping by here just for something to eat or drink to enjoy the views of the white sandy beach on one side and the lush golf course on the other.

This may be one of the world’s top beach resorts but that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a little history when you’re here. One of the peninsula’s most infamous fans was apparently Chicago gangster Al Capone. His legacy lives on at La Casa de Al, a restaurant that apes the notorious celebrity’s Miami home. There’s no record of Capone ever owning the building (as some people suggest) but the idea that he might once have dined in this very coral stone building certainly adds an intriguing twist to your evening meal!

Just two hours from Havana, Varadero offers a little feeling of exclusivity, with top-class resorts and enough activities beyond the beaches to keep you entertained for however long you’re lucky enough to be here.