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Travel Guide: Varadero & Havana Cuba the Best of Both Worlds with Air Transat

Travel Guide: Varadero & Havana Cuba the Best of Both Worlds with Air Transat

As I sit here in my Toronto home looking at temperatures in the single digits I can’t believe that it was just a short week ago that I was in sunny Cuba on what ended up being a whilrwind of dream trip with Air Transat. I’ll be honest, when Air Transat first contacted me about checking out Cuba I had my reservations at first. When you think of Cuba you automatically think of sunshine, beaches, and of course the all inclusive resort. While some people live for this type of getaway I’ve never had any interest in this type of vacation because deep down to my core I’m a city girl. Now don’t get me wrong I can veg out on the beach or next to the pool with the best of them but after a few days I get stir crazy and need to find something beyond the sand.

So what exactly made me change my mind and take the plunge for my first all-inclusive stay? Well, when  Air Transat explained that they offer Duo vacation package with Cuba Tourism Board and Melia Cuba Hotels where you spend 3 days in the city of Havana, followed by 4 days in Varadero at an all-inclusive. I immediately knew that this was they type of vacation I could get behind because it offered me the opportunity to explore not only one, but two amazing cities. Plus it also alleviated any apprehension I may have had about spending too many days at an all-inclusive.

 

Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba
Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba is a bustling and vibrant capital city of Cuba. With it’s cobblestone lined streets, 16th century Spanish colonial architecture it is without a doubt one of the best preservations of a time of opulent splendour.

Where We Stayed

Havana, Cuba: Meliá Cohiba Rooftop Pool
Havana, Cuba: Meliá Cohiba Rooftop Pool

As part of the vacation package we stayed at the 5-star Meliá Cohiba hotel. Located just a 5-10 minute drive from Havana’s city centre it offers a rooftop pool, complimentary breakfast, business service, spa, fitness centre, cleaning service, and the hard to come by commodity in Cuba complimentary wifi throughout the hotel!

Havana, Cuba: Meliá Cohiba Breakfast
Havana, Cuba: Meliá Cohiba Breakfast

They also offer complimentary shuttle service throughout the day so you can easily (and affordably) travel straight to the centre of downtown Havana and enjoy the vibrant city Cuban lifestyle.

What to Do and Eat

Cuba unfortunately has gotten a bad reputation over the years for having terrible cuisine. Friends, family and anyone who knew that I was going to Cuba warned me not to expect much when it came time to chow down in Cuba. Let me tell you though that everything you may have heard or maybe even experienced yourself firsthand on a trip to Cuba is entirely untrue. Not to be rude, but chances are you just didn’t know where to go.

Thankfully Air Transat hooked us up with a list of recommended eats while in Havana and let me tell you it did not disappoint. As a born and raised Toronto girl one of the things I am most proud of my city is that we are a culinary force with chefs, cooks, and restauranteurs with so much talent that a single perfectly baked up croissant can bring fully grown men to tears. That being said I sampled some of the best eats in Havana that could easily rival some of my favourite spots back home.

El de Frente Restaurant

Havana, Cuba: Lunch at el de Frente Restaurant
Havana, Cuba: Lunch at el de Frente Restaurant

Located in Old Havana El de Frente is a trendy restaurant with white exposed brick, exposed beams, and a rooftop patio. Serving a mix Caribbean, Latin, and Cuban cuisine they offer up plenty of seafood, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Make sure to order the carpaccio, seafood pasta, ceviche, croquettes, and fish tacos. They also have some of the best piña coladas, and lime lemonades to help quench your thirst after a day under that hot Cuban sun.

Pazillo Bar and Restaurant

Havana, Cuba: Pazillo Bar & Restaurant Interior
Havana, Cuba: Pazillo Bar & Restaurant Interior

Pazillo Bar & Restaurant is a gem of a spot that was located just a short 5 minute walk from our hotel. While a restaurant during the day, make sure you pay a visit a night for a taste of some modern Cuban nightlife with live music, tapas, and plenty of delicious cocktails.

Havana, Cuba: Pazillo Bar & Restaurant
Havana, Cuba: Pazillo Bar & Restaurant

 

Mecure Sevilla Havane

Havana, Cuba: Mecure Sevilla Havane
Havana, Cuba: Mecure Sevilla Havane

Set in Old Havana it’s hard to believe it but this spot is a gorgeous outdoor cafe. Come admire the architecture, Spanish tiles, all while sipping on strong and flavourful Cuban coffee.

Helad’ordo Gelato

Havana, Cuba: Helad'oro Gelato
Havana, Cuba: Helad’oro Gelato

When it comes to hot weather nothing quite satisfies like an icy treat. Head on over to Helad’oro which serves up creamy and flavourful scoops of gelato in mouth-watering flavours like mojito and Nutella, or if you should so be inclined classics like vanilla and chocolate.

Plaza de La Catedral

Havana, Cuba: Plaza de La Catedral, Try a Bucket Lunch from Marisa
Havana, Cuba: Plaza de La Catedral, Try a Bucket Lunch from Marisa

One of the five main squares of Havana you’ll want to visit this area for two main reasons (besides the fact that it is architecturally stunning and home to the actual cathedral itself):

  1. Bodeguita del Medio – a 75 year old original Cuban restaurant the food is not only phenomenal here but it is also home to the birthplace of the mojito. Read the walls and photos which have been lined and signed by patrons, as well as a more than a few famous faces. Bring a sharpie and leave your own personal touch to this Havana haven of a spot
  2. Bucket Meal – Say what?! The bucket meal is something we noticed by chance while exploring the square. Find the bright yellow building pictured above and holler out “Marisa!” towards the second left window from the top. A woman by the name of Marisa will send down a bucket from her window attached to a string. Place a $1 CUC in the bucket and in exchange she will send down a hot pressed ham and cheese sandwich along with a bottle of freshly pressed guava juice. The sandwich is delicious and the guava juice is some of the best I’ve ever had, not to mention that the price definitely can’t be beat. And yes, this is legit I can’t make stuff like this up.

 

La Guarida

Havana, Cuba: La Guarida
Havana, Cuba: La Guarida

La Guarida is one of Havana’s most well known restaurants and rightfully so.  From the moment you step through the grand colonial entrance you’re immediately in for a feast for both your eyes and your stomach. The food is just as dreamy as the interior and it’s easy to see why this spot is both most sought after for a reservation as well as a backdrop for Oscar nominated films.

Take a Taxi Ride

Vintage Taxis
Vintage Taxis

If there’s one thing Cuba is known for it’s their vintage classic cars which have been perfectly preserved and in pristine shape. Enjoy taking in the sights of the beautiful Cuban streets in a car that’s equally as beautiful as it’s backdrop. There’s plenty for you to choose from in any colour you could ever desire.

Varadero, Cuba

Varadero is undeniably one of Cuba’s hottest tourist destinations. Breathtakingly beautiful white sandy beaches and turquoise waters make this the perfect place to go to clear your mind. What makes this spot perfect as well is that it happens during the second half of Air Transat’s duo vacation package. If you’ve ever felt like you needed a vacation after you’ve just taken a vacation a few days in Varadero at an all-inclusive will give you just that. Nothing but sunshine, sand, eats, and cocktails your mind and body will both be well rested and relaxed.

 

Where We Stayed

Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar, Main Lobby Pool Area
Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar, Main Lobby Pool Area

During our time in Varadero we stayed at the luxurious Paradisus Princesa Del Mar. With multiple outdoor pools, jacuzzis, and it’s own private beach there’s plenty of spots where you can stretch out and do nothing but relax and recover from the stresses of daily life. Should you want to do more than just work on your tan the resort offers up plenty of activities. Take up aqua-fit, salsa lessons, snorkelling, jet skiing, or my personal favourite a day at their spa!

Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar located in Varadero Beach
Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar private beach

While you might think that you’d get bored of resort food this resort has it all. In addition to an all you can eat buffet they also offer 24 hour room service, and there are nine different dine-in restaurants on-site. Serving a wide range of international cuisines anything from Japanese, Italian, Cuban, French, and more can be found here. Travel the world without ever having left this dream oasis.

Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar Grill Lunch
Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar Grill Lunch

For the ultimate in luxury you have the option of booking your reservation with Royal Service where you’ll have private access to the resort with your own lobby, exclusive swimming pool, exclusive gourmet restaurant, guaranteed late check out, complimentary wifi, and personalized butler service!

 

Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar, Royal Service Main Lobby
Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar, Royal Service Main Lobby
Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar, one of many pools in the resort
Varadero, Cuba: Paradisus Princess del Mar, one of many pools in the resort

Should you decide to venture outside this paradise the resort is located just a 10 minute walk from the marina where you can do a little shopping at the market for handmade local Cuban goods. In addition you can have the hotel arrange for a guided tour out in the city. We chose to go on the Jeep Safari tour where you’ll be treated to a day of snorkelling, guided tours through rural villages, a boat ride through Río Canímar river valley, swimming in Saturn Cave, and an authentic Cuban lunch.

Varadero, Cuba: Jeep Safari Tour
Varadero, Cuba: Jeep Safari Tour

Overall Thoughts?

For me, and I suspect for most of you, this is actually quite the perfect getaway as it literally merges the best of both worlds. The city girl in me felt alive and loved every moment of vibrant Havana with it’s rich history and lively night life. On the other hand the anxiety ridden, introverted, homebody side of me absolutely relished those few days relaxation at the resort in Varadero. Very rarely do you see vacation packages which offer it all for many personality types but Air Transat’s Duo packages do just that. I also predict they will also help prevent several domestic disputes for those looking to travel with someone whose ideal getaway may not be exactly the same as their own allowing for the perfect compromise. In addition to all this the packages themselves offer up exceptional value:

    • Trip options: 3 nights in Havana & 4 nights in Varadero or 4 nights in Havana & 10 nights in Varadero

    • Package from $1,009 to $1,589 per person for Montreal (7 days in double occupancy, departure November 30, 2017)

    • Package from $879 to $1,459 per person for Toronto (7 days in double occupancy, departure November 30, 2017)

      • Please note that the pricing varies based on the date and city of departure, the hotel category and the duration of the stay.

  • In addition to Cuba, Transat offers Duo packages in the following destinations: Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia, Haiti, Roatan and Guadeloupe

And as for the airplane ride over there? Consider adding on Air Transat’s Option plus which allows for:

  • Complimentary seat selection

  • Priority check-in

  • Supplementary checked baggage allowance: total of two pieces of 23 kg each for flights

  • Priority boarding and baggage handling

  • Priority Security check (Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa)
  • Little extras on board for optimum comfort

  • From 89$ (round trip)

We were treated to the Option plus and I can honestly say that it made the most cumbersome part of travelling much smoother because nobody likes having to wait to check in their luggage or decrease the amount of shoes they’re allowed to take with them (this girl definitely needs options).

In addition to all that, Air Transat now offers a Chef’s Menu by Daniel Vézina, famed Montreal chef of the prestigious Laurie Raphaël restaurants. Complimentary for all Club Class passengers a menu of six expertly crafted dishes are served with a cheese plate, dessert and glass of wine. Economy Class passengers can purchase this option for $25. On the way there I tried out the vegetarian moussaka and on the way home the duck confit lasagna. Both were good enough to make me feel like I wasn’t on an airplane at all, with the added bonus of making the person sitting next to me salivate in envy.

The only thing left now is to decide which Air Transat duo vacation destination I should hit up next.

 

Disclaimer: This post was done in collaboration with Air Transat. All opinions expressed are my own. All offerings and prices are accurate as of time of posting. Please refer to Air Transat for most up to date information.

*All images are copyrighted Allons.Y Styling & Photography. Please do not use or re-post without written consent and provide credit where applicable

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