A taxi collectivo is simply the Cuban version of an Uber share. So you essentially share the car with other people going to the same area for a cheaper price then a private taxi. The owner of my casa in Havana, Gloria, arranged my pickup the night before. We agreed to 25 pesos ($25) for the 2-hour trip.
After an early breakfast made by Gloria, my taxi was there and on time at 8:30am. I would be sharing the car with a young American couple going into Varadero too.
The ride to Varadero was very scenic and quite peaceful. My cab driver didn’t speak English so we only spoke for a few minutes the entire ride. I honestly just took the time to take it all in.
As we got closer to Varadero, my cab driver asked me for the exact address of my next casa. I was staying at Katia’s place right on the outskirts of the Varadero strip but within the same town of Mantanzas. (You can find it on airbnb under Hostal Katia. Don’t worry it’s not a Hostel) After asking a few locals on the street for the exact location we found the home. (That’s how they navigate in Cuba. There aren’t navigation systems or GPS because of the lack of internet)
As you pull up to Katia’s home you think, well this isn’t anything special. But once you’re upstairs in the private apartment that quickly changes. The apartment is super modern with its own private kitchenette complete with a small refrigerator and hot plate if you need to cook.
I was still pretty tired from hanging out with Cuban bae, so I decided to take a short nap before exploring one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Katia came upstairs to make sure I was comfortable and to see if I needed anything. I asked her for the directions to the beach as well as directions to the Wifi card store and the currency exchange. Luckily both places were in the same location. ( I must add that Katia speaks really good English as well as Spanish)
Once I felt rested from my short nap, it was time to explore. I walked from the neighborhood toward the main road to try to find and a taxi to the beach area.
The Varadero/Mantanzas area was definitely a lot different than Old Havana. There were lots of horse taxis, moped taxis, coco taxis, and yellow cab taxis. (Still in older cars) I decided to try a moped taxi. (Mom please don’t kill me. I’m still alive) I hitched a ride on the back of a moped to take me about a mile or so down the strip to get to the Varadero commercial center. (YOLO) The ride was only $3 and yes I wore a helmet. The commercial center is where the Wifi card store, currency exchange, as well as other shops were located. I purchased two more wifi cards and exchanged some currency then headed straight to the beach.
When I first walked up all I could say was…WOW!
I walked the beach for a few minutes to just get a feel of it all. It wasn’t super crowded where I was which wasn’t near the actual resorts. I started to get hungry so I took a quick detour to find grub and WiFi to check in with my mom and friends.
I walked the main street along the strip which is filled with lots of souvenir shops and places to eat or grab a drink. I stopped at a random place (Sorry I forgot the name) for some seafood. The entire meal came with a drink and was only $6. (Did I say that I love the prices of Cuban food?? Well I do!)
The food was absolutely delicious and fresh. I ate and then headed to find some WiFi. The only place with reliable WiFi in that area was the Casa de Musica- Varadero. As I walked up, it was clear that everyone was only hanging out for the same reason. (You gotta get in where you fit in for Cuban WiFi) I copped a seat on a stoop and contacted my mom and checked in with some friends. I spent a few minutes online then headed back to officially lay out and take a nice siesta on the beach. It was a beautiful day with a really nice breeze. I laid out for about an hour or two. Not once did anyone bother me or come up trying to sell me something which is the norm in most other Caribbean beaches.
Once I was over it all, I packed up and headed back toward the casa. This time, I opted for a Coco taxi. It was really cute, but a little pricey due to it being more catered to tourists. (It was $10. WHOMP)
I had him drop me off on the main road near Katia’s place so that I could really take in the neighborhood. There were lots of local cafeterias (Kinda like a food truck but minus wheels) along the road. I stopped at one that sold cold treats like milkshakes and ice cream slushes. I tried a banana pineapple flavored drink. It was really good. You drink it while standing at the stand because they use real cups, plates, etc. With food spots like this, you typically pay in the local currency which means it’s literally only a few cents in American currency.
I continued on my journey toward Katia’s place, which was only a 5-8 minute walk from the main road. I relaxed for a few hours, then decided to see what the Varadero “strip” was like at night. I just walked the sidewalk of the main road amongst other locals and some tourists. I eventually met two young Cuban guys and sat down and had a convo with them at an outdoor bar/food stop. I don’t drink so I had an orange soda. (Which is really popular in Cuba for some reason) We talked for a while before I got hungry and they took me to a Varadero favorite called Ria, which was only a block from where we were.
The service was SUPER slow, but the food was really yummy once it finally came. I had the fajita chicken which came with chicken with peppers and onions, rice, salad, and a drink for about $3.50. (YES A FULL MEAL FOR $3.50) I ate my food and continued to talk to my two new Cuban friends. (Once again all in Spanish. A lot of hand signals and repete por favor was used on that night.) After a while, I decided to head back to Katia’s for the night. I would be returning back to Havana some time in the afternoon that next day, so I wanted to get an early start to catch the beach one more time.
Just like with the first casa, I requested breakfast to be prepared by Katia. I decided on 9:30 and sure enough by the time I was dressed the food was ready.
Katia set the food up in my private eating area within my room. It was $5 and consisted of everything in the picture: fresh juice, coffee, fresh fruit, and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. ( I typically don’t eat ham but I wanted to try it and I forgot to tell Katia about my restrictions.) The breakfast was super delish!
I finished up and headed out back to the beach. This time I decided to walk the whole way. It was about a 20-25 minute walk back to the main strip. (Hey! I like to walk plus I needed the exercise after breakfast) Once I arrived back to the strip, I stumbled upon a large open market that I didn’t see the day before. I needed to pick out gifts so this was the perfect time. The market consisted of several tents with rows and rows of individual vendors selling all kinds of Cuban trinkets. Apparently leather goods are famous in Cuba. (Who knew??)
I picked up some gifts, then walked across the street to the beach for one last look. I was expecting my taxi collective driver from the day before to come get me around 12:30 as he said. (Or so I thought)
I was running a few minutes late getting back to Katia’s place. I thought that maybe he had come and gone, but Katia assured me he hadn’t. She did some research by finding Gloria’s number to locate the guy. He had forgotten about poor little me. Now I was stuck in Varadero. (But I didn’t panic. I would have just moved in with Katia. lol) She tried to call another taxi for me but since it was later in the day, no one was going back to Havana at that time. She explained to me how to go to the Viazul bus station to catch a bus back to Havana. She arranged for one of her friends to drive me and my bag to the station. I was just in time to get a spot on the 2pm bus. The ticket was only $10 for the 2-hour ride back. (YES!!!) The bus was very comfortable and filled with mostly other tourists as well going to Havana.
I spent the time napping and reading. I even had my own seat. (DOUBLE WIN)
All in all Varadero was absolutely beautiful and a much needed change from the busyness of Old Havana. I suggest if you do head to Cuba to venture out to another city if you have the time. Vinales, Varadero, and Trinidad are other popular destinations for people visiting the island. If you are there for a long time, Trinidad is the way to go. It’s 6-hours from Havana so it just wasn’t worth the long trip for my short stay.