Based on prehistoric art, pottery and other artifacts found in caves such as the Cueva de los Musulmanes, the Cueva de Ambrosio, and other sites along the Peninsula, the region was first home to an indigenous agro-pottery making people called the Tainos (from the Arawak group). In the 16th century the port of the Hicacos Peninsula has been used as a dry dock (“varadero” in Spanish) where ships were stopping for repairs. The name VARADERO continued to be used since. Also in the late 16th century a salt mine called Salina La Calavera (Skull Salt Works) began its operations and is believed to be one of the first and most important salt extraction works exploited in the New World during the colonization.
It’s only in the late 19th century that Varadero received its first tourists when ten families from the city of Cardenas were given permission to build their vacation homes on the peninsula in the 1870s, and then in the following decades Varadero became a prestigious resort for wealthy Havana residents and Americans including Irenée Dupont de Nemours (a French American millionaire) who built his estate on the middle of the Hicacos peninsula in the early 1930s. Many famous (and infamous) people chose Varadero as their vacation spot between the 1930s and 1950s, including Al Capone. During that period extravagant mansions and hotels were built and the area became a resort for elite tourism.
And then came the most important period in Cuba’s modern history, the Cuban Revolution, when power was seized by Fidel Castro and his rebels in 1959. The main focus of the new government was to improve the life for the Cuban people (better education, better medical services, etc.), so for many years after, less effort was put on maintaining and improving the tourism industry. Many of Varadero’s mansions were expropriated from their rich American owners and became museums, art galleries or embassies. The vision back then was for Varadero to become a vacation area for Cubans and visitors of all social and economic classes.
Between the 1960s and 1980s Varadero became an important cultural center where numerous concerts and festivals where held every year. But it’s only in the 1990s that the Cuban government decided to really push the tourism industry and started the construction of many new hotels and all-inclusive resorts, mostly 4-star and 5-star properties.
Visitors now come mainly from Canada, Europe and Latin America. The number of U.S. tourists is limited because of U.S. government restrictions making it more difficult for U.S. citizens and residents to visit Cuba simply as tourists. The relations between Cuba and the United States were reshaped in the early 1960s (in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution), this is when the American trade embargo against Cuba started.
Varadero receives more than 1 million tourists per year, it's the largest beach-resort in Cuba with more than 60 resorts and hotels. If the US embargo and restrictions were to be lifted, predictions are that the number of visitors may easily double. In the recent years (especially since 2010) many new reforms were made by the government to update Cuba's institutions and reshape the way Cubans earn a living and lead a more independent life. All the efforts and investments made since the early 2000s to improve the tourism infrastructures and build so many new hotels (more than they actually need for the present markets!) are signs that Cuba is getting ready to welcome more visitors and new markets.
Note that since the spring 2014, Cuban Immigration systematically stamps all passports when entering and leaving the country. And also: Since May 1, 2015, the Cuban Departure Tax is no longer paid at destination. It should now be included in the price of your trip when buying a flight-only or vacation package to Cuba.
In October 2013, the Cuban government announced its intention to eliminate the dual currency system, unique in the world. The Cuban peso (CUP) would become the official currency and the convertible peso (CUC) would be phased out. No official timetable has been announced, although Raul Castro is firmly committed to implementing this economic project as soon as possible. More information to come.
Lily & Normand