Based on prehistoric art, pottery and other evidence 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 agro-pottery indigenous populations, the Tainos (from the Arawak group). In the 16th century the port of the Hicacos Peninsula was used as a dry dock (“varadero” in Spanish) where ships stopped 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 for 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 spot 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 difficult for U.S. citizens 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). The American trade embargo against Cuba is still in force up until now (2014).
Varadero now receives more than 1 million tourists per year, and is the largest tourist destination 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) some efforts were made to loosen the embargo and improve the relations between the 2 countries, along with many reforms made by the Cuban government to update Cuba institutions and reshape the way Cuban earn their living and lead a more independent life. The investments and efforts made in the 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 seems to be quickly getting ready to welcome more visitors (US market?, to be followed...)