I did what you're not supposed to do, and stayed in a casa particular (guest house). You're not supposed to do it because casas particulares in Varadero are strictly only for Cubans, which is why they are located in the shabbier end of town. But I didn't know this when I arrived late on a cronky bus one evening and found there was no room at the inn. This was Januaryhigh seasonand the Canadians and Eastern Europeans were out in force. In Cuba, if you speak a little Spanish and have a few Convertibles (the stronger of the country's two currencies, equivalent to a US dollar), you can always find a way.
There's a $5 open-top tourist bus that trundles up and down the peninsula's only road, stopping at all the hotels because there's nothing else to see. You can't even see the ocean, because there are too many hotels in the way.
I confess I'm not one for beach holidays and have never done an all-inclusive vacation package, so I don't know if this is normal, but all the guests were wearing mint green or baby pink hospital bracelets. At first I suspected they were medical tourists, come for a boob job or a face lift (some of them really didn't look real). But then I understood. They'd jiggle the bracelets at the waiter and out would pop a 'free' plastic cup of watery Tango with a miniature cocktail umbrella bobbing listlessly at the top.
I, of course, didn't have a hospital bracelet, but I'd rather drink a gallon of sea water than that small cup of chemical cocktail.
Varadero is the exception that proves the rule in Cuba. The shops are a little better stocked and a lot more over-priced. If you pay the all-inclusive rate, you can eat beef, and other food that isn't rice, beans and pork. The buildings are new and shiny, ugly hotels, not beautiful and old, crumbling mansions.
And as for Cuban principles of equality, fraternity and socialism...nada. In Varadero it's rampant, sunburned and rather tipsy capitalism that reigns supreme.