Varadero’s Architectural Charm Threatened by Tourism

HAVANA, Mar 2, 2011 (IPS) – Important architectural works from the Modern movement in Cuba appear to be doomed as a result of the expansion of massive hotel complexes, which threaten to take over the landscape in Varadero, this country’s most famous beach resort.

The alert was first sounded in 2010 when rumours began to spread about the demolition of the Hotel Internacional and the Hotel Club Cabañas del Sol, two 1950s structures located in a prime area of Varadero, which is 140 km east of Havana, in the province of Matanzas.

Two statements issued by the ICOMOS National Committee, the Cuban branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, in May and November have received no response, architect Jorge Fornés told IPS.

Fornés is chair of the National Committee of ICOMOS, an independent international non-governmental organisation of professionals dedicated to the conservation of the world’s historic monuments and sites, which works closely with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“Independently of any decisions, I have no doubt as an architect that it is not necessary to eliminate something valuable to build something new,” he said. “If there is interest in preserving a valuable piece of heritage, there is always a way to do so,” he added, citing cases like the conservation of the colonial fortifications in Old Havana.

Nor have demands from intellectuals and academics, mainly circulated by email, received an official public response from representatives of the Tourism Ministry or coverage by the media. An employee at the Hotel Internacional told IPS, “The decision has already been reached.”

“There are contradictory versions,” Roberto Fernández García, a poet who lives in Varadero, said in an email message that sums up the results of his inquiries and those of others interested in the case, posed to the Tourism Ministry’s provincial authorities.

Tourism Ministry officials in Matanzas said “The Hotel Internacional, which opened on Dec. 24, 1950, is very old, small and old-fashioned, with few rooms, and no longer meets the requirements of today’s tourism,” according to Fernández García’s message.

He said the 161-room hotel would be demolished to build, on the same site, a modern 800-room structure. Cabañas del Sol, other tourist installations from the first half of the 20th century — when architects of the Modern movement were seeking a fresh expression of the Cuban identity — and buildings in the old city in Varadero are also apparently facing the same fate.

But the Matanzas office of the historian offered a different explanation. According to a message circulated by the Cofradía de la Negritud, a non-governmental association of black people, in this case the response was that “The hotel’s plumbing system is in a state of collapse, so it is more economical to demolish it and build from scratch, than to repair it.”

But tourism authorities did not mention poor structural condition to the hotel’s employees. “They told us the hotel would be demolished because of environmental regulations, and that it was useless to turn to Eusebio Leal to save the hotel,” one worker told IPS.

Supposedly Leal, a national lawmaker and the head of the ICOMOS National Committee, would be unable to do anything to preserve a structure built on a sand dune, like more than 100 other buildings and thousands of metres of walls and fences that will have to be demolished, according to environmental studies.

Alfredo Cabrera, director of the office in charge of the management of Varadero’s beaches, had ensured IPS in 2007 that before a decision was reached about a demolition, his office took into account “the cultural heritage or historical value of the structure,” and whether it served “an important social function.”

An employee at the Varahicacos ecological reserve, meanwhile, who a few years ago experienced the “breakdown” of the management of that protected area due to the construction of a mega-hotel, told IPS that in the case of the Hotel Internacional, environmental and heritage interests should be reconciled.

Sources close to the Tourism Ministry confirmed that the Hotel Internacional has reached an agreement with another country to build a modern hotel, similar to so many others built in Varadero in recent years near the Internacional and Cabañas del Sol hotels.

Half of the over two million tourists who visit Cuba every year go to Varadero, which has more than 18,000 rooms in 49 hotels on 22 kilometres of beach.

The municipality of 26,600 people, which includes Varadero and two neighbouring towns, received a record of more than 31,000 visitors in one day in February, in the context of the expansion of resort tourism in Cuba.

“This is a preview of what could be about to hit us on a much, much larger scale, because the country needs money urgently,” Mario Coyula, winner of the National Architecture Prize in 2001, told IPS, without directly mentioning the complicated economic situation the country has been in since the early 1990s.

Above and beyond architectural questions, Coyula, an architect and urban designer, pointed out that “for many people these two hotels are distinctive features of the local landscape, which are fast disappearing in Varadero, as is coexistence (between the tourists) and the local population, which is increasingly marginalised and isolated.”

Architects, artists, writers and journalists who have called for saving what is left of the Varadero of the 1950s point to the enormous potential for the promotion of cultural tourism, with an offer that differs from “the standardised sun and sand tourism in all-inclusive resorts” that can be found on any Caribbean island.

“I see this as a natural result of excessive centralisation, which stands in the way of dealing with thousands of small and medium investors who could generate more stable and balanced wealth,” Coyula said. “And the most important thing: small-scale investors cannot impose their own conditions.”


Cuban Tourism Has Ambitious Projects for Growth

Madrid, Jan 21 (Prensa Latina) Cuba announced its goal to close 2011 with 2.7 million foreign visitors as part of an ambitious project of development of this booming industry that grew 4.2 percent last year.

We have concluded 2010 with good results within the complex situation of the world, with about 2.53 million international visitors, pointed out Jose Manuel Bisbe, commercial director of the Cuban Tourism Ministry (MINTUR).

Bisbe explained that a growth above eight percent this year implies 200,000 more visitors than in 2010.

It is a strong goal, above all considering world expansion in the sector of about 4 and 5 percent, the official told Prensa Latina.

Regarding the prospects for the industry in the Island, the official said that work is ongoing to incorporate new hotel accommodations in destinations such as Cayo Santa Maria in the central province of Villa Clara, as well as refurbishing the beach resort of Varadero, Cayo Coco and Holguin.

We are undertaking important works in the infrastructure that supports tourism in the historical center of the Cuban capital and in patrimonial cities such as Trinidad, Remedios, Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Santiago de Cuba and Baracao, he said.

He indicated that the Cuban government is involved in improving the quality of all the services in a small group of cities which are of interest for the Spanish market.

Among attractions for the visitors from Spain he mentioned new programs related to the Hispanic presence in Cuba such as the route of the Catalans, Asturians, Galicians and from the Canary Islands, just to mention a few.

Another product linked to this market is the cruisers with arrivals in Cuba that began last November in the ship Gemini of the Spanish Group, Quail Travel.

He explained that the Madrid fair has become an event of importance for many of tour operators who work in the Caribbean to meet with suppliers of services in the area.

Fitur is an excellent instrument of work because it gathers in one place and in a short time many contacts as well as serving as a showcase to observe what the rest of the world is doing and how to sell other destinations in our environment, he concluded.

Hotel Iberostar Varadero awaits for their vacationers

This property opened in late 2004 and the three storey buildings are scattered through beautiful landscaped gardens in a peaceful location some 20 minutes from the centre of Varadero. The hotel benefits from 3 magnificent swimming pools plus a children’s pool and is situated on a spectacular stretch of beach towards the end of the peninsula.
3 a la carte restaurants (Mediterranean, Japanese and Cuban specialties) and 1 beach restaurant.

Iberostar Varadero -


Full board at buffet restaurant. Continental breakfast for late risers from 10 am to 12 noon. Evening meal à la carte with reservation. Palapa Grill for lunch (12 – 4 pm) and snacks (4 – 6 pm).
Local and selection of international drinks and snacks around the clock (alcoholic drinks available from 9 am to 2 am).
Sun loungers, parasols and towels free of charge by the pool and on the beach.
Miniclub (ages 4-12)
Spa with fitness room, Jacuzzi, sauna, aerobics, billiards, table tennis, tennis, volleyball. Pedaloes, kayaks, cycling tours and – subject to availability – catamaran sailing, windsurfing and snorkeling equipment free of charge.
Varied entertainment during the day. Shows and live music in the evenings. Dance classes.

The hotel offers wedding services in Cuba.

Cuba expects 2.4 million visitors next year

AP: Cuba says more than 2.4 million tourists will come to the island by the end of the year, up 3.3 percent from 2008’s record, though deep discounts and shorter stays mean vacation industry revenues are down overall.

The country will break the previous year’s mark of 2.34 million visitors by nearly 80,000, fueled by 2,000 new hotel rooms in top tourist areas, including Havana and Varadero, a white-sand beach north of the capital, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz said in Thursday editions of the Communist Party newspaper Granma. – Bachelor party, bachelorette party in Cuba

Future looks bright for Cuba’s Varadero Beach

USA Today:

VARADERO BEACH, Cuba — This 13-mile line of mainly all-inclusive resorts and dazzling stretches of white sand is a well-known budget destination for Canadians and Europeans. And, if travel regulations ever change, hoteliers are hoping for a wave of Americans.

The resort complexes on a skinny peninsula about 90 miles east of Havana are similar to those in Mexico’s Cancun/Riviera Maya area and the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana, though generally less lavish. Varadero —Cuba’s No. 1 beach destination — has more than four dozen lodgings and more than 17,000 rooms. The sea and sports are the lure, not genuine Cuban culture.

Developers planning new resorts are “getting ready for the U.S. market,” says Toronto-based hotel consultant Charles Suddaby. “The hotel capacity is not there yet … but I think Cuba can be a powerful force (among American vacationers) in the Caribbean.”

Cuba already is No. 2 in foreign air arrivals, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization: 2.3 million in 2008, behind the Dominican Republic’s nearly 4 million.

Canadians are the No. 1 single-country market for Varadero, but the much-closer USA, with masses of sun seekers, is viewed as a natural tourist source. Varadero has an airport, golf and is a quick flight from Miami.

“There’s overwhelming interest,” in Varadero and other Cuban areas, says Scott Berman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a top U.S. Cuba hotel analyst. “It’s a question of readiness” to handle what Cuban officials and hotel analysts say could be 1 million to 2 million Americans the first year of a lifted embargo.

Some of Varadero’s resorts have taken a beating in reviews on for outdated rooms, so-so food and lackadaisical service. But its grander all-inclusives, such as the 490-room Meliá Varadero and the Blau Varadero Hotel, are on a drive to improve. They’re similar to other Caribbean all-inclusives and could appeal to Americans.

The Meliá Varadero, Cuba-owned and managed by Spain’s powerful Meliá chain, features a grand atrium, salsa lessons by the pool, nightly shows, a bar pianist playing the theme from LoveStory in addition to Besame Mucho, a fine-dining restaurant with string quartet and rooms with satellite TV typical of three- to four-star beach accommodation in the USA. You can stay for $120 a person a day this time of year — meals, activities and all-you-can-drink included. The food, mainly buffet fare, still could use upgrading, though.

Out on the beach, Cuban Rodolfo Carballosa, 32, and Italian bride Maila Maceratesi, 26, proclaim their bliss with their names and wedding date written in the sand. They met when she visited a resort where he waited on her. And he hopes for the day when U.S. tourists can freely sit at his tables, too.

Americans “want to change our government,” he says as the couple lunches on roast chicken and Cuban Buccaneer beer.

“Respect me, and I will respect you. If you want to be my friend, you don’t say, ‘You have to do this.’ You come here, and you will see peace. Maybe one day the president of the USA will change things.” – Hotel booking in Varadero

Cuban Beach Resort Might Break Tourist Arrival Record

DTCuba: Havana.- Varadero beach, Cuba’s major coastal resort, is expected to break the one-million-tourist mark this year.

According to experts, Varadero is a major destination for vacationers visiting Cuba, despite the negative effects of the global economic crisis on world tourism.

Cuban tourism authorities pointed out that 700,000 foreign tourists have visited Varadero so far this year, and many more are expected to visit the resort, considering that the peak tourist season begins in November.

That number accounts for a 13.5-percent increase compared to the same period last year, the sources added.

Considering that, experts take for granted that more than one million vacationers will visit Varadero beach in 2009. – Party in Cuba

TripAdvisor Grants Awards to Cuban Hotel in Varadero

DTCuba: Havana.- The Tryp Peninsula Varadero, in Cuba’s major beach resort, received the Recommended and Excellent Hotel awards, granted by TripAdvisor, based on its users’ votes.

TripAdvisor is a critic of tourist products on the basis of opinions from readers, including some 15 million travelers.

The two awards are part of a series of acknowledgements granted by TripAdvisor, which the establishments take into consideration when assessing their services.

In that regard, when deciding where to spend their vacations and where to stay, travelers trust the experiences of those who share their opinions on Internet communities.

The five-star Tryp Peninsula Varadero Hotel is an All Inclusive establishment that offers 591 rooms by the beach. – Hotel booking in Cuba offering all the hotels online