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Varadero, Cuba’s star beach, celebrates upcoming return of tourists

RIO  DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With its 21 kilometers of beach and crystal-clear waters, Varadero, Cuba’s most famous beach resort, expects to be reborn as soon as the island reopens its borders to tourism on November 15, despite the serious crisis caused by the pandemic.

“Total optimist (…) by November this will be again the paradise of always”, assures to AFP the Spaniard Lorenzo Rubio, general manager of the Royalton Hicacus Hotel in Varadero, located in the province of Matanzas, 140 km from Havana.

Read also: Check out our coverage on Cuba

On Monday, the Ministry of Tourism informed that Cuba will gradually reopen its borders to tourists on November 15 and will relax its strict anti-virus protocols to reactivate this vital economic activity.

When Varadero reopened last year, the official goal was to turn it into an anti-virus sun and beach haven (Photo internet reproduction)

According to Rubio, who has been managing five-star hotels for more than three decades, “as of November, we may start to have some figures more or less of 2019,” before the pandemic.

The comeback will not be easy to achieve: between January and July, Cuba received 270,639 foreign visitors, barely a quarter of those captured in the same period of 2020 (1,239,099) and a tenth of the arrivals from January to July 2019 (2,856,761).

In addition, the health situation does not help. Faced for the past two months with a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections that has checked its health services, the island of 11.2 million inhabitants has accumulated 696,904 cases and 5,788 deaths.


When Cuba decided to reopen its borders for the first time since the pandemic in October 2020, it paid dearly, with a sharp resurgence of cases starting in December.  The authorities justify the new reopening by the “progress of the vaccination process in Cuba”.

The country, which has developed its own vaccines against the coronavirus (Abdala and Soberana, not recognized by WHO), expects to have vaccinated 92.6% of the population by November, compared to just over a third at present.

The head of tourism in Matanzas, Ivis Fernandez, explains that, given the high season, which runs from November to April, contracts are already being signed with agencies from Canada, Great Britain and Russia, the main markets of the resort, and that “an increase in the arrival of visitors is expected”.

But “any forecast at the present moment (…) is very uncertain, because it not only depends on how a destination is prepared”, but “on other external elements”, he adds.

In fact, Varadero has been receiving international visitors for 10 months now, mainly Russians and Canadians, through authorized charter flights. But, according to Rubio, it has been difficult for a hotel “used to having a 97% annual occupancy rate” to operate during the last few months with a “meager average” of about 300 tourists per month.

The pandemic, added to a tightening of the US economic blockade against Cuba, meant a hard blow for an island that has in tourism one of its main economic engines, with revenues of US$2.6 billion in 2019.


Sunbathing by the pool at the Hotel Internacional de Varadero, managed by the Spanish chain Meliá, Canadian Samantha York says that “if she could,” she would “move” to the resort. “I feel safe, the place is beautiful,” says the 25-year-old tourist.

That hotel is one of the 15 currently operating in Varadero (out of a total of 52) and registers a “20% occupancy rate”. In “the current circumstances, we can’t complain,” says its director of operations, Almudena Rosado, a Spaniard.

Smoking a Havana cigar for the first time in his life at the Royalton, Russian Serguei Egemenko, 32, says he “doesn’t feel the slightest fear of catching the virus, because the security measures are excellent.”

When Varadero reopened last year, the official goal was to turn it into an anti-virus sun and beach haven. “That has been achieved,” says Fernandez: since April, only “0.1% of the more than 50,000″ tourists received have tested positive for the virus.”

Cuba requires travelers to arrive with a negative PCR test and then take another test at the airport upon arrival. If positive, the tourist is transferred to an International Clinic in Varadero, where the cases are classified. Those at “low risk” go to a hotel-hospital in the resort and those with health complications to the Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK) in Havana.

According to the Tourism Ministry, with the reopening of borders, “these protocols will be relaxed”, which will now focus “on the surveillance of symptomatic patients and the taking of temperature”. The PCR will no longer be required upon arrival.

In Havana, Caridad Seculis weighs the risks of this decision. “Of course, there is fear because PCR must be done to control everything. But well, on the other hand (the opening of borders) benefits the country,” says this 51-year-old resident of the Cuban capital.

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