By: Lynn Burshtein
This past January, Canada’s Swoop Airlines made its inaugural flight from Toronto to Varadero, Cuba. After a smooth check-in and flight, we were greeted upon landing with a water cannon salute – apparently a tradition to honor new travel carriers to the region. Our group was then shuttled to the all-inclusive five-star Melia Internacional Veradero resort located on the powdery-white sands of Varadero beach. Against the clear blue sky and equally sparkling blue waters, the bright sun here provides the winter-weary with a much-needed dose of Vitamin D while they lay on the beach, or perhaps join in for a game of beach volleyball.
Travelers visiting Cuba, and particularly the capital city of Havana, will often conjure up images of Havana Club rum, coffee and home-grown cigars, while gawking at the retro cars on the streets of this country that is seemingly frozen in time. I did all of these during this trip, but I also took in some outdoor adventures and wellness experiences around the island that were an absolute delight.
Our first outdoor adventure was courtesy of Sucursal Nautic Marlin Varadero, a nautical company that offers a variety of water-based sports and activities, and whose friendly guides took us on an enthralling boat ride through mangroves of the south coast of Varadero through the Chapelin Channel and Cardenas Bay.
Another memorable outdoor adventure was provided by EcoTur SA Travel Agency, a company that promotes ecological and agrotourism throughout Cuba with sustainable and explorative nature adventures. During our jam-packed day, which included a jeep safari, we went on another speedboat ride (snorkelling was also on the itinerary but weather conditions were not on our side) before driving out to spend the afternoon at La Dionisa Coffee Plantation. Upon arrival, we had a delicious farm-fresh lunch (I had simple but flavorful rice and beans, with a side of mango). After lunch, we visited the property’s Wishing Tree where a Shaman taught us the tradition of circling the tree to make a wish, which we followed with a quick horseback ride. Our visit was capped off with a delicious espresso before we drove out to take some photos of the gorgeous Yumuri Valley Lookout area before our next destination: Cuevo Saturno. About 10 kilometres outside of the city of Matanzas, this secluded cave with fresh water was indeed refreshing and left the skin feeling smooth – no spa appointment needed.
But for those looking for actual spa appointments, the Melia Internacionale has an outpost of the YHI Spa chain, located on the 11th floor deck of the main building. There you will find a small outdoor pool and jacuzzi, fitness centre, beauty salon and a wide range of spa services, including the signature Cuban Rum Massage that combines deep tissue techniques with a mix of massage oil and local rum (probably the next best thing for those who were partaking in dry January). The resort has an adults-only section as well as a family section, and the spa offers parent-child spa services as well.
For those who prefer more intimate accommodations mixed with high-end spa services, the Mystique Casa Perla Hotel is a minimalist boutique property located on a strip of pristine white beach, also in Varadero. At the hotel’s Serenity Spa, you will find an array of massage, facial and whole-body treatments that aid circulatory systems, provide regeneration of skin cells and exfoliation of the skin. There is also a state-of-the-art fitness center and an inviting outdoor pool. The modern Zen style of this hotel was just up my alley and if we had more time there, I would have liked to try some of these services. But not to worry – with all the outdoor adventure tours we participated in, we were able to experience an authentic and natural state of wellness, Cuban style.
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A long-time contributor to Travel to Wellness, Lynn Burshtein visited Cuba in January, 2023 as a guest of Swoop Airlines and Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism.