Fly and flop to a Caribbean beach without jumping through several health hoops to get there? Thank the Spanish-speaking island of Cuba.
From November 1, holiday firm TUI will fly direct to the butter-soft sands of Varadero on Cuba’s Atlantic coast. No prior Covid-19 test required – the only island in the Caribbean not to demand a pre-flight Coronavirus test.
“Varadero is our first official long-haul flight since lockdown”, a TUI spokesperson told Telegraph Travel.
“We’re looking forward to starting our weekly direct service from Manchester in November. We know our customers are keen to get away and enjoy some winter sunshine, and Cuba is a relaxing and vibrant getaway, surrounded by powdery white sand, palms and turquoise waters.”
All TUI passengers will get a free-of-charge PCR test on arrival, and Cuban hotels will provide medical teams on site. You’ll need travel insurance, and Covid cover which TUI provides. The holiday company is also offering a free amendment policy on bookings made before the end of the year on package holidays departing from now up until the end of April 2021.
TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Award 2020 named Varadero’s beach ninth best in the world. Resorts line 21 kilometres (13 miles) of soft golden sand shelving into shallow, transparent waters.
But Varadero is no Cancún. You won’t find the packed high-rise glitz and glass hotels of Mexico’s popular holiday strip here, or anywhere in Cuba. Varadero’s all-inclusives are mainly low-rise and generously spaced amid glossy palm trees and flower-fringed paths that weave through manicured grounds. The area is laid back with a good number of all inclusives – family resorts and adults-only. With rum and beer on tap, you’ll find a few raucous characters at hotel bars and on the beach, but banish all thoughts of clusters of booze-soaked joints. More low-key Menorca rather than brassy Benidorm.
TUI holidays feature resorts including Iberostar Selection Bella Vista, a modern hotel of candy colours, with a chilled party vibe, two kids’ clubs and an inspired children’s pool of sea monster sculptures to clamber over, and gigantic mushrooms showering rain, ringed by sun loungers for watchful parents. The resort’s alfresco ocean-facing terrace is wonderful for live music at night under star-strewn skies with flood-lit seating and slick lighting.
Contemporary styled rooms are large; Star Prestige suites feature hot tubs. TUI’s 14-night holiday to Bella Vista costs from £1,749 per person and is based on two adults sharing, with flights departing from Manchester airport on December 21 with transfers.
Adults-only Royalton Hicacos is celebrated for its pool, spa, huge range of activities, lush gardens and top service. Smart, modern rooms are found in plantation-style buildings. Packages from £1,052 per person based on two adults sharing, with flights departing on November 29 with transfers.
Memories Jibacoa is an intimate, isolated 16+ all-inclusive with a huge pool offering low-slung rooms amid lush greenery cradled in the beautiful sandy cove of Arroyo Bermejo, much further west of Varadero. Snorkelling over the offshore coral reef is a lot more interesting than the underwater world at Varadero. TUI offers 14-night holidays to Memories Jibacoa from £1,357 per person based on two adults sharing, with flights departing from Manchester airport on January 11 2021, with transfers.
Varadero’s long finger of sand is perfect for swimming, sunbathing under a thatched umbrella with mojito in hand, and sailing on the calm of the turquoise sea. Temperatures are enviably warm – wavering between 22–28 Celsius in November. (Hurricane season officially ends on November 30.)
Feeling energetic? Watersports will be available from resorts. Or play a round of golf at Cuba’s only 18-hole course. American chemical magnate Irénée du Pont built the first nine holes in the 1920s. Mansión Xanadú, his Mediterranean-style villa, costing a cool US$1.3 million and brimming in mahogany, and Andalusian tiles, straddles the course and is perched on the most desirable spot of the entire peninsula. A sundowner in its rooftop bar recalls the glamour of yesteryear. Varadero’s small town, west of the main resorts, with its smattering of bars, shops and private restaurants will be off-limits to holidaymakers.
Cuba has led an exemplary fight against Covid-19. It closed international borders at the end of March. Since the outbreak began, Cuba has reported 5,898 infections and 123 deaths in a country of 11 million. Cuba is in the UK’s green corridor and requires no quarantine on return. North coast offshore island resorts, including Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, opened to Canadian charters last month. Varadero opens from October 15. Havana, and the Cuban mainland remain off-limits to commercial flights and international visitors. See the full FCDO advice, here.
Before you go, grab suncream at Manchester airport as sun protection is expensive in Cuba. Bring a credit or debit card (not connected to an American bank) for shopping. Leave room for Cuban rum, aromatic cigars and box-fresh flip flops in your luggage. Havaianas are sold in resort stores for one third of the price of a pair back home. Purchase an obligatory tourist card for entry before you go from Visit Cuba.