Commercial Shopping in Communist Cuba, Varadero, Cuba.


The town of Varadero, Cuba is home to many tourist resorts. Although an anchor for many visitors to Cuba, the experience is still Cuban and influenced by many of the geo-political factors that affect an impact Cuba as a country. I was interested to see what goods and items were for sale in the markets, given that the United States has maintained sanctions against this island national for dozens of years. Our trip to town would yield an example of this information.

This post is one chapter on our trip to the isolated country of Cuba. This trip was planned through Westjet Vacations. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Activity: Commercial Shopping in Communist Cuba, Varadero, Cuba.

Once we got our initial days of sun at the Ocean Varadero El Patriarca, and the weather stopped co-operating during hurricane season, we decided to do a little local exploring. We found a hop on hop off bus immediately in the Varadero tourist loop. We ended up taking the bus down the Varadero peninsula to the local mall. The mall was designed for tourists, and isn’t actually where the locals actually shop. Nevertheless, it’s was intriguing enough for a visit to see what types of goods were for sale in the commercial market.

Riding the Open Air Hop On Hop Off Bus
Varadero Highway Views

The Centro de Convenciones Plaza America mall was built in the 1996 and is already looking really dated. The mall had some odd nationalistic signs of leaders in the past.

Centro de Convenciones Plaza America “Mall”
Cuban Leadership Figures
Images of Che Guevera
Commercial Shopping in Cuba

What’s for Sale in Cuba?

I was interested to see what products were for sale in commercial communist Cuba. It was a pretty interesting discovery.

Cuban Cigars

There were cigar stores doing a strong business as one of the main exports of Cuba. While I’d typically expect a small showcase, in many instances, there were stacks of inventory and supply.

Cigar Stores in Varadero
Cigar Selection in Cuba

Canned Goods

I left the girls at this point and took a good look at the supermarket inside the mall. I wanted to get the answer to what did a supermarket look like in communist Cuba; especially a supermarket that caters to tourists?

The supermarket was full of tinned food from a variety of brands that I had never heard of. The produce section was completely non-existent and it’s apparent that there is extremely limited access to fresh items. Most of the imports and tins appeared to be coming from Spain.

Canned Vegetables
Misspelled Pinocho Crackers to circumvent copyright violations
Tetra Packs of Juices

Locally Produced Rum at a Deep Discount:

One area where the market was selling a brisk amount of was alcohol. This didn’t really make much sense to me since most resorts in the area were all inclusive. However, Havana Club did end up being the souvenir gift to take home to family and friends as duty free allowance. A bottle of 750ml Havana Club rum was being offered at 5.20 CUC ($5.20 USD). Of note, there was no further discount at the airport duty free shops… there must not be a taxation scheme on the pricing of alcohol in Cuba.

Cuban Produced Havana Club Rum
$5.20 USD Havana Club Bottles

Our First Sight of Relic Antique Cars

As many know, there have been years of crippling sanctions against Cuba, which had resulted in heaps of old cars running about the country. The mall had several examples of them running around in the parking lot.


Exploring the Streets of Varadero:

After the girls had completed their shopping at the mall, we left via the Hop on Hop off bus and headed down to Varadero town proper. The city is set up as a simple short grid that is about 70 blocks long and 4-5 blocks wide. We started at the eastern end near Calle 62, near the popular Calle 62 bar.

Calle 62 Bar
Outdoor Patio Drinking

Varadero Centro is home to several older resort properties and other off resort souvenir stands.

Local Taxis
Souvenir Stands
Local Bodegas

It also has the Beatles Bar and Café. This place is reportedly popular with the party crowd, although it was pretty dead on our visit. The Beatles were popular among the underground music that was not allowed in Cuba during the full communist era.

The Beatles Café

We also got a look at some of the Bodegas that served the local population

Local Bodegas offering supplies and food

Before we headed back to the hotel for the end of the evening. There was a long line at hop on hop off bus stop tonight…

Calle 62 Bar at night

My Thoughts on the Shopping in Cuba and Walking the Streets of Varadero, Cuba:

Varadero was a pretty small town that fell between quaint or tacky depending on your views. It was a place that wasn’t really worth the visit from countries afar, but a great stop off when the beach got boring. It had a certain small town charm to it that hadn’t been over run by commercialization. Either way, it’s a place that you can take the parents when you swing through town.

If you’ve visited Varadero, Cuba, did you find the town and Cuban influences on the town engaging ?

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