Since the middle of the Cold War era, Cuba has been sealed off from most Americans. Visitors were limited strictly to diplomats, the occasional business traveler and Cuban citizens. As such, Cuba has become somewhat of a forbidden fruit for Americans. Cuban cigars sell for high prices through underground channels and Caribbean vacationers dream of perhaps one day getting to experience the authenticity of Cuban culture. The history of tension between the two nations brought about by events such as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis only make the prospect of visiting more exciting. With the recent warming of relations between the Obama Administration and the Cuban Government, it may soon be possible for American travelers to get a taste of Cuba.
For non-Americans, though, Cuba has always been open. In fact, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba found itself in need of an economic boost and took measures to attract tourists. It has had a thriving tourism industry with resorts spread out across the entire country ever since. There is even a school designed specifically to teach Cubans proper service techniques and how to speak foreign languages such as English, French and German.
Visiting Cuba is an experience that anyone with the opportunity should seize. Havana is one of the most historic and beautiful cities on earth and Cuban people are known for their unbelievable friendliness and their fondness for people from other nations. It may be easy to think, because of the frostiness of relations between Cuba and the USA, that Cuba is a bit isolationist, but that could not be farther from the truth.
While in Cuba, there is a long list of exciting things to do. As mentioned above, Havana is worth seeing if for nothing else but the history. You can visit cigar factories, rum distilleries, go hiking, jet skiing, or simply flop yourself on a beach and not move an inch all week. Almost all resorts in Cuba are all-inclusive, so drinking all week is a favoured activity of tourists. Throw down some big tips in the first few days and enjoy world-class service the rest of the week.
For convenience, the main currency that tourists use is the CUC or Cuban Convertible Peso, which is simply pitted at a 1-to-1 rate against the US dollar, allowing for easy conversion of foreign currencies into simple coinage to be used while on vacation. Admittedly, the food is generally not amazing, but if you visit one of the resorts on this list, it will certainly be better than the rest. One of the best things about Cuba is the price. Despite the quality of the trip, all inclusive vacation packages are really not very expensive, considering what you get for your money.
For the interest of Americans who may have a chance to visit soon and for those who could book a flight this afternoon, here is a list of the Top 10 Cuban All-Inclusive Resorts. A week at any of these resorts would give you the finest in luxury that Cuba has to offer. All prices listed hereafter are the approximate prices for a week-long stay for two adults.
11 Honourable Mention: Paradisus Varadero Resort & Spa
This small but gorgeous resort is absolutely lovely. The lobby is comprised of white bridges built over shallow koi ponds, gently trickling as you navigate from the lounge to the restaurants. The service is impeccable and the beach is beautiful. It did not make the top 10, but it is a great place to go if you have some time and money on your hands; highly recommended for couples looking for some peace and quiet.
10 Memories Flamenco Beach Resort
Memories Flamenco Beach Resort is listed on TripAdvisor as the #2 hotel of 11 in Cayo Coco. Reviews speak highly of the food, some even saying it is the best they have had in Cuba. The hotel was the recipient of a Certificate of Excellence in 2014 and comes in at around 4.5/5 as an average guest rating. This all inclusive resort is fun for all ages and well suited for families. A week at this resort starts around $1600 USD.
9 Hotel Melia Marina Varadero
Hotel Melia Marina Varadero is ranked on TripAdvisor as #5 of 58 hotels in Varadero, with an average guest rating of 4.5/5. The pools are beautiful, the service is great and the place is all-inclusive - everything you want in a Cuban vacation. Interestingly, this hotel also has a non-inclusive option for those looking to save money and spend time off the resort. Prices range from $1200 to $3800 CAD.
8 Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria
TripAdvisor ranks Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria as the #3 hotel of 11 in Cayo Santa Maria. This one is run by Gaviota, a division of the Cuban Government that is responsible for tourism. You'll often see their busses zipping around the resorts, taking people on excursions or to and from the airports. The average guest rating is very high and it seems that this is a great bet for a fun vacation full of luxurious amenities.
7 Melia Las Americas
TripAdvisor ranks Melia Las Americas as the #3 hotel of 58 in Varadero, with an average guest rating of 4.5/5. Melia Las Americas is a 5-star, all-inclusive, adults-only resort located on the white sand beaches of Varadero, Cuba. It is very close to the Plaza Las Americas shopping centre, for those interested in bringing home some high-quality Cuban rum and cigars. A week at this resort starts around $2500 CAD.
6 Melia Buenavista
Coming in at 4.5/5 and ranked as #2 of 11 hotels in Cayo Santa Maria on TripAdvisor is Melia Buenavista, a beautiful adults-only (18+) all-inclusive resort complete with white sand beaches and personal butler service. Reviews speak often of return visits and extremely high-quality service. A week here starts around $3000 CAD.
5 Iberostar Varadero
Coming in at #2 of 58 Varadero hotels on TripAdvisor is Iberostar Varadero, one of the recipients of the Traveller's Choice award in 2014. With an average 4.5/5 review, the resort is definitely a crowd-pleaser. The resort is a high-class all-inclusive designed to fully relax and entertain its guests. The food is excellent, the beach is beautiful and it is close to the town of Varadero for those who wish to hop off the resort for some authentic Cuban culture. All of these qualities make it a popular return destination for loyal clients. A week at Iberostar Varadero starts around $2900 CAD.
4 Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort & Spa
The Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort & Spa is ranked on TripAdvisor as the #1 resort of 58 hotels in Varadero, an impressive feat. Similarly, it is ranked as #4 of all resorts in the country. Like other resorts on this list, reviews absolutely gush about the quality of service and the physical beauty of the hotel itself. With beautiful white sand beaches and a strong focus on the relaxation and restoration of its guests, Royalton Hicacos Varadero is a cut above the rest on the Varadero peninsula. The resort is all inclusive and adults-only (18+). A week starts around $2200 USD.
3 Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa
Paradisus Rio De Oro Resort & Spa is ranked on TripAdvisor as the 3rd best hotel in Cuba and the best of 11 resorts in Holguin. It was the 2014 recipient of the Traveller's Choice award. The reviews speak fondly of the service and beauty and it seems that many people choose to return year after year just to experience this hotel again. This resort is owned and operated by Melia, a company that appears frequently on this list. Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa is a 5-star, all-inclusive, adults only (18+) paradise. It is located on a beautiful beachfront overlooking a stunning coral reef. Prices start around $3500 CAD for a week's stay.
2 Melia Cayo Coco
Ranked at #2 of 294 Cuban hotels and #1 of 11 hotels in Cayo Coco on TripAdvisor is Melia Cayo Coco, an all-inclusive paradise. Reviews mention the supremely friendly staff and unbelievable beauty of the resort. Melia Cayo Coco is an adults only (18+) luxury resort made up of individual bungalows that stand on stilts over a saltwater lagoon. As if that didn't sound perfect enough, a week at this resort also gives you access to the other Melia resorts in the area in case you want to explore. A week here starts around $2900 CAD.
1 Royalton Cayo Santa Maria
Coming in at #1 of 294 hotels in Cuba and #1 of 11 hotels in Cayo Santa Maria, according to TripAdvisor reviews, is Royalton Cayo Santa Maria. So what is it that sets Royalton apart? Simply, everything. Customer reviews average out to a maximum score of 5/5 and often gush about the quality of the food, the quality of the service and the beauty of the beach itself. Many customers say that Royalton Cayo Santa Maria is not just the best in Cuba, it's the best they have been to in the entire Caribbean. The resort has specially designed "Dreambeds" and offers not just unlimited buffet food, but unlimited visits to the a-la-carte restaurants; something that most other resorts limit to one per day per group. All inclusive week-long packages start at approximately $2550 USD.