Okay, so my partner and I just spent a week in Varadero at the Villa Tortuga. He and I had an amazing trip and are already talking about our return. I have been to Cuba before but didn’t have nearly as much fun as I did this time.
So, on to the Tortuga as this is what the review is to be about… well the location is GREAT! Being one of the first off the bus within 25 minutes of leaving the airport is really a nice treat. Check-in was crazy slow but we had read about this in the reviews so we lounged on the couches, changed into some cooler clothes and just made the most of the evening while letting others go ahead. Then when everyone else was done, we got up, checked in quickly and headed off to our room.
Our room was pretty basic but tidy and efficient. The bathroom was fine but with no vanity it made storage of our toiletries a bit of a pain. We had lots of hot water in our shower but the pressure left a bit to be desired. The closet doors were a bit of a challenge and the patio door didn’t lock but we weren’t worried. The outlets are fine and we hooked up our travel dvd player for movies when we wanted some down time. After ditching all of our stuff and setting up the safe with passports etc. ($10 peso deposit) we went off to have a ham and cheese sandwich and a few rums before heading off to bed.
A/C in room worked great and there were extra blankets and pillows. Towels were changed daily and while the sheets weren’t changed unless you asked, our room was tidied, our clothes folded, our bed made nicely with those crazy towel creatures they love to do. We left the made treats and a peso each day and at the end of the week our travel mugs, pencils, candies and other toiletries.
We loved the lobby bar for great Café con leche (expresso coffee with hot water and steamed milk) which were delicious and lovely wicker chairs with umbrellas. They also made a fantastic pina colada as well as any other drink you asked for. The bar tenders are pretty adventurous there so just ask! If you are looking for more premium alcohol, like brandy or cognac, just ask, they keep it under the bar.
The pool / snack bar was fun and often turned into large groups of people chatting, smoking cigars and having fun. There is no disco and the nightly entertainment is pretty bad… but pretty very funny. This snack bar always has hot fresh sandwiches with either ham and cheese or just cheese (sometimes tomatoes) 24 hours a day. During the day they usually have hotdogs or hamburgers for part of the day. The Italian a la carte has pizza. We didn’t go, but I heard it was good and that their pasta was really good too. I believe it can be booked for lunch or dinner. There is another a la carte that serves a traditional Cuban meal, again we didn’t have that. The a la cartes are a pain in the butt to book so do it right away! I also think that for a few pesos you can get in easier and more often (not much you can’t “buy” in Cuba!). We gave up in frustration.
The bar on the beach can get a little harried but with the large travel mugs it’s worth the wait. Get a big drink and just enjoy the ocean. The beach is stunning. Miles and miles of sand and surf. It is also actually quite clean. I had read a lot of reviews about it being terrible and it wasn’t at all. Some crappy tourists felt no need to pick up after themselves so there were always a few plastic cups but usually people picked up around them. They also raked the beach in the early mornings with a tractor. The water was cool when we were there and one day the beach was closed for swimming due to rough surf and jelly fish after that there were caution flags and the life guards would whistle and keep you in your sites.
The pool was pretty chilly too but they don’t heat it and the nights were pretty cool. It is a great pool for kids as it is quite shallow and gradual.
The entire resort is kept pretty clean. They are investing in the newer VIP rooms by the ocean and that may be worth the upgrade. We were fine with basic as all we wanted to do was sleep and wash there. The bathrooms around the resort were clean as well as long as the patrons didn’t get stupid in them (which occasionally they did!) and as soon as anyone reported it they cleaned it quickly. The bathrooms by the dining room do not have toilet seats. Most of Cuba doesn’t have toilet seats though… so get used to it!
Most of the people working there were super friendly and fun. There was one woman working at the front desk that was outrageously rude and I was shocked whenever I had to interact with her. The woman at the bank drove us all a bit nuts as well as she would often disappear for hours and everyone would tell you she would be back in 10 minutes!
Okay… so … the food. Like I said, I have been to Cuba before and had read the reviews of the Tortuga so I was prepared. Or I thought I was. The food at the Tortuga is really really terrible! Go to breakfast. It is the best meal of the day and you can always have toast or made to order eggs (tell them to cook it longer than they like to), a bowl of cereal, yogurt and the bacon, when cooked enough, is quite good. Lunch is terrible and Dinner too. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t starve but we discovered after the second day that they cater to a German clientele. So… liver, brussel sprouts, plain boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage, very strange sausage (and I like sausages), rabbit, and other weird things. There was always rice and beans which are a Cuban staple. Not much of a salad bar, fruit or desserts but the ice cream is good. We starting eating out one meal a day, which is super cheap if you know what you are doing. Go to Kiki’s just a the front of the resort, get the pizza and a couple of beers or a combo meal. Fantastic and cheap. Also, in Varadero you can get a burger and fries for a few pesos too (less than $5). We also went to the “Steak House” (which takes VISA) and enjoyed some of the best food there! There are tons of restaurants that serve fresh lobster and all sorts of seafood for next to nothing and you can negotiate a better price. (the locals are not allowed to eat seafood!!) Cuban food does not have to be awful. The resort just made a mess of it!
We loved the Varadero beach bus and paid the 5 pesos to ride and see everything and then got off at the Rum House and walked back. We walked through the back streets and saw people’s homes, a school, many local businesses and more of the real side of the people living in Varadero. We felt totally safe and even wandered out and downtown in the evenings.
We did one day trip to Havana and it was worth it to do once. I would go to Havana again, I just wouldn’t pay for the tour. If you ask your travel rep. He can arrange for you to “just ride the bus” to and from Havana for 40 pesos instead of the 67 pesos the tour costs.
So all and all our trip was about relaxing, getting some sun and experiencing Cuba and that is what we got for a really great price. So, I would say... book the Tortuga on a deal and plan for some inexpensive, awesome meals out on the town. You won’t regret it at all.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Accepts VISA, Mastercard, and AmEx from non-US banks only ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Gran Caribe Villa Tortuga Hotel Varadero
- Tortuga Hotel Varadero