Time for another travel-duel. But this time, there is only one round so let's introduce our opponents.
In the left corner of our boxing ring Varadero on the Hicacos peninsula, northern coast of Cuba. In The right corner, Playa Bávaro, Punta Cana on the eastern side of the Dominican Republic.
Let's get ready to rumble.
Varadero versus Punta Cana
My best friend and I have been to both countries in 2015. First, Dominican Republic, followed by Cuba and I have to say, the difference between both places could hardly be more extreme.
I knew that Punta Cana is kind of a tourist area but I didn't have any further information, neither did I inform myself. I googled Playa Bàvaro and the beach looks unreal. White sand, bright turquoise Caribbean water and palm trees. Since me and my friend definitely wanted to check out one of those dreamy Caribbean beaches and Punta Cana had been relatively cheap, we decided to stay there for four nights.
I've tried to look up a smaller hotel and I thought I found one. It didn't look too big on the internet, had great reviews and didn't seem to be one of those overcrowded bunkers.
Since we were traveling into the Dominican Republic from Costa Rica, we started our flight at Libera via Panama destination Punta Cana international airport. Flights out from Costa Rica aren't the cheapest ones and I have no idea why, but I couldn't get a direct flight from Libera to Punta Cana. Every single one of them had a layover in Panama. Well, nothing much to worry about. Panama is a great airport. Scenic landing approach. You're passing by the skyscrapers of Panama city, big U-turn and then your touching down above the jungle. Friendly staff there, nothing bad.
Our flight from Panama to Punta Cana wasn't bad either. We were able to make a free seat reservation next to the emergency exit but the crew told us we couldn't sit there since our Spanish wasn't perfect. Well, they upgraded us into business class, instead of economy – also for free – nothing to complain about either. I've never ever been flying business class before and yes, they have real cutlery. No plastic glasses, the good stuff, made of glass – so thank you very much, Copa Airlines ;)
I had organized a ride from the airport to the hotel. He was friendly, everything worked out well and then we arrived at the hotel. In the middle of the night, past midnight to be exact. The two of us exited the cab, wearing our casual clothes since we had just left the Costa Rican jungle, dragging the dirty suitcases behind us and we were standing in the middle of something, that couldn't even be described as an entrance hall anymore. It was huge.
The ceiling height was at least thirty-two feet. Everything was shiny, people everywhere. Music. It looked very beautiful but the two of us just looked so out of place in there.
We went to the reception, all eyes on us since we didn't wear any nice evening dresses, to finally get to our room. The staff was really nice and welcoming but I wasn't kinda sure if I got the man right when he said that the shuttle bus would arrive soon to take us to our area. Me and my friend bandied looks, lifted eyebrows, maybe we got him wrong.
But we didn't.
There was an actual shuttle bus, driving the people through the hotel. No surprise! The whole hotel complex was huge, fenced and immured. Our room was also pretty big and the two of us just collapsed into our beds – dead tired. Next morning we made our way to the breakfast room which was more of a hall. In hindsight, the look on our faces probably looked so funny but we were just so overwhelmed. You could say, the two of us had a culture shock. This hotel didn't seem to be that big at all on the internet. Don't get me wrong, it looked very nice but it just wasn't what both of us had expected. We had been used to our tiny little paradise in Costa Rica, in the middle of the jungle, wild animals. Not thousands of people in a huge hotel complex. The food was okay. It wasn't anything too special. It was more of an American buffet than anything else. Then we went to the beach. Music everywhere, people everywhere. I had to ask myself, why do people come here to relax? Everything's just moving and completely overcrowded.
Playa Bàvaro itself is pretty beautiful. White sand beach, almost no waves, real Caribbean turquoise water and palm trees but I'm just not used to lying at the beach next to each other like sardines. We didn't even get to leave the hotel. We talked to a guy from Santo Domingo, capital city of the Dominican Republic and he told us not to leave the hotel alone since it wouldn't be safe. If I'm visiting a place somewhere around the world, I want to get in touch with the culture there and that wasn't possible over there. Well, I've learnt my lesson. More information next time before I'm going somewhere.
After those four days, we've flown to Cuba. First, we've stayed in Havana and then we took the local bus called Víazul to Varadero. Advisable way of traveling in Cuba. Cheap and comfortable.
My friend and I, both of us were fearing that the hotel would be the exact same disaster as in Punta Cana but to our relief, that wasn't the case.
The hotel was way smaller than in Punta Cana. The room was stunningly beautiful. I've never ever had such a beautiful hotel room as in Varadero. Hotels are pretty cheap in Cuba.
You have to check them on several providers and you can save a lot of money. Food there was delicious. We didn't expect much but they surprised us.
On one side of the hotel was harbor and on the other side, there was the beach. It was public beach and we had a five minute walk across a bridge to get there. As a result of being a public beach, there wasn't any animation program. It was just quiet, not too many people. Enough space between everyone. No sardines-feeling.
I have never seen a more beautiful beach than in Varadero. It's even more Caribbean than it had been at Punta Cana. Palm trees everywhere, water in all shades of blue you just can imagine. Very shallow, no waves and so clear, it's like walking through liquid glass. There isn't any low or high tide either, so hardly any currents. Even the sand on the beach was whiter.
I've spent the most relaxed days of my life at this beach. It was like another world. The hotel itself wasn't too crowded either. There was music and some kind of animation program but never too much.
You've probably already guessed it but this time, Punta Cana is beaten by a distance. All points to Cuba. Such a beautiful and special place to visit. Traveling back in time, enjoying architecture, landscapes and friendly people. If you like to party, go ahead, visit Punta Cana. Playa Bávaro is also pretty but in my opinion, it has nothing on Cuba. Don't be mad, Dominican Republic, how's the saying? If you haven't had Mama Juana, you haven't been to Punta Cana – so take another shot ;)
Until then, happy traveling.