On the last day of our trip we finally made it to the ocean! My father announced it would be a crime to visit Cuba and not go so, on the advice of our fearless leader Jesús, we chose Tararå Beach for its proximity to where we were staying. Little did we know this beach club and resort had such a unique and interesting history.
Driving up to the club itself is a lot like everything else in Cuba, stunning views but eerily quiet and lacking a crowd. In fact, not only was the resort sparsely populated, it was practically deserted and resembled a scene from The Walking Dead. My first thought was “I should have brought my sword,” and my second was “what the hell happened here?”
You could see that this place was once a source of relaxation and a vibrant oceanside community filled with active families escaping the bustle of the city. Over the years it morphed into a weird populace of partially inhabited homes, a kiteboarding experience and lesson center and a yoga studio. Yeah, I told you it was odd.
There was a pool area, which was completely empty when we first arrived, a bar and breathtaking views of the ocean, which was a short walk from the pool.
We were informed there was very little on the menu (pork and chicken) and our beverage choices included two kinds of beer (Bucanero and Crystal) and rum and coke served in the smallest plastic cup you have ever seen. Being that this was day seven of our trip, we fully expected the paltry choices and were just happy to at least have choices. How quickly our American sense of “everything at anytime” morphed into “grateful for what we have.” Even the kids were happy to eat the chicken (it could have been pork but we told them everything was chicken) and fries. The fries were a treat and it was not lost on them.
The kite surfers on the ocean put on a show as the kids ran into and out of the waves, screaming and laughing and enjoying the shocking 77 degree water temperature. I could not get over how downright warm the ocean water was. As a hearty New Englander I feel I need to earn my way in, inch by freezing inch, for a three second dip only to run back onto the sand and bake in the unrelenting sun. This was very strange indeed.
It was only after leaving Tarará that we learned about it’s unique history. It was my father’s cousin Luisito who explained that it was developed by an American named Sylvester Webster as a complete town, with a church (Santa Elena), a yacht club, 400 residences, stores, a movie theatre, a marina, a public park and beach facilities. It was once considered to be one of the most beautiful on the island, with its boardwalk a popular weekend destination.
It was hard to imagine and heartbreakingly sad.
Luisito peaked my interest and so I did a little more digging when I came home. It’s part of my investigative reporting nature. Plus, I love research.
This is what I found:
Mr. Webster, the founder lived there with all of his children. The entire Webster family, twelve who were born on Cuba, and eight who were originally U.S. citizens, were forced to leave the island after Castro’s police confiscated their homes, personal property and business records at gunpoint.
After the Cuban Revolution, in January 1959, Che Guevara went to live at a summer villa in Tarará to recover from a violent asthma attack.
At the height of tight Cuban-Soviet relations, the town housed Russian officials stationed in Cuba, and for a while (early 1990s) functioned as a recovery resort for Ukrainian children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. After 2000 (and the partial opening of Cuba to foreign investments), it was a popular place for foreign companies.
In 2005, the town was turned into a recovery resort for blind patients from Venezuela, part of a deal between Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, in which Cuba offered medical expertise in return for Venezuelean oil.
In 2007, the town began to receive Chinese students, especially high school graduates, under a project in which the Cuban government provided scholarships and facilities for Chinese children to learn Spanish.
The Tarará beach houses can now be leased or rented from the government. In previous years Canadians, Italians and Spanish visitors rented the beach houses for long stay vacations between 1-6 months, but this has not been in practice since before 2009.
Luisito told us he and his wife had just recently stayed there for 10 days. I seriously could not imagine, with my American mind, staying there for 10 days! It would certainly be quiet and you wouldn’t have to think about what you would eat or drink.
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Have you ever heard of this place?
Would you want to stay there for more than an afternoon?
whoa. I wanna grab everyone (and first and foremost my friend kelley who wants to move to cuba) and say READ THIS.
Wow, what a fascinating history. The beach looks insanely gorgeous but you said it perfectly about it being like The Walking Dead.
What an interesting history. We actually stayed in a unique/historic hotel when taking a trip out to Dallas. I enjoyed learning more about that as well.
Fascinating! Do you remember the game Careers? When i was a kid, my friend had an old version-pre revolution, clearly–because one of the prizes was a trip to Cuba! I remember thinking, WTH? (ok maybe not that, I was a kid), who would want to go to Cuba? I’ve been intrigued with old Cuba ever since. I can’t help but feel sad that Castro ruined such a vibrant, beautiful country. I’m glad it’s coming back, but it sounds like it has a long way to go!
I do not remember that game but that’s funny!! And it’s so incredibly sad what Castro did to the people and the country and for what? Horrible.
My parent’ house was the first that was built on Tarara beach. Mr Webster own my Father money and pay him with a lot across the beach.
The only other houses were what it became the club and they were known by the bohios.
It is very sad to see what happen to such beautiful place. Wonderful childhood memories.
I can’t help but echo what everyone else said. Gorgeous, but empty. Like a supermodel.
OMG I really did LOL at this! You are too much!!
So fascinating. It’s impressive that the resort aspect of the town is still functioning… but seems like there is a lot of potential for reviving it, with such a beautiful location. Your trip was full of surprises!
So cool to hear the history of this beach resort. What a gorgeous beach though! You must have felt the history when you were there!
FASCINATING. Man oh man, the history of such a beautiful place! Btw I love how the kids kept thinking they were eating chicken. Very clever.
Ha, I love that you are a research dork like me. I love places with interesting histories, although I couldn’t have cared less when I was younger and actually taking history classes.
My outside table has looked almost that dirty before…
History is my dorky obsession (my Master’s focused on it). This is fascinating, in that sort of heartbreaking way history can be fascinating (I researched about the history around that one book you shared on American eugenics a few weeks ago – fascinating but so deeply disturbing). I think what’s most striking to me about it is how they used it as a rehabilitation center for radiation victims, going with that old European mindset that coastal areas are physically healing. But now it does look like something out of the Walking Dead…
Yes to ALL of this!!! And I totally did the same thing with the eugenics program. All lot of crazy stuff goes down and I love learning about it!! #nerds
This is soooo crazy!! There’s NO way I would stay there for 10 days. When I lived in Italy I had a Cuban friend I spoke Italian with – the only thing she knew how to say in English was, “Fidel Castro is a son of a bitch.” I suspect she may have had that phrase memorized in many different languages.
LOL!!!! That is the best! I’ll have to tell my dad!!!
wow i’ve not heard of Tarara before and can say with certainty my husband wouldn’t last 10 minutes there… he doesn’t eat pork or chicken LOL the beach looks stunning though, i’d probably love it for the quiet and to have a beach to myself. i’d love that. but a few hours is probably all i could take, i’m a fan of amenities to some degree. plus i love talking to local people, and even though i love immersing myself into any and all cultures, i think i’d like to spread out my time visiting other more inhabited areas. history is so fun though and this would still be a stop during my trip to cuba. quiet beach,yes i’d like that. pork and chicken and fries? i guess i’d pack a picnic ahead of time 🙂
ps you need to see the Amazon series Mad Dogs… if you haven’t already. it’s in Belize but you would love it. we watched all 10 episodes in a week and we have a baby and don’t watch tv so that says a lot. LOL
Wow! That sounds like a great show for when I’m on the bike trainer! Thank you 🙂
Great story. I think we are going snorkeling there next month. Not sure there is good reef snorkeling near Havana. Never been. But looking forward to seeing this interesting culture.
It’s very interesting and the people are amazing but the infrastructure is not. One word of advice: bring toilet paper.
Not sure about the snorkeling but the water from the Malecon looked clear and gorgeous! Have a great time.
I spent plenty a day as a child in Tarara Beach with my parents and brothers in the 50s.
During the summer, we would go there practically every weekend. It was a lively place, a family place full of kids playing, swimming and having fun. Tarara had a rustic palm leaf roof kiosk restaurant where we would go after the beach. The menu was varied and the food was delicious. My memories of Tarara are very vivid and happy. I don’t think I would like to return there after reading this article. It would be sad to see how it has changed.
I’m so glad you have so many vivid and happy memories of Tarara Beach and I can see how it once was a gorgeous and lively destination. But yes, I’m afraid you would be sad and disappointed to see it today, although that doesn’t mean it will always be this way. Hopefully, someday, things will improve for the Cubans and their beautiful country! Thank you for reading and commenting.
Imagen that suddenly you lose all your properties,,,,now that I am an adult with family,,,reading your post and different points of view of foreigners,,,, I could feel the pain of the previous owners.
I am a Cuban who had to be separated from home during 2 weeks when Tarará use to be a Pioneers Camp. At the age of 7 years was very traumatic…
Cuban government let destroyed those houses,,,will be good on your next trip if interested in Cuban History knock doors in Centro Havana,,pass by any Hospital Like the Benéfica, or Calixto Garcia,, across Havana University,,,and state in line at any local food market (Bodegas) , my country it’s on ruins.
I wish some day I could walk my streets……
It’s such a beautiful country and it’s so sad and tragic what has happened there! I’m so sorry to hear this is part of your personal history, as it is for my dad and our family. I hope to go back again someday and I really hope you are able to go and “walk my streets.” Best to you!
I used to ho there as a child with my school, I have really good memories, we went yo the beach, museums. I was there two or three time, it was such a beautiful place.
My great grandfather, Royal Sylvester Webster built the community of Tarará. My uncle has pictures from “before Castro”. Truly heartbroken to see what it’s become.