Travel: Varadero is 125 miles east of Havana (and 150 miles south of Key West). Flights reach Varadero's airport from across the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. Hotels also offer comfortable tour buses for the two-hour ride from Havana's airport.

Climate: It's hot in Varadero year-round, and frequent dips in the ocean or pool are a must. Expect showers and even heavy rains from August to November. Highs are in the upper 80s year-round.Lodging: A string of luxury resorts runs eastward along the isthmus, with cheaper hotels in town on the western side. The resorts run $100-$150 for a basic double in high season - late December to mid-April and late July through August - slightly less the rest of the year. But package deals bring much better prices that vary wildly from month to month. All-inclusive resorts also offer budget packages. Check with a travel agent (outside of the United States) for the best deals.

Hotels in the town itself are cheaper. Doubles in high season run about $50, but the beaches aren't as good and the rooms are austere.

Getting around: Rental cars in Cuba are expensive, ranging from $75 to $125 a day for an economy model, plus insurance and gas. A better bet in Varadero is a taxi, which will get you almost everywhere on the isthmus for $3-$10. There is also free bus service between some hotels.

Currency: Despite the U.S. economic embargo, the American greenback is the only currency in town. Cuban pesos (currently about 21 to the dollar) are no good in stores, although sometimes you'll get change in "convertible" pesos, which can be used anywhere dollars can.

The people: Police have cracked down on locals who strike up conversations with tourists and ask for money. Many still will approach you to chat (especially if you appear to be an American) but they will always be watching for trouble out of the corner of their eye. In hotels and restaurants, service is wildly uneven.

Restaurants: From the elegant Dupont Mansion to a thatched-roof hole-in-the-wall, you'll find delicious seafood at almost any Varadero restaurant. Lobster runs $10-$45, depending on the restaurant, and is almost always delicious. Stay away from the "typical" Cuban food, which tends to be based on tasteless, dry pork. Snack bars around town also serve hamburgers, pizzas and other fast food at reasonable prices.

Information: Many Canadian and European sites are available on the Internet offering packages to Varadero hotels, and hotels themselves have Web sites. Just do a search for "Varadero."