The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba is a land of “rum, revolutionaries and retro cars.” It has a palpable back-in-time feel: 1950s US-made cars and Soviet-era taxis can be seen plying cobbled streets and grandiose squares. Meticulously preserved colonial architecture are mostly concentrated in the capital Havana and other UNESCO-listed cities Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Camaguey.
Cuba’s historical legacy is just one of its many tourist draws. Like other Caribbean islands, the country has its share of sublime white sand beaches abundant in its north coast. Read Cuba travel blogs for details on how to find hidden gems. If you are looking for a Caribbean vibe, the coastal city of Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa, a beach-side town established in 1511, have the most Caribbean influence. Varadero is another beach area popular with tourists coming from Havana. Other places of interest are Pinar del Rio, the center of the cigar industry, and Santa Clara, resting place of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.
The people are modest and the local music is sure to get your feet tapping. Just consider the sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club and Gloria Estefan and you will have a good idea of what to expect. The cuisine is a wonderful blend of Spanish and Caribbean dishes that will delight your taste buds. Continue reading our Cuba Travel Blog to find out more about the best sightseeing in the country, the vibrant culture and travel advice.
Cuba really is a multi-ethnic country with influences that range from aboriginal people, Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, Soviet Union relations during the cold war and, of course, its close proximity to the United States. Enjoy a two to three day guided tour up the country’s highest mountain, Pico Turquino, wonder through the Labyrinthine streets of Camagüey or take a trip back in time by visiting Trinidad – a town that appears to be stuck back in the 1850s.
Cuba Travel Blog and Holiday Tips
- Insurance and vaccines – Just like any other foreign destination, it is important that you have comprehensive medical coverage in case of an emergency. In addition, you should check with your doctor regarding vaccines or booster shots for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, Typhoid, Hepatitis A and B, rabies and your yearly flu shot. Despite its tropical climate, Cuba doesn’t pose much of a risk by way of mosquito-borne illnesses. Cholera, dysentery and hepatitis are some of the more common travel-related diseases that visitors acquire when in Cuba, so be careful with where you get your food and drinks. Along with a fully stocked first-aid kit, bring a supply of medications you might need, as Cuban pharmacies, even those aimed for visitors, are often short on supplies. Health care for visitors in Cuba is entirely separate from the health care provided to Cuban citizens. Cuba has even made it mandatory for all foreign visitors to possess medical insurance coverage, which is checked randomly at the airport so make sure you have a printed copy of your insurance policy.
- Food and drink – Do not drink the tap water or well water in Cuba in any form (including ice). Only drink sealed bottled water or soda and dairy products that have been pasteurized. Do not eat any uncooked or undercooked meat or egg products. Eggs should be completely cooked (no runny yellow). Always wash any raw vegetables and fruit thoroughly before eating. Only eat cooked foods that are served hot. Avoid meals served at room temperature since you don’t know how long they have been standing for.
- Getting around – Buses and minivans run throughout the city but you should never get on one that’s overcrowded or overloaded. If you are walking, make sure that you obey all the rules of the road and walk only along designated areas.
- Personal safety – Conduct extensive research regarding the area you intend on visiting in order to avoid any potentially dangerous areas. Avoid wearing expensive jewellery and carrying your expensive photo or video camera around your neck. Keep a minimal amount of cash on you each day instead of walking around with all your money in your wallet or purse. The police are highly visible in tourist areas, while non-tourist areas may not be as visibly patrolled, so be sure to check with your hotel before venturing out. You are likely to run into trouble if you talk politics with the locals, who are forced to ‘confront’ commenters or otherwise be viewed as unsupportive of their political system. Political topics can range from discussions about democracy and human rights to negative comments about the revolution and other communist ideologies.
- Money and Foreign Exchange – ATMs are limited in Havana, and even then, they are not a reliable source of cash. It’s best to enter the country with sufficient cash, which you can then convert to the local currency. Cuba is in the process of unifying its currencies, but in the meantime uses the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the Cuban ‘moneda nacional’ peso (CUP), the former being 25 times more valuable than the latter by which most Cubans are paid. Confusion can easily arise when using both currencies, so be vigilant when paying for staples and non-luxury commodities, which are priced using CUP (and consequently look too cheap for CUC holders). You may want to have plenty of small denomination CUP with you as street vendors can easily bump up prices into CUC, giving you a poor exchange rate. That said, tipping with CUC in Cuba goes a long way so you may want to keep small denomination CUC bills for resort and hotel staff, musicians, wait staff and taxi drivers. While the Cuban government had withdrawn the US dollar from circulation in response to various US embargoes, US banknotes can still be exchanged into CUC but with a 10% tax applied on top of the usual exchange commission. To get better value out of your US dollars, exchange them into euros first before converting them to CUC.
- When to go – Hurricane season lasts from June to November in the entire Caribbean basin, with the highest number of hurricanes passing through in September and October. Consequently, November to March is the high season when the weather is cooler and drier.