© All Rights Reserved marlis
While it has been shrouded behind political tension for the last fifty years, Cuba is actively promoting itself as a Caribbean destination with class. Indeed, the hostilities between Cuba and its big neighbour to the north have ensured that Cuban culture remains strongly intact - unlike some of its semi-Americanized Caribbean neighbours.
Notably, Cuba is the only country in the world that enjoys sustainable development, according to the World Wildlife Fund's 2006 Report. That, coupled with health and education, may explain why the Caribbean island has doubled its number of visitors to 2 million.
Main article: History of Cuba
The first settlers of Cuba were the Guanajatabey people who came to the island sometime between 5300 BC to 1000 BC. When the Spanish arrived, their population was around 100,000 and practiced a mixture of hunting, gathering and farming.
Although discovered by Columbus on his first voyage to the New World in 1492, the island's coastal area was not fully mapped until 1509. In 1511 Diego Velazquez de Cuellar set out with three ships from Hispaniola to found the first Spanish settlement of Baracoa. African slaves were brought in to cultivate the island's main resources of sugar and tobacco. Interestingly, the sugar trade did not explode until the 19th century after Spain reduced its trade regulations. This boom lasted until the 1880s. Also throughout the 19th century, the ideas of freedom and independence started to grow in Cuba.
With the assistance of people in the United States, Cuban freedom fighters, earlier expelled from Cuba, returned with three ships heavily loaded with soldiers and weapons. The war raged for three years until the US Battleship Maine was destroyed while docked in the Havana harbour. After this, the US government decided to back the rebels. Within a few months the US took over Cuba from the Spanish. The economy quickly grew and the first elections were held in 1900, although very few people got to vote. In 1901 the Platt Amendment was passed which defined USA-Cuban relations until 1934. This amendment placed many unfair restrictions on Cuba, keeping Cuba a de-facto colony of the USA. Presidents changed quickly in Cuba until the military coup of Batista in 1933. Encouraged by the Americans, Batista took over the government and controlled a series of puppet presidents. He was elected in 1940 and ousted in 1944. In 1952 he returned to power again with a coup. After this coup the revolutionary Fidel Castro started an uprising, which failed causing him to flee the country. In 1956 Castro returned, landing with a boat (the Granma) to start a revolutionary force in the mountains. His patience was rewarded when on January 1, 1959 his forces overturned the government of Batista.
Castro took firm leadership of the country, and founded a communist state on the island, making Cuba an instant enemy of the USA. In 1960 the communists started to nationalize many factories and private property. A year later a group of Cuban exiles, backed by the USA, tried to overthrow Castro's regime by invading the country at the Bay of Pigs. The already bad relationship between Cuba and the USA, led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the US demanded the immediate withdrawal of Soviet missiles placed on Cuba.
Economically, Cuba was not doing well, something even Fidel Castro admitted in the early 1970's. In the mid-1970's economical reforms were carried out. Due to the cold war with the US, the Cuban economy suffered greatly during the 1990s after the fall of the USSR, leading to the slow dilapidation of some historic sites. The faltering economy forced the Cuban government to refocus on tourism, as well as changing other policies. It became possible for Cubans to own their own guesthouses. Cuba promoted foreign investment, leading to the emergence of dozens of new joint ventures between the Cuban state and foreign investors. The changing policies saw a massive turnaround in the Cuban economy.
Cuba contains the largest island in the Antilles, as well as an intricate archipelago with the Isle of Youth and about 4,195 keys (cayos) and islets. The combined surface area of these Caribbean land masses is some 110,992 square kilometres. The country sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, 140 kilometres from the Bahamas, 146 kilometres from Jamaica, 180 kilometres from Florida and 210 kilometres from Cancun.
Cuba is a long and narrow island (1,200 kilometres from Cabo de San Antonio, the westernmost tip, to Punta de Maisí, the eastern tip). At its widest point it measures 210 kilometres and at its narrowest 32 kilometres. It is dominated by plains and has four major mountain ranges: the Guaniguanico mountains, in the west; Guamuhaya mountains in the central portion; the Sagua-Baracoa range; and the Sierra Maestra the east. The latter contains the country’s highest peak: Turquino, 1,974 metres high. The landscape is diverse, ranging from semi-deserts to tropical rain forests. The country has a large biodiversity and well-preserved ecosystems.
Cuba is divided into 14 provinces and a special municipality (Isla de la Juventud), listed below from west to east (roughly):
Considering the many unique attractions Cuba has to offer, from the gorgeous historic colonial city Trinidad, to its 300 beaches, to spectacular diving opportunities among its reefs, it's hardly surprising that Cuban tourism has exploded over the past decade. Backpacker travel has risen accordingly, with Europeans and Canadians alike enjoying mountain treks and river kayaking in the Oriente, or climbing and scuba-diving in the Oeste and on La Isla (de Juventud).
A UNESCO-sponsored program has recently transformed Old Havana (Havana Vieja) (a UNESCO World Heritage site) into the capital's main attraction with more than 100 buildings rebuilt with bars, restaurants, museums and shops established on ground floors and low-rent apartments on upper floors. More than 15 boutique-type hotels have also opened in the area since 2001 under the guise of the city's Historiador.
Trinidad is the colonial gem of Cuba and located in the south central part of the country. Nearby are some fantastic mountain ranges and beaches but the real attraction is just wandering around the old colonial centre with its faded facades, some good restaurants and traditional bars with a background of mountains and countryside.
Baracoa is Cuba's easternmost settlement and can best be reached by a very scenic drive from Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo over the mountains, ranging from dry regions with cactus vegetation and green lush high mountains, and down again to the tropical surroudings of Baracoa itself, including the fantastic Alejandro Humboldt National Park, where you can walk through rainforests and past waterfalls, butterflies and tropical birds, including beautiful humingbirds.
© All Rights Reserved Utrecht
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is a national park in the Cuban provinces of Holguín and Guantánamo. It is named after the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt who visited the island in 1800 and 1801. The park was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 for of its size, altitude range, complex lithology, landform diversity, and wealth of endemic flora and fauna. The park features the world's smallest frog, the endemic polymita snail, and a surprising amount of rural agriculture.
The Cienaga de Zapata, near the infamous Bay of Pigs, harbors some 900 endemic plant species and is considered by UNESCO as "a most valuable natural reservoir that stands out nationally, regionally and worldwide". Closer to the valley of Vinales and the island's tobacco farming region, lay some World Biosphere Reserves such as Sierra del Rosario, Las Terrazas and Guanahacabibes.
There are plenty of jazz events throughout the country at different times of the year, but the most well known is by far the Havana Jazz Festival in February. Taking place in Havana’s concert halls, there are also exciting and impromptu street performances. International names like Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach have ensured that only the most famous grace its stage.
Book worms will be pleased to know that the country’s literary scene is thriving and regularly cultivated. Starting in Havana in February, the fair travels around Cuba’s main cities. Bringing together the best in local and international literature, everything from stimulating panel discussions and book launches to poetry readings and concerts can be found.
The Havana Carnaval, used to be held in February, but has since been moved to July. The main event is the parade in which neighborhood troupes perform and dance. Routines and costumes that have been worked on for a full year make their debut in a vibrant display of color and festivities. The wide array of Cuban food is reason in itself to be in Havana when it happens.
Santiago de Cuba, in the town of the same name, is the largest and most famous festival in all of the country. For one whole week in July, the streets are transformed into a huge party which goes on all day and night. The entire week is filled with food, music and dancing, with stalls and stages lining the roads of a usually tame town. The highlight is a big musical performance at the Cuartel Moncada, which shouldn’t be missed.
The National Humor Festival is held every year in early July in the capital city of Havana. It brings together some of the best comedians from around the country in a week filled with the laughs for days. The event also provides a nice reprieve from the sweltering temperatures in the hottest month of the year.
Held in early December, this film festival attracts hundreds of thousands of movie enthusiasts from around the globe every year. Taking place in Havana since 1979, many big names in the business have attended including the likes of Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone.
Travelers who are around in December will be spending Christmas in Cuba and should make their way to the little village of Remedios just outside of Santa Clara. Marked by firework and a large street party (sensing a theme here?), Las Parrandas de Remedios is a wonderful way to ring in the holiday season.
Cuba’s climate is moderately subtropical and predominantly warm. The island’s average temperature is 25.5 °C and average relative humidity is 78%, but there are huge variations between seasons, as temperatures can drop below 20 °C during some days in winter (especially in and around Havana), while the temperatures in the southeast can rise up to 35 °C or more sometimes. It also sees an average of 330 days of sunshine a year. Cuba’s two clearly defined seasons are the rainy season (May to October) and the dry season (November to April). Especially August and September can be very wet and this is also the time that the island is most prone to hurricanes (season from June to November). See the average temperatures and rainfall at the Go Cuba Tourism site.
As Cuba is an island, the only feasible way of getting there is by plane or boat. A few cruise ships have started stopping at cities like Santiago de Cuba, but this is still rare. With no public transport by boat being available, flying is the only real option for most people.
There are several international airports in Cuba, the most important ones being the ones in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Varadero. Santa Clara and Holguin have regular international flights as well. Havana's Jose Marti International Airport has a good deal of international flights from destinations throughout Canada, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean. Apart from the USA, there are regular flights with the national carrier Cubana to neighbouring countries in the Caribbean. Several other carriers in the region have flights as well, like Air Jamaica and Air Canada. Also there are flights from several countries in Europe, like with Iberia from Spain, Air France from France and Martinair from The Netherlands. Prices for a round trip flight are usually around 800 US dollars, often more in high season. There are some (charter) flights year round from Miami to Cuba, but this is an option which requires that Americans first have to be screened very strictly to get to Cuba. Flights are with Continental Airlines and American Airlines and have to be booked at a tour agent first. Usually, these flights are part of a package deal to places like Varadero.
Unless on a cruise or by private yacht, there are no regular passenger options.
Touring the island has been made much easier through efficient and comfortable intercity bus travel with Viazul and Astro's new buses; car rental fleets include a whole range of Japanese subcompacts to German sports cars and even Mercedes campers.
Cubana airlines has domestic flights to various destinations in Cuba. The most important routes are between Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Varadero and the islands of Cayo Largo del Sur and Caya Coco. Flights are usually with smaller planes, sometimes propeller types.
Travelling by train in Cuba is a very adventurous way of getting around. Although there is no official national train website, you might check Seat61 Cuba for more information. Trains travel between Havana and Santiago de Cuba and stop at several places in between. Although cheap and relatively comfortable, some trips are delayed or cancelled and can take ages. If time is a problem, go for the buses.
Cuba is an excellent country to travel around by car and there are numerous car rental agencies, especially in Havana. Normally, you will get relatively new cars, typically of the Hyundai and Peugeot kind but more expensive Audis are available as well, but expensive.
Roads in Cuba are not really the best in the world, but you really don't need a 4wd to get around, as even the worst roads are passable after heavy rains and almost all roads are tarred, albeit potholed a lot in some places. The Autopista runs from west of Havana to about half way the island, past Santa Clara and this road is generally in a good condition and quiet as well. Be careful though and don't drive too fast, as potholes might occur everywhere.
In Cuba, road signs are very poor, if they do exist at all in some places! But it's not a bad thing, with some Spanish you can ask almost anyone and there are many people needing a lift who are glad to show you the right way.
Driving is on the right and usually you need to be at least 21 to rent a car.
Viazul is the national bus company and there are numerous connections to all major towns in Cuba, like Havana, Santa Clara, Vinales, Trinidad, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba.
For an overview of schedules and connections see thebussschedule.com.
There are no regular passenger services between places in Cuba or islands off the coast. It is not necessary and there are flights to islands that have no connection by bridge.
At tourist spots around Cuba you will likely be approached by taxi drivers offering to drive you across the country. These drivers will generally be without permits to carry foreigners so are putting themselves at legal risk, but black market taxis are frequently cheaper than the Viazul buses (although air conditioning is far from guaranteed). For example, a dodgy taxi from Vinales to Trinidad can be procured for around the same cost as a legit taxi halfway across Havana.
A tourist visa card (visa de tarjeta del turista) is necessary for travelers from most nations. This visa, which is really little more than a piece of paper on which you list your vital statistics, costs between 15-25 CUC (or €15-25), depending on where purchased. It can be purchased at the Airport in Cuba on arrival, however it should be noted that many airlines will require a valid tourist visa card before boarding flights. It is usually valid for 30 days and can be extended once for another 30 days at any immigration office in Cuba (for 25 CUC) - beyond this you would need a flight out of Cuba within the extended visa period. Canadians are the exception, getting 90 days on arrival and can apply for a 90 day extension. Your passport needs to be valid at least six months past the end of your planned return. Canadian passports must be valid for at least one month beyond the date of expected departure.
From Canada, the tourist card is normally provided on the flight. It can be purchased at Cancun airport (250 MXN) if departing from there, and similar in most other Latin American gateway airports. Please note that if departing the UK and many parts of Europe at least (this may apply to other countries), you will require to have the visa before boarding the plane.
Regular tourists who renew their 30 day visa are eligible to depart the country (to any destination) and return immediately enjoying a further 60 days (30 days plus a 30 day extension). You are only allowed two consecutive stays in this manner.
The USA officially prohibits its citizens from travelling to Cuba unless they obtain a special license and very heavy fines are imposed on visitors not fulfilling this requirement.
The US government will allow the following to travel to Cuba (decided on a case by case basis): official government travelers, journalists, persons visiting close relatives once in 3 years, full-time professionals conducting research, full-time professionals attending certain international conferences, and persons who have received a specific license.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury Department administers the Travel Restrictions. If you are subject to U.S. jurisdiction or you do not consider yourself to be but reside in the United States or are planning to leave from and/or reenter the United States, regardless of citizenship, residency, or immigration status, or point of departure from Cuba, you must travel under one of the categories of people permitted to travel to Cuba. 
If you are planning to work, do business or study in Cuba you need a visa; please contact Consulate General of Cuba.
See also Money Matters
There are two currencies in use in Cuba - the CUC (Convertible Peso) and the CUP (Cuban Peso). Tourists use the CUC. Cubans call the tourist dollar a "chavito" and the Cuban peso "moneda nacional" or MN. Very few travellers will see the Cuban Peso during their trips. The CUC has a pegged currency exchange rate of $1.08. The CUC is officially only exchangeable within the country. There is an additional 10% penalty assessed on US dollar conversions, so travellers are suggested to bring Canadian, Mexician or European currencies.
Coins in circulation are one-, five-, ten-, 25-, and 50-centavo coins and one- and five-peso coins - the one-centavo piece was introduced in 2000, and the five-peso coin is very rare. Banknotes in circulation are one-, three-, five-, ten-, 20-, 50-and 100-convertible peso bills.
To exchange money, currency exchange desks are set up in airports near the luggage carousel. In Havana's Jose Marti Airport, there is also an exchange counter in the public reception area and a bank on the 2nd floor. Throughout Cuba, any bank and most CADECA exchange counters will convert these four currencies. When departing Cuba, you can exchange most of your CUCs prior to arriving at the airport as occasionally, your currency of choice may not be available.
Visa and Mastercard issued by non-US or non US-affiliated banks are widely accepted in Cuba. In installations which accept credit cards for purchases, the rate at which your card will be processed (CUC prices are converted to US$ for processing) is 1.1124 (the current 1.08 exchange rate to US$ with an extra 3% "service charge").
ATMs are available, but do not work with most North American or European bank cards, and should not be relied upon. There are services where you can pre-load an ATM like card and use it in Cuba. See Amigo Travel Card for details.
Be aware that in the past US Dollars used to be widely accepted and used, however this was banned in November of 2004. You may find older information referring to the use of US dollars, but this information is out of date.
In major tourist areas, Euros (€) may be accepted, especially in Varadero, the Jardines del Rey Archipelago, Holguin, Santa Lucia Beach, in Camaguey, Covarrubias Beach, in Las Tunas, and Cayo Largo del Sur.
The average official salary for Cubans is about US$15 per month. Non-Cubans can only obtain a business/work visa or a work permit through a Cuban business or a foreign business registered in Cuba. Business visas are generally for up to three months. Work permits are renewable annually
The University of Havana offers both long and short-term Spanish courses. If you do choose to study at the university, try to see if you can obtain a student "carne" which will enable you to benefit from the same advantages as Cuban students (museums at a 25th of the price, entrance to nightclubs full of mostly Cubans). If you want to take private classes or study Spanish in smaller groups, Babylon Idiomas offers a wide range of intensive courses for all levels that you can start on any Monday of the year. You can study Spanish in Havana, Trinidad or Santiago de Cuba.
Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases
The country’s official language is Spanish, although most Cubans working in the tourism industry can communicate in English.
Cuban cuisine is world famous and quite good. Sadly food shortages are common in Cuba and sometimes when it gets really bad travellers might want to bring some food with them. Try not to waste any food or over order due to the shortages.
Cuban food is a mixture of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisine. The staple food in Cuba is based around meat; chicken, pork, beef and fish, usually served with rice, beans and/or potatoes (a carbohydrate rich diet). Vegetarianism is not a part of Cuban culture as vegetables are fairly scarce.
Cuba also offers a wide selection of tropical delights, with an abundance of different fruits to enjoy. Pineapples, coconuts, avocados and mangos are just a few of the tropical fruits that frequent a typical Cuban dish or dessert.
Restaurants are owned by the government and run by employees, and the food ranges from bland to spicy. Generally the spicy dishes are not as spicy as the fiery pepperpot spiciness found on some of the other Caribbean islands. The national dish in Cuba is rice and beans (moros y cristianos), and the best food will generally be found in your casa particular or in paladares (locally owned restaurants in private homes).
Paladares are plentiful, even in the smaller towns. Seating is often limited, so you may need to arrive when they open, usually around 5 or 6PM. If you are staying in a casa particular ask your host for recommendations, as the quality of the food can vary substantially between paladares. Only eat in ones that have a printed menu with prices, otherwise you are very likely to pay two to three times as much as you should. That said, several have taken to printing two different menus, one with local prices and one with foreigner prices. Eating in paladares is perfectly legal, but be aware that if you are taken there by a Cuban, you may be charged extra in order to cover commission of the person who brought you. A supper will cost around 7 to 10 CUC per person.
Eating in state owned hotels and restaurants is significantly more expensive and compares with prices in many first world countries. An average supper with soup, dessert and a glass or two of wine could easily set you back 20 to 30 CUC per person. Note that in these establishments, the vast majority of the employees' income comes from tips (their monthly salary often being less than the cost of one meal), making it a friendly and welcome gesture to tip liberally for good service.
If you want to experience something of the real life of Cubans, the best places to stay are casas particulares, which are private houses licensed to offer lodging services to foreigners. A casa particular is basically a private family establishment that provides paid lodging, usually on a short-term basis. This type of establishment would more usually be called a bed and breakfast or vacation rental in other countries. In general, under this term, you can find full apartments and houses, rooms inside people's homes, mini-apartments or rooms with separate entrance (studio or efficiency-type rooms). The business may be operated either as a primary occupation or as a secondary source of income, and the staff often consists of the house's owner(s) and members of their family who live there.
Casas particulares are cheaper than hotels (average CUC 20-25/room high season; 10-15 low season) and the food (breakfast CUC 3-4, dinner CUC 7-10) is almost always better than you would get in a hotel. Casas particulares are plentiful even in small towns; they are somewhat more expensive in Havana than elsewhere. Note that any service offered by a casa particular other than accommodation, such as driving you to the bus station, will be added to your bill, regardless of whether this is stated up front. Items such as bottled water supplied with your meal will also have a charge. Always make sure that you talk to the owner about what things will cost when you arrive to avoid unpleasant surprises later. These houses are under a lot of restrictions by the government, so make sure that you are staying at a legal "casa". A legal house will have a sticker on the front door (often a blue sign on a white background), you will notice these as you walk past houses. Upon arrival, the houseowner will need to take down your passport details and how long you will be staying for. Some Cubans do offer illegal accommodation and although they are cheaper, the quality of the food and service is generally lower. If found, the Cubans will risk a large fine and it is best to avoid illegal casas completely.
If travelling around the island, it is recommended to ask the casa owners if they have friends or family in the city you are going to. There is a network of casas and the family will gladly organise for you to be met by their friends off the bus at your next destination.
Because most casas particulares are small, rarely with room for more than about 5-6 guests, it is advisable for anyone wanting to stay at a bed and breakfast to make reservations well in advance of their travel date. Many casas particulares belong to associations, have a web presence, and are described in various books and travel guides. You can arrange your accommodation in advance, either by asking your host to recommend someone and by using a casa particular association (note, however, that the party making the introduction will almost always receive a commission, which you end up paying as it will be included in the accommodation price). Some will let you book accommodation over the internet before your trip, and will go out of their way to arrange accommodation for you while you are there. You can make a reservation by calling ahead using either the casas phone or a public one.
For the best rates just arrive in a place and knock on a door to see the room and ask for the price. If you do not like either of them go for the next door. Every city and every village has way to many casas for the few tourists that come. Due to the taxes the casa owners have to pay to the government the lowest price for a room is CUC 15 in high season; 10 in low season. Some might ask you to have at least one meal at their casa to give you a cheap room price. If traveling by bus you will be sometimes welcomed by casa owners at the bus station that will present you with pictures of the room they offer. Those will most likely accept room rates of CUC 15, even breakfast for CUC 2 and dinner for CUC 5. Agree on a price and then go with them as all casas have almost the same standard. But beware of jineteros (hustlers) trying to lead you to a casa, where they will get a commission and you will be charged the extra. Make sure you talk to the casa owner.
Cubans hosting foreigners for free is technically illegal and risk a large fine if caught. Some will bend the rules, but be cautious if you choose to take up the offer (e.g. don't walk out the front door if you see a police car nearby, especially if you look obviously foreign).
In some Cuban cities and tourist resorts, like Varadero, Playa Santa Lucia and Guardalavaca, local authorities determined that casas particulares would represent a threat to the hotel industry, and passed some legislation placing regulations and limits on the industry forbidding the operation of these establishments.
Most small cities and larger towns have at least one state-run hotel, which is often in a restored colonial building. The prices range from around CUC 25 to CUC 100, depending on what you are getting. Resorts and high-end Havana hotels can be significantly more expensive.
Cuban national cocktails include the Cuba Libre (rum and cola) and the Mojito (rum, lime, sugar, mint leaves, club soda and ice).
If you request a rum in a small country restaurant do not be surprised if it is only available by the bottle. Havana Club is the national brand and the most popular. Expect to pay $4 for three year old white rum or $8 for seven year old dark rum.
Cristal is a light beer and is available in "dollar" stores where Cubans with CUCs and visitors may shop. Cubans prefer the Bucanero Fuerte, which at 5.5% alcohol is a strong (hence the "fuerte") darker beer. Both Cristal and Bucanero are brewed by a joint venture with Labatts of Canada, whose beer is the only Cuban beer sold in CUC. A stronger version, Bucanero Max is also available - primarily available in Havana.
There are also smaller brews, not available everywhere, such as Hatuey and Corona del Mar. These are sold in CUP.
Note that - similar to restaurants - there are two types of establishments you can go to drink in Cuba: Western-style CUC bars with near-Western prices, a good selection of quality drinks (and sometimes food), nice decorations, semi-motivated staff and often live music, typically found around tourist hot-spots such as Old Havana and tourist hotels. Here you will mostly meet other tourists, expats and a few Cubans with access to hard currency, but don't expect a 'local' experience.
The alternative is to seek out local neighborhood bars where you can choose from a quality, but limited, selection of drinks (mainly locally produced rum by the bottle, beer and soft drinks, very rarely will you be able to get cocktails such as mojitos), cigars of dubious and cigarettes of only slightly better quality, and sometimes snacks. Local bars accept CUPs and are dirt-cheap, although bar keepers will often ask you for CUCs instead - it's up to you to negotiate an acceptable price, but keep in mind that local bar staff are state employees and (literally) paid a pittance. These bars are also a good way to meet locals who may even open up a bit and talk about their lives after a couple of drinks.
Local bars are not that hard to find despite typically having no prominent signs displayed outside. Just ask or walk around a local neighborhood and look out for a bare-walled, neon-lit room without any decorations or furniture, save for a bar and a few rickety chairs and tables, sullen staff and depressed/bored/drunk-looking customers, almost always men. Contrary to Cuba's reputation as a music and fun loving nation, local bars are not boisterous affairs - they are quiet, almost subdued, music is rarely played (if at all, it will come from a radio but never be live), and have the charm of third-world railway station waiting rooms.
Nonetheless, they make for a fascinating experience (especially if you make the effort to speak to some locals - offering to buy a drink will get a conversation going, no surprise there), and they provide a good insight into what life must be like for ordinary Cubans without access to hard currency. As a foreign visitor, you will be generally welcomed. Discussing politics over a drink is a tricky, and typically lose-lose proposition: speak negatively about the Cuban political system and you may put your Cuban drinking companions into a very difficult position as they may very well be informed on for hanging out with subversive foreigners.
See als Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Cuba. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Cuba. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Cuba is generally a very safe country; strict and prominent policing, combined with neighborhood-watch-style programs (known as the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, or C.D.R.) generally keep the streets safe from violent crime.
Drug laws can be harsh and their implementation unpredictable. The same may be said about the laws concerning prostitution. The importation, possession or production of pornography is strictly prohibited. It is not uncommon to see a dog jogging on the luggage carousel sniffing arriving luggage, especially when arriving from countries prone to drug-trafficking, so be sure to lock and/or wrap your luggage to avoid any problems in this regard.
Tourists are generally advised not to involve themselves in the following three areas: politics, drugs, or pornography/prostitution. There is relatively little tolerance amongst the authorities for public comments made against the Revolution, Fidel, Che, etc. It is advisable to refrain from making such comments.
Women receive a lot of attention from men, especially away from the more touristy centre of Havana. Avoiding cleavage and short skirts will lessen the attention, although by no means stop it. Do not get annoyed by the whistles or hissing sounds, as Cuban women often acknowledge and welcome the attention. Acknowledging it too enthusiastically, however, will probably encourage the men.
In many cities the only way for tourists to access the internet is through the government's communications centers. Look for buildings bearing the name "ETECSA", which stands for Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. ETECSA also has internet stations in some of the larger government hotels and resorts. The connection speed is comparable to analog dial-up speed in Havana or slower in smaller locations, at a cost of 6 CUC/hour. This is payable by purchasing a prepaid scratch card with a PIN code granting you access for one hour. The same card can be used throughout the country at any ETECSA terminal, allowing you to disconnect after your session and use the remaining time on the card further at the next hotel/city you go to.
WI-FI in hotels and restaurants is certainly uncommon if not non-existent and tourists should not rely on this being available when planning their means of communication.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Cuba is 53. To make an international call from Cuba, the code is 119. The emergency number is 116 and information number 113.
GSM cell phones will work in Cuba (900 MHz). Cuba is one of the most expensive countries in which to communicate. When bringing your own cellphone, incoming phonecalls to Cuba cost about $1/minute. Outgoing calls from Cuba are similarly expensive, and can be as high as $5 per minute for making international when roaming with your cellphone from overseas.
A better way is to rent cellphones, which is possible at several stores in Havana, including one in the airport. The rates are 9 CUC per day (6 CUC for the phone and 3 CUC for the SIM card), plus about 36 cents a minute for prepaid cards. If you bring an unlocked GSM phone operating at 900 MHz (or quad-band world phone) you can buy a SIM card for 111 CUC, plus your prepaid minutes. If you're staying two weeks or more it makes sense to bring a cheap phone, buy a SIM card and prepaid minutes, then give the phone to a Cuban friend when you leave. Cellphones are among the most desired items for Cubans (bring a case for the phone too, Cubans are very fussy about keeping their phones scratch-free). You will have to go to a cellphone store with your friend and sign a paper to give the phone to your friend.
Correos de Cuba operates the Cuban postal service. They are generally quite slow, and delivery is never guaranteed. Mail is read by Cuba’s censors; avoid politically sensitive comments. Also, never send cash! Post offices (correos) usually are open weekdays 8:00am to 6:00pm and on Saturday 8:00am to 3:00pm, but hours can vary widely. Most tourist hotels accept mail for delivery as well, which might be a better option. International airmail (correo aereo) averages from at least 2 weeks to over one month, and even domestic posts might take 1-2 weeks. When mailing from Cuba, write at least the country destination in Spanish (as well). International postcards, cost CUC 0.50 to all destinations; letters cost CUC 0.80. Within Cuba, letters cost from 15 centavos (20 grams or less) to 2.05 pesos (up to 500 grams); postcards cost 10 centavos. Stamps are available in US dollars as well (if buying at hotels, this is actually your only option) and can be bought at hotels and blue and white kiosks labelled Correos de Cuba. Parcels from Cuba must be unwrapped for inspection. It is far better to send packages through an express courier service, like DHL or the Cuban local one (called EMS), although the same regulation applies.
Ask Utrecht a question about Cuba
Travelled by car through this magnificent country of caribbean communism. Ask for information as much as you want. Visited Havana, Vinales region, Trinidad, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa.
Ask TakeOnTheWorld a question about Cuba
Cuba is one of the most amazing countries I have visited, it is such a contrast to all other countried I have been! I will try my best to answer any questions you may have. Cuba is one place you need to be extremely well prepared for to avoid any frustrations on your holidays!
Ask Jorgeguide a question about Cuba
Born, raised, educated and living in the island all my life and worked during 10 years in the tourist industry for a foreign travel agency officially registered in Cuba. Due to my previous job I used to travel..
Ask Cesar Omar a question about Cuba
giving addresses and useful phone numbers along the island
Ask CanadaKid a question about Cuba
Varadero, Havana, Tarara, Vinales Valley, Santa Maria del Mar.
Use our map of places to stay in Cuba to explore your accommodation options and to compare prices across the country at a glance. To narrow the results down by budget category, use the links below.
Except where otherwise noted, content of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License