Travel report Cuba with 2 year old and 9 month old baby
Replies: 23 - Last Post: Feb 22, 2013 7:08 AM Last Post By: bbaack
Feb 19, 2013 1:54 AM
Travel report Cuba with 2 year old and 9 month old babyI would like to share our experience of our recent vacation in Cuba with you, maybe it is something you would like to publish, if you feel it may help other parents thinking about travelling to Cuba with young children.
We (my wife, my two daughters aged 2 3/4 and 8 months and I) were in Cuba for 4 weeks, we flew to Holguin from Germany, travelled through Central and West Cuba for 3 weeks before spending 1 week in the Sol Palmeras hotel in Varadero. I will describe our experiences mainly of travelling independently and what we learnt from it.
Preparation/ planning: I learnt a bunch of Spanish words and a few phrases before we left, but essentially we didnt speak much Spanish, but we managed to get around without great problems. We decided to travel by bus and taxi, so no hiring of cars, no organised tours or similar.
What did we take with us? The basics to cover a few days (baby food, nappies, wet wipes, things to chew on, pacifiers, clothes etc. The standard whenever you go anywhere I would think. Additionally we took: Night nappies (see below), a very small travel bed for the baby, a small easily foldable buggy, some little books, some colouring pencils and a colouring book for the big one as well as a tablet pc with some kids entertainment for long journeys. Also sunscreen (very important to take enough with you as this is very difficult to get for little kids).
What didnt we take? Child seats (absolutely no point unless you are hiring your own car for all travelling as Cuban taxis and most cars have no seatbelts at the back), plastic toys etc.
First off, we were a little paranoid after reading about the lack of baby material in general and especially nappies. In fact, nappies in Cuba are not difficult to get hold of (except in Havana Vieja, the best place to go for child things in Havana seems to be the shopping centre at the base of Havana Libre hotel), but they vary significantly in quality and price, whereby among the cheapest also being the best (Brand name: Tenders). We found that we needed to buy a size larger than stated on the packaging to ensure that they would last a while. Even so they are not as good as European nappies, so if you want to avoid having to change nappies at nights its probably best to bring those nappies with you.
Baby milk was no problem to get hold of, baby food a little trickier but there are diverse grain based meals (to mix with water / milk - we used baby milk) as well as glasses of pureed fruits - other meals are difficult to get hold of.
You can get hold of wet wipes, but they are all perfumed, so you may want to take some unperfumed ones with you if thats what you feel is better for wiping faces and hands.
We stayed in Casa Particulares, always asking our hosts to recommend a suitable casa in the next town - at which point they would always call people and pre-book for us - and we were never disappointed. We would always ask them to ensure that the next place would be "tranquillo" - quiet - and grande so that the kids would have some room. It worked out perfectly, we always paid 25-30 CUC / Dollar per night.
Food - we ate in our Casas quite often, where we got nice, simple traditional Cuban food (lots of rice and beans, but also meat, egg, salad - usually too much for the three of us (incl. big daughter) even though we would only order for the parents. As our baby was eating purees reasonably well, we would ask if they could puree some rice and beans or whatever they had made and that was no problem. It wasnt salty most of the time, so that was a good meal covered too.
Health - we had loads of things with us (always recommended in Cuba), but had absolutely no problems (the sun was one of my greatest worries, but with sunscreen and care it isnt difficult to avoid sunburns). The food was fine and we only drank bottled water. We took a thermos flask and asked our Casa owners to boil the bottled water, which we then used for the baby milk etc. Washing, teeth cleaning was all done with tap water without any problems.
Travelling - we took the Viazul bus initially, but when the bus was full we discovered that with help and negiotation skills (often it was best asking the hosts of the casas, they would get really good prices and reliable people) you could get taxis for not much more than double the bus ticket price, taking you from casa to casa (really, really handy and much less stress than going to and from the bus stations). Also, this meant that we could both look after the kids instead of one parent driving and the other trying to keep to little ones happy (what with no seatbelts, no child seats to stop them from doing stupid things).
In all we travelled from Holguin to Camaguey, then to Trinidad (dont miss Playa Ancon, fantastic for a day trip or two with the kids), Cienfuegos, Havana Central (Vieja was nicer), Vinales, Las Terrazas (the eco-hotel there is not great and v. expensive with kids, so thats one stop I wouldnt recommend), back to Havana (this time Vieja) and then to Varadero.
Other tips for the kids - ask for "Parque de Distractiones" (I think) - most big towns have a fairground / amusement park and if you dont go on a Sunday it will be very quiet and the kids will have most rides to themselves (and you'll be hard pushed to spend more than 2 dollars on rides - they are all very old and simple but our (big) daughter loved them). Do check in advance if they are open, in Cinefuegos it was closed on Mondays, in Havana the biggest one was closed from Monday to Thursday! Also, we were not impressed by the Aquarium in Havana, very expensive but hardly anything to see.
The all-inclusive hotel at the end (Sol Palmeras) was nice, but not ideally suited for very small children (they didnt have enough baby seats, entertainment as of 5 year olds, no significant playground) but was fine, great beach, ok baby pool, food was good and the huge choice meant all always found something to their tastes. But being in Varadero is not experiencing Cuba, while travelling independently does let you get at least a vague idea of what life is like there - especially with kids! (You go to places away from the normal tourist route, people are even more friendly and helpful).
If this report and information helps others choose to go to Cuba and have a great time there, then it wont have been a waste of time writing it. The holiday was fantastic and all one needs is the courage to go.
Feb 19, 2013 4:23 AM
Feb 19, 2013 4:53 AM
2Sometimes a wonder for what variety of purposes people travel. In this case it still remains a mystery beyond the parents desire to prove that they manage challenges in their ethnocentric way of solving it.
There are 125000 children born in Cuba every year, one of them was mine.
Cubans don't normally travel long distances with their children, they carry them around, protect them from the sun and bacterias, clean them with the water they have and breast feed them, benefit from extra allowances and stay home to wash the nappies. Their exotic exursions take place in the afternoon and during the evening when they can sit outside, chat and laugh with their neighbours.
Feb 19, 2013 5:29 AM
3#1... although we don't have kids, we spoil our niece in Cuba, rotten , when we are there.....so we go to the amusement parks etc....
Thanks for the report.
Feb 19, 2013 6:31 AM
4Thanks for taking the time to post a trip report with children. Nice reading. I would add if any families with small children are going to Cuba they can buy everything that you bought at the hotel stores at the shopping center Plaza Carlos III on Ave Salvador Allende/Carlos III in Centro. They have everything you need for small children and more. We always stop for a coffee in the café beside Western Union on the main floor and appreciate the A/C during the summer and order a BBQ chicken to take home. Cuba is a once in a life time experience and I am glad it was a learning experience compared to your country for your family. We can all learn from Cuba
Feb 19, 2013 11:10 AM
5To enram - sure, we went on a long holiday with two little kids to prove we can manage challenges in our ethoncentric way of solving it. I really am not sure how you could consider somebody idiotic enough to do something like that but I'll make the effort clarify.
I wrote a long write up of mainly what I thought were the things that I would have liked to have known before leaving for Cuba, in case others were thinking of doing the same thing. I didnt go into further details because the post is long enough as it is, but tried to put in everything that would have helped me not worry during our preparations and on the flight.
Incidentally, we all had a fantastic time (my 2 year old keeps asking when are we going back to Cuba).
Why did we go? Its freezing in Germany and we wanted to go somewhere culturally interesting (without having to go to lots of museums, which the kids won't enjoy), warm but without malaria and with a halfway decent health system (which I based on very low infant mortality rates) - although having seen the local hospitals from the outside I think a child getting seriously ill might have been a more worrying experience for us than I had thought in advance. Also, we didnt want to just stay at a beach resort for 4 weeks. Cuba seemed very appealing and not too expensive and that's exactly the experience we had.
While the style of the trip might seem strange to you, the advantage of not having everything planned in advance is simple - if the kids hadn't enjoyed the travel and the new experiences, we would have just gone to the beach and had a good old beach holiday. As I said, the kids really enjoyed it - ok, the baby cant talk so maybe she didnt, but she did seem very happy almost all of the time, despite teething - and she started crawling and standing in next to no time there as she could crawl around almost naked, thus had much better grip than with all the warm clothes she has to wear at this time in Germany.
To Rickie_01 - we actually went to the Plaza Carlos III, but they didnt have decent nappies there - but there was everything else we needed there, so indeed a good tip.
Feb 19, 2013 2:05 PM
Feb 19, 2013 3:32 PM
7Bback. I also got the impression from first reading your post that you all enjoyed it, and all went well. I had two points, one was a general travel advice against the risk involved, and the second was rather psychological, why some parents wish to do that.
The tourist main road travel route through Cuba caters to a very small extent for foreign couples with small children, who besides looking after their children in an unfamiliar environment also need to cope in a language they are also unfamiliar with. Cubans are extremely kind to children, which I am sure you experienced. But if you had had a travel accident, or one of your children had gotten diarrhea and would have needed hospitalization, you as parents might have had to stay separately, and you would really have been put to the test to manage. Private casas are, even if the owners are angels and willing, not prepared to help out. Hotels are the governments dealing and more capable to help.
Now my second point is why some parents have the need to keep exploring to the extent of risky behavior even with small children. I think that children go along with their parents and have no sense of the risk they are put to. Their lack of objection is no justification. Germany will always be freezing and boring in winter, maybe all the year. Being German is not a justification, either. Some parents settle down with their children, while others never lose the need of their youth to go far and explore, and take risks.
Few Cuban mothers, I think, even as familiar they are with their own country and as bored they are with their lives, would taken your travel path. With small children they usually stay within a few hundred yards of their own house, keep their children with them 24/7, sleep with them, carry them, breast feed them till they can walk, don’t look for prefabricated food or paper napkins, have hugh security nets with always grandmothers, aunts or neighbors at hand, and at all times know what to expect from the nearest policlinico and pharmacy, know whether the doctor lives, plus know a wide range of locals herbs for remedies for childrens’ ailments.
Cubans tell me that Cuba es fuerte.
Feb 19, 2013 3:57 PM
8' ........With small children they usually stay within a few hundred yards of their own house, keep their children with them 24/7, sleep with them, carry them, breast feed them till they can walk, don’t look for prefabricated food or paper napkins, have hugh security nets with always grandmothers, aunts or neighbors at hand, and at all times know what to expect from the nearest policlinico and pharmacy, know whether the doctor lives, plus know a wide range of locals herbs for remedies for childrens’ ailments..........'
Ah, so that's why we eurocentric women are so taken aback when our (supposedly adult) spouse can say, in all seriousness 'my mother would never cook vegetables like that!' Said in a pejorative fashion, btw. There is a phrase that springs to mind, a eurocentric phrase, something like....making a virtue out of necessity.
Good on you, bbaack, for taking the opportunity to travel to Cuba, for enjoying yourselves, and for writing such an informative post, very helpful for others
Feb 19, 2013 4:50 PM
9It's a rather futile exercise to even attempt to compare families in a rich country like Germany and families in a poorer country like Cuba. We all manage with what we have and do what we feel we can do, and must respect each others' differences.
There is no reason, if the parents are prepared to make allowances and a lot of preparation, for people to stop travelling once they have children. Now I might question it if they had hauled their kids off to Afghanistan or Mali. But there is certainly no reason to not visit a country like Cuba, where health care is generally very good should a disaster occur.
Keep on truckin' bbaack with kids in tow. The only way to really learn about the world is to see it, and it's never to early (or too late actually) to start.
Feb 19, 2013 10:33 PM
Feb 20, 2013 3:15 AM
Feb 20, 2013 3:39 AM
12Sayeh, I remember your relaxed mood and comments about Sandy even up to the moment she arrived at Santiago, and maybe even aftrer, while your comments were far less relaxed even high strung about the travel arrangements for your friend. You landed comfortably on your feet in Australia, and good for you, but the people in Santiago really got a lot of problems to solve.
I have the idea that Australians character has a very relaxed attitude to life, as long as they live. Is that Eurocentric or prejudiced? I myself have no Cuban mother.
By the way, how is fishing?
Feb 20, 2013 7:07 AM
Feb 20, 2013 7:03 PM
14Ditto great report bbaack although personally too lazy to confront the challenges of such a trip.
Btw have used the general rule of thumb for many years now that 3ish Viazul fares is equivalent to a good taxi charge for the same journey. Mind you we have found that the same 'rule' applies in many other places too and as recently as yesterday here in Bali. So you can keep that in mind when you visit here where there are many German tourists!
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