Bargaining

Cuba’s socialist economy doesn’t have a history of bargaining, though there may be some room for maneuver on prices at private enterprise markets.

Dangers & Annoyances

Cuba is generally safer than most countries, with violent attacks extremely rare. Petty theft (eg rifled luggage in hotel rooms or unattended shoes disappearing from the beach) is common, but preventative measures work wonders. Pickpocketing is preventable: wear your bag in front of you on crowded buses and at busy markets, and only take the money you will need when you head out at night.

Begging is more widespread and is exacerbated by tourists who hand out money, soap, pens, chewing gum and other things to people on the street. If you truly want to do something to help, pharmacies and hospitals will accept medicine donations, schools happily take pens, paper, crayons etc, and libraries will gratefully accept books. Alternatively pass stuff onto your casa particular owner or leave it at a local church. Hustlers are called jinteros/jinteras (male/female touts), and can be a real nuisance.

Discount Cards

Students who can provide proof of enrollment at a Cuban university or college for a minimum stay of six months are issued a carnet – the identification document that allows foreigners to pay for museums, transport (including colectivos – collective taxis) and theater performances in Cuban pesos (CUP), thus saving a bundle of money.

Electricity

The electrical current in Cuba is 110V with 220V in many tourist hotels and resorts.

Embassies & Consulates

All embassies are in Havana, and most are open from 8am to noon on weekdays. Australia is represented in the Canadian Embassy. New Zealand is represented in the UK Embassy. Canada has additional consulates in Varadero and Guardalavaca.

Austrian Embassy

Canadian Embassy Also represents Australia.

Danish Consulate

Dutch Embassy

French Embassy

German Embassy

Italian Embassy

Japanese Embassy

Mexican Embassy

Spanish Embassy

Swedish Embassy

Swiss Consulate

UK Embassy Also represents New Zealand.

US Embassy

US Citizens & Cuba

Technically, Americans were never banned from physically traveling to Cuba; rather they cannot make ‘travel-related transactions’ in the country. The measure was brought into force by President Kennedy in 1961 though prosecutions have been rare.

Americans have skirted the law in the past by flying via third countries such as Mexico, Canada and the Bahamas. Cuban customs officials don't stamp American passports.

Now most Americans will go to Cuba under a general license. Further progress with US–Cuba relations has opened up specific categories of travel for Americans, most general licenses are self-qualifying. These regulations are continually evolving. Find the newest regulations at https://cu.usembassy.gov.

Categories of Authorized Travel for Americans to Cuba

  • family visits
  • official business of the US government
  • foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • journalistic activity
  • professional research and professional meetings
  • educational activities
  • religious activities
  • public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • support for the Cuban people
  • humanitarian projects
  • activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
  • authorized export transactions.

Emergency & Important Numbers

To call Cuba from abroad, dial your international access code, Cuba's country code (53), the city or area code (minus the '0,' which is used when dialing domestically between provinces), and the local number.

Emergency106
Directory assistance113
Police106
Fire105

Entry & Exit Formalities

Whether it's your first or 50th time, descending low into José Martí International Airport, over rust-red tobacco fields, is an exciting and unforgettable experience. Entry procedures are relatively straightforward, and with approximately three million visitors a year, immigration officials are used to dealing with foreign arrivals.

Outside Cuba, the capital city is called Havana, and this is how travel agents, airlines and other professionals will refer to it. Within Cuba, it's almost always called La Habana. For the sake of consistency, we use the former spelling.

Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at lonelyplanet.com/bookings.

Visas

Regular tourists who plan to spend up to two months in Cuba do not need visas. Instead, you get a tarjeta de turista (tourist card) valid for 30 days, which can be extended once you're in Cuba (Canadians get 90 days plus the option of a 90-day extension).

Package tourists receive their card with their other travel documents. Those going 'air only' usually buy the tourist card from the travel agency or airline office that sells them the plane ticket, but policies vary (eg Canadian airlines give out tourist cards on their airplanes), so you'll need to check ahead with the airline office via phone or email.

In some cases you may be required to buy and/or pick up the card at your departure airport, sometimes at the flight gate itself some minutes before departure. Some independent travelers have been denied access to Cuba flights because they inadvertently haven't obtained a tourist card.

Once in Havana, tourist-card extensions or replacements cost another CUC$25. You cannot leave Cuba without presenting your tourist card. If you lose it, you can expect to face at least a day of frustrating Cuba-style bureaucracy to get it replaced.

You are not permitted entry to Cuba without an onward ticket.

Fill the tourist card out clearly and carefully, as Cuban customs are particularly fussy about crossings out and illegibility.

Business travelers and journalists need visas. Applications should be made through a consulate at least three weeks in advance (longer if you apply through a consulate in a country other than your own).

Visitors with visas or anyone who has stayed in Cuba longer than 90 days must apply for an exit permit from an immigration office. The Cuban consulate in London issues official visas (£22 plus two photos; £47 by mail). They take two weeks to process, and the name of an official contact in Cuba is necessary.

Licenses for US Visitors

The US government issues two sorts of licenses for travel to Cuba: ‘specific’ and ‘general.’ Specific licenses are considered on a case-by-case basis and require a lengthy and sometimes complicated application process; their application should start at least 45 days before your intended date of departure.

Most visitors will travel under general licenses. General licenses are self-qualifying and don’t require travelers to notify the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of their travel plans. Travelers sign an affidavit stating the purpose of travel and purchase a Cuban visa at check-in when departing the United States via flights. Visas average $50, purchased through airlines or established third parties. Note that the Trump administration has eliminated individual travel under the ‘educational purpose’ license category.

You might need supporting documentation to back up your claim when you book your flight ticket. Check with the US Department of the Treasury (www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/cuba.aspx) to see if you qualify for a license.

Extensions

For most travelers, obtaining an extension once in Cuba is easy: you just go to the inmigración (immigration office) and present your documents and CUC$25 in stamps. Obtain these stamps from a branch of Bandec or Banco Financiero Internacional beforehand. You'll only receive an additional 30 days after your original 30 days (apart from Canadians who get an additional 90 days after their original 90), but you can exit and re-enter the country for 24 hours and start over again (some travel agencies in Havana have special deals for this type of trip). Attend to extensions at least a few business days before your visa is due to expire and never attempt travel around Cuba with an expired visa.

Cuban Immigration Offices

Nearly all provincial towns have an immigration office (where you can extend your visa), though the staff rarely speak English and aren't always overly helpful. Try to avoid Havana's office if you can, as it gets ridiculously crowded.

Baracoa

Bayamo In a big complex 200m south of the Hotel Sierra Maestra.

Camagüey

Ciego de Ávila

Cienfuegos

Guantánamo Directly behind Hotel Guantánamo.

Havana

Holguín

Las Tunas

Sancti Spíritus

Santa Clara Three blocks east of Estadio Sandino.

Santiago de Cuba Stamps for visa extensions are sold at the Banco de Crédito y Comercio at Felix Peña No 614 on Parque Céspedes.

Trinidad Off Paseo Agramonte.

Varadero

US Citizens & Cuba

When President Obama decided to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, decades of regulations started to shift, though some measures still await change (like banking). To further complicate matters, the Trump administration has already signaled a partial rollback of the new policies.

In conjunction with the US embargo against Cuba, the US government ‘travel ban,’ which had prevented US citizens from visiting Cuba, relaxed under the Obama administration. Technically a treasury law prohibiting Americans from spending money in Cuba,it squelched leisure travel for more than 45 years. Currently, visitors undertaking non-tourism related activities are allowed to visit Cuba provided they meet the requirements of special categories.

A little history: The 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton on March 12, 1996, imposes without judicial review fines of up to US$50,000 on US citizens who visit Cuba without US government permission. It also allows for confiscation of their property. In addition, under the Trading with the Enemy Act, violators may face up to US$250,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison.

Under the Obama administration there was considerable progress in Cuban relations. Bilateral agreements have eased travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans, direct commercial flights are operating between the US and Cuba, there’s a postal service between the two countries, restrictions on goods brought from Cuba has relaxed, and there is greater leniency in the granting of legal licenses. However, the Trump administration has moved to limit self-directed, individual travel and direct economic activity away from the Cuban military.

Documents Required on Entry

  • Passport valid for at least one month beyond your departure date
  • Cuba 'tourist card' filled out correctly
  • Proof of travel medical insurance (random checks at airport)
  • Evidence of sufficient funds for the duration of your stay
  • Return air ticket

Customs Regulations

Cuban customs regulations are complicated. For the full up-to-date scoop see www.aduana.co.cu.

Entering Cuba

Travelers are allowed to bring in personal belongings including photography equipment, binoculars, a musical instrument, radio, personal computer, tent, fishing rod, bicycle, canoe and other sporting gear, and up to 10kg of medicines. Canned, processed and dried food are no problem, nor are pets (as long as they have veterinary certification and proof of rabies vaccination).

Items that do not fit into the categories mentioned above are subject to a 100% customs duty to a maximum of CUC$1000.

Items prohibited from entry into Cuba include narcotics, explosives, pornography, electrical appliances broadly defined, light motor vehicles, car engines and products of animal origin.

Leaving Cuba

You are allowed to export 50 boxed cigars duty-free (or 23 singles) and up to US$5000 (or the equivalent) in cash.

Exporting undocumented art and items of cultural patrimony is restricted and involves fees. Normally, when you buy art you will be given an official 'seal' at the point of sale. Check this before you buy. If you don't get one, you'll need to obtain one from the Registro Nacional de Bienes Culturales in Havana. Bring the objects here for inspection, fill in a form, pay a fee of between CUC$10 and CUC$30, which covers from one to five pieces of artwork and return 24 hours later to pick up the certificate.

Travelers should check local import laws in their home country regarding Cuban cigars. Some countries, including Australia, charge duty on imported Cuban cigars.

Etiquette

Cuba is an informal country with few rules of etiquette.

  • Greetings Shake hands with strangers; a kiss or double-cheek kiss is appropriate between people (men–women and women–women) who have already met.
  • Conversation Although they can be surprisingly candid, Cubans aren’t keen to discuss politics, especially with strangers and if it involves being openly critical of the government.
  • Dancing Cubans don’t harbor any self-consciousness about dancing. Throw your reservations out of the window and let loose.

LGBT Travellers

While Cuba isn't a queer destination (yet), it's more tolerant than many other Latin American countries. The hit movie Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate, 1994) sparked a national dialogue about homosexuality. Activist Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raúl, has led the way in much-needed LGBT reforms and changing social perceptions. Today Cuba is pretty tolerant, all things considered.

People from more accepting societies may find this tolerance too 'don't ask, don't tell' or tokenistic but Cuba remains ahead of most of Latin America in this respect.

Lesbianism is less tolerated and seldom discussed and you'll see very little open displays of gay pride between female lovers. There are occasional fiestas para chicas (not necessarily all-girl parties but close); ask around at the Cine Yara in Havana's gay cruising zone.

Cubans are physical with each other and you'll see men hugging, women holding hands and lots of friendly caressing. This type of casual, non-sensual touching shouldn't be a problem.

Internet Access

State-run telecommunications company Etecsa has a monopoly as Cuba's internet service provider. For public internet access, almost every provincial town has an Etecsa telepuntos center where you can wait in line to enter and buy a one-hour user card (CUC$1.50) with scratch-off usuario (code) and contraseña (password) to use at computers onsite or in a public wi-fi area (usually the central plaza of a town). Cards can be used for multiple internet sessions.

There are few, if any, independent internet cafes outside the telepuntos. As a general rule, most three- to five-star hotels (and all resort hotels) have wi-fi and internet terminals. They also can be a more convenient place to buy scratchcards, though some hotels charge abusive rates for them (sometimes as much as CUC$7 per hour).

Very few casas particulares offer internet, but their numbers are growing.

Warning: connections are often slow and temperamental, particularly at peak times (late afternoon and early evening).

Maps

Signage is awful in Cuba, so a good map is essential for drivers and cyclists alike. The comprehensive Guía de Carreteras, published in Italy, includes the best maps available in Cuba. If it doesn't come free when you rent a car, you can usually buy it. It has a complete index, a detailed Havana map and useful information in English, Spanish, Italian and French. Handier is the all-purpose Automapa Nacional, available at hotel shops and car-rental offices.

The best map published outside Cuba is the Freytag & Berndt 1:1.25 million Cuba map. The island map is good, and it has indexed town plans of Havana, Playas del Este, Varadero, Cienfuegos, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba.

For good basic maps, pick up one of the provincial Guías available in Infotur offices.

Media

Newspapers Three state-controlled, national newspapers: Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores.

TV Five national television channels with some imported foreign shows on the newer Multivisión channel.

Money

Cuba has two currencies though the government is in the process of unifying them. At the time of writing, convertibles (CUC$) and pesos (moneda nacional; MN$) were both still in circulation. One convertible is worth 25 pesos. Non-Cubans deal almost exclusively in convertibles.

Dual Currency

This is a tricky part of any Cuban trip, as the double economy takes some getting used to. As of early 2017, two currencies were still circulating in Cuba: convertible pesos (CUC$) and Cuban pesos (referred to as moneda nacional, abbreviated MN$).

Most things tourists pay for are in convertibles (eg accommodation, rental cars, bus tickets, museum admission and internet access). At the time of writing, Cuban pesos were selling at 25 to one convertible, and while there are many things you can't buy with moneda nacional, using them on certain occasions means you'll see a bigger slice of authentic Cuba. The prices we list are in convertibles unless otherwise stated.

Making everything a little more confusing, euros are also accepted at the Varadero, Guardalavaca, Cayo Largo del Sur, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo resorts, but once you leave the resort grounds you'll still need convertibles.

The best currencies to bring to Cuba are euros, Canadian dollars or pounds sterling. The worst is US dollars, for which you will be penalized with a 10% fee (on top of the normal commission) when you buy convertibles (CUC$). Since 2011, the Cuban convertible has been pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, meaning its rate will fluctuate depending on the strength/weakness of the US dollar. Australian dollars are not accepted anywhere in Cuba.

Cadeca branches in every city and town sell Cuban pesos (MN$). You won't need more than CUC$10 worth of pesos a week. There is almost always a branch at the local agropecuario (vegetable market). If you get caught without Cuban pesos and are drooling for that ice-cream cone, you can always use convertibles; in street transactions such as these, CUC$1 is equal to 25 pesos and you'll receive change in pesos. There is no black market money changing in Cuba, only hustlers trying to fleece you with money-changing scams.

ATMs & Credit Cards

Cuba is primarily a cash economy. Credit cards are accepted in resort hotels and some city hotels. There are a growing number of ATMs.

US residents must note: as of early 2017, debit and credit cards from the USA could still not be used.

The acceptance of credit cards has become more widespread in Cuba in recent years and was aided by the legalization of US and US-linked credit and debit cards in early 2015. However, change is still a work in process.

While services can still be booked with credit cards from the USA on the internet, in the country it's another story. Residents of the US can wire money via Western Union, though this requires help from a third party and hefty fees.

When weighing up whether to use a credit card or cash, bear in mind that the charges levied by Cuban banks are similar for both (around 3%). However, your home bank may charge additional fees for ATM/credit card transactions. An increasing number of debit cards work in Cuba, but it's best to check with both your home bank and the local Cuban bank before using them.

Ideally, it is best to arrive in Cuba with a stash of cash and a credit and debit card as back-up.

Almost all private business in Cuba (ie at casas particulares and paladares) is still conducted in cash.

Cash advances can be drawn from credit cards, but the commission is the same. Check with your home bank before you leave, as many banks won't authorize large withdrawals in foreign countries unless you notify them of your travel plans first.

ATMs are becoming more common. This being Cuba, it is wise to only use ATMs when the bank is open, in case any problems occur.

Cash

Credit cards don't have the importance or ubiquity that they do elsewhere in the western hemisphere. Although carrying just cash is far riskier than the usual cash/credit card/debit card mix, it's infinitely more convenient. As long as you use a concealed money belt and keep the cash on you or in your hotel's safety deposit box at all times, you should be OK.

It's better to ask for CUC$20/10/5/3/1 bills when you're changing money, as many smaller Cuban businesses (taxis, restaurants etc) can't change anything bigger (ie CUC$50 or CUC$100 bills) and the words no hay cambio (no change) echo everywhere. If desperate, you can always break big bills at hotels.

Denominations & Lingo

One of the most confusing parts of a double economy is terminology. Cuban pesos are called moneda nacional (abbreviated MN) or pesos Cubanos or simply pesos, while convertible pesos are called pesos convertibles (abbreviated CUC), or simply pesos (again!). More recently people have been referring to them as cucs. Sometimes you'll be negotiating in pesos Cubanos and your counterpart will be negotiating in pesos convertibles. It doesn't help that the notes look similar as well. Worse, the symbol for both convertibles and Cuban pesos is $. You can imagine the potential scams just working these combinations.

The Cuban peso comes in notes of one, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos; and coins of one (rare), five and 20 centavos, and one and three pesos. The five-centavo coin is called a medio, the 20-centavo coin a peseta. Centavos are also called kilos.

The convertible peso comes in multicolored notes of one, three, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos; and coins of five, 10, 25 and 50 centavos, and one peso.

Exchange Rates

ArgentinaARS$1CUC$0.12
AustraliaA$1CUC$0.80
CanadaC$1CUC$0.80
Europe€1CUC$1.12
Japan¥100CUC$0.85
MexicoMXN$1CUC$0.07
New ZealandNZ$1CUC$0.75
UK£1CUC$1.50
USUS$1CUC$1.00

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Tipping

Tipping in Cuba is important. Since most Cubans earn their money in moneda nacional (MN$), leaving a small tip of CUC$1 (MN$25) or more can make a huge difference.

  • Resorts/hotels Tip for good service with bellboys, room maids and bar/restaurant staff.
  • Musicians Carry small notes for the ubiquitous musicians in restaurants. Tip when the basket comes round.
  • Tour guides Depending on tour length, tip from a dollar for a few hours to more for extensive guiding.
  • Restaurants Standard 10%, or up to 15% if service is excellent and/or you’re feeling generous.
  • Taxis Tip 10% if you are on the meter, otherwise agree full fare beforehand.

Traveler's Checks

While they add security and it makes sense to carry a few for that purpose, traveler's checks are a hassle in Cuba. Bear in mind that you'll pay commission at both the buying and selling ends (3% to 6%), and that some hotels and banks won't accept them, especially in the provinces. The Banco Financiero Internacional is your best bet for changing Amex checks, though a much safer all-round option is to bring Thomas Cook.

Currency Unification

In October 2013, Raúl Castro announced that Cuba would gradually unify its dual currencies (convertibles and moneda nacional). As a result, prices are liable to change. At the time of writing, the unification process had yet to begin and no further details had emerged as to when or how the government will go about implementing the complex changes. Check www.lonelyplanet.com for updates.

Opening Hours

  • Banks 9am to 3pm Monday to Friday
  • Cadeca money exchanges 9am to 7pm Monday to Saturday, 9am to noon Sunday. Many top-end city hotels offer money exchange late into the evening.
  • Pharmacies 8am to 8pm
  • Post offices 8am to 5pm Monday to Saturday
  • Restaurants 10:30am to 11pm
  • Shops 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, 9am to noon Sunday

Post

Letters and postcards sent to Europe and the US take about a month to arrive. While sellos (stamps) are sold in Cuban pesos and convertibles, correspondence bearing the latter has a better chance of arriving. Postcards cost CUC$0.65 to all countries. Letters cost CUC$0.65 to the Americas, CUC$0.75 to Europe and CUC$0.85 to all other countries. Prepaid postcards, including international postage, are available at most hotel shops and post offices and are the surest bet for successful delivery. For important mail, you're better off using DHL, which is located in all the major cities; it costs CUC$55 for a 900g letter pack to Australia, or CUC$50 to Europe.

Public Holidays

Officially Cuba has nine public holidays. Other important national days to look out for include January 28 (anniversary of the birth of José Martí); April 19 (Bay of Pigs victory); October 8 (anniversary of the death of Che Guevara); October 28 (anniversary of the death of Camilo Cienfuegos); and December 7 (anniversary of the death of Antonio Maceo).

January 1 Triunfo de la Revolución (Liberation Day)

January 2 Día de la Victoria (Victory of the Armed Forces)

May 1 Día de los Trabajadores (International Worker's Day)

July 25–27 Día de la Rebeldía Nacional (Commemoration of Moncada Attack)

October 10 Día de la Indepedencia (Independence Day)

December 25 Navidad (Christmas Day)

December 31 New Year's Eve

Smoking

Smoking Technically banned in enclosed spaces but only sporadically enforced.

Telephone

Cell phone usage has become relatively widespread in Cuba in the last few years. Normally a recorded message will inform you of phone number changes. Etecsa telepuntos have air-conditioned phone and internet terminals in almost every provincial town.

Mobile Phones

Check with your service provider to see if your phone will work (GSM or TDMA networks only). International calls are expensive. You can pre-buy services from the state-run phone company, Cubacel.

You can use your own GSM or TDMA phones in Cuba, though you'll have to get a local chip and pay an activation fee (approximately CUC$30) at Etecsa telepunto. Bring your passport. There are numerous offices around the country (including at the Havana airport) where you can do this.

Costs run between CUC$0.35 per minute for calls within Cuba, CUC$0.10 for texts. You pay the same amount if a fixed line calls you. International calls start at CUC$1.10 per minute. To rent a phone in Cuba costs from CUC$8 plus a CUC$3 daily activation fee. You'll also need to pay a CUC$100 deposit. Charges after this amount to around CUC$0.35 per minute. For up-to-date costs and information see www.etecsa.cu.

Phone Codes

  • To call Cuba from abroad, dial your international access code, Cuba’s country code (53), the city or area code (minus the ‘0,’ which is used when dialing domestically between provinces), and the local number.
  • To call internationally from Cuba, dial Cuba’s international access code (119), the country code, the area code and the number. To the US, you just dial 119, then 1, the area code and the number.
  • To call cell phone to cell phone just dial the eight-digit number (which always starts with a ‘5’).
  • To call cell phone to landline (or landline to landline) dial the provincial code plus the local number.
  • To call landline to cell phone dial ‘01’ (or ‘0’ if in Havana) followed by the eight-digit cell phone number.
  • To call landline to landline dial ‘0’ plus the provincial code plus the local number.

Phonecards

Etecsa is where you buy phonecards, use the internet and make international calls. Blue public Etecsa phones accepting magnetized or computer-chip cards are everywhere. The cards are sold in convertibles (CUC$5, CUC$10 and CUC$20), and in moneda nacional (five and 10 pesos). You can call nationally with either, but you can call internationally only with convertible cards.

You will also see coin-operated phone booths good for Cuban pesos (moneda nacional) only.

Phone Rates

Local calls cost from five centavos to 75 centavos per minute depending on the time of day and distance. Since most coin phones don't return change, common courtesy means that you should push the 'R' button so that the next person in line can make their call with your remaining money.

International calls made with a card cost CUC$1 per minute regardless of destination.

Hotels with three stars and up usually offer slightly pricier international phone rates.

Tourist Information

Cuba's official tourist information bureau is called Infotur (www.infotur.cu). It has offices in all the main provincial towns and desks in most of the bigger hotels and airports. Travel agencies, such as Cubanacán, Cubatur, Gaviota and Ecotur can usually supply some general information.

Accessible Travel

Cuba's inclusive culture extends to disabled travelers, and while facilities may be lacking, the generous nature of Cubans generally compensates when it can. Sight-impaired travelers will be helped across streets and given priority in lines. The same holds true for travelers in wheelchairs, who will find the few ramps ridiculously steep and will have trouble in colonial parts of town where sidewalks are narrow and streets are cobblestone. Elevators are often out of order. Etecsa phone centers have telephone equipment for the hearing-impaired, and TV programs are broadcast with closed captioning.

Travel With Children

Cubans love kids and kids invariably love Cuba. Welcome to a culture where children still play freely in the street and waitstaff unconsciously ruffle your toddler's hair as they glide past your table on their way back to the kitchen. There's something wonderfully old-fashioned about kids' entertainment here, which is less about sophisticated computer games and more about messing around in the plaza with an improvised baseball bat and a rolled up ball of plastic.

Best Regions for Children

  • Havana

The streets of Habana Vieja can't have changed much since the days of the Pirates of the Caribbean, so your kids' imaginations will be allowed to run wild in forts, squares, museums and narrow streets. Havana also has Cuba's largest amusement park (Isla del Coco), and its best aquarium (Acuario Nacional).

  • Varadero

Cuba's biggest resort has the largest – if most predictable – stash of specifically tailored kids' activities, including nighttime shows, organized sports, beach games and boat trips.

  • Trinidad

The south coast's southern gem is awash with economic casas particulares, an ideal opportunity for your kids to mix and mingle with Cuban families. Throw in an excellent beach (Playa Ancón), easily accessible snorkeling waters and a profusion of pleasant pastoral activities (horseback riding is popular) and you've got the perfect nonresort family option.

Cuba for Kids

There are certain dichotomies regarding child facilities in Cuba. On the one hand Cuban society is innately family-friendly, child-loving and tactile; on the other, economic challenges have meant that common 'Western' provisions such as pushchair ramps, changing tables and basic safety measures are often thin on the ground. The one place where you'll find generic international standards of service is in the modern resorts, most of which have dedicated and professionally run 'kids clubs.'

Children's Highlights

Forts & Castles

Playgrounds

  • Parque Maestranza Bouncy castles, fairground rides and sweet snacks overlooking Havana Harbor.
  • Isla del Coco Huge, newish, Chinese-funded amusement park in Havana's Playa neighborhood.
  • Parque Lenin More 'rustic' playground rides, boats, a minitrain and horses for rent in Havana.

Animal Encounters

  • Acuario Nacional Various reproductions of Cuba's coastal ecosystems including a marine cave and a mangrove forest at the nation's main aquarium in Havana's Miramar district.
  • Criadero de Cocodrilos Of the half-dozen croc farms spread across the country, the best is in Guamá, Matanzas Province.
  • Horseback riding Possible all over Cuba and usually run out of rustic fincas (farms) in rural areas such as Pinar del Río and Trinidad.

Festivals

  • Las Parrandas Fireworks, smoke and huge animated floats: Remedios' Christmas Eve party is a blast for kids and adults.
  • Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba A colorful celebration of Caribbean culture with floats and dancing that takes place every July.
  • Carnaval de la Habana More music, dancing and effigies, this time along Havana's Malecón in August.

Planning

Travelers with kids are not unusual in Cuba and the trend has proliferated in recent years with more Cuban-Americans visiting their families with offspring in tow; these will be your best sources for on-the-ground information. Be forewarned that physical contact and human warmth are so typically Cuban: strangers will effusively welcome your kids, give them kisses or take their hands with regularity. Chill, it's all part of the Cuban way.

Local children run around freely in Cuba and, with strong local community organizations, the safety of your child shouldn't be a problem as long as you take normal precautions. Be careful with the unforgiving motorized traffic, watch for unprotected roadworks and be aware of the general lack of modern safety equipment.

Your kids shouldn't need any specific pre-trip inoculations for Cuba, though you should check with your doctor about individual requirements before departing. Medicines are in short supply in Cuba, so take all you think you might need. Useful supplies include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antinausea medicines and cough drops. Insect repellent is also helpful in lowland areas. Diapers and baby formula can be hard to find; bring your own. A copy of your child's birth certificate containing the names of both parents could also prove useful, especially if you have different surnames.

Car seats are not mandatory in Cuba, and taxi and rental-car firms don't carry them. Bring your own if you're planning on renting a car. High chairs in restaurants are also almost nonexistent, though waiters will try to improvise. The same goes for travel cribs. Cuba's pavements weren't designed with strollers in mind. If your child is small enough, carry him/her in a body harness.

Casas particulares are nearly always happy to accommodate families and are exceptionally child-friendly. Resort hotels are family-friendly too.

Eating with Kids

With a dearth of exotic spices and an emphasis on good, plain food, kids in Cuba are often surprisingly well accommodated. The family-oriented nature of life on the island certainly helps. Few eating establishments turn away children, and waiters and waitresses in most cafes and restaurants will, more often than not, dote on your boisterous young offspring and go out of their way to try to accommodate tastes. Rice and beans are good staples, and chicken and fish are relatively reliable sources of protein. The main absent food group – though your kid probably won't think so – is a regular supply of fresh vegetables.

Volunteering

There are a number of bodies offering volunteer work in Cuba, though it is always best to organize things in your home country first. Just turning up in Havana and volunteering can be difficult, if not impossible. Those with a people-to-people license work with US visitors.

Canada-Cuba Farmer to Farmer Project (www.farmertofarmer.ca) Vancouver-based sustainable agriculture organization.

Cuban Solidarity Campaign (www.cuba-solidarity.org) Head office in London, UK.

Global Volunteers (https://globalvolunteers.org/cuba) With programs in Havana, Ciego de Avila and Sancti Spríritus.

Go Overseas (www.gooverseas.com) A catalog of 22 programs in Cuba organized by length of stay, area and program rating, many officially licensed by the US.

Pastors for Peace (www.ifconews.org) Collects donations across the US to take to Cuba.

Witness for Peace (www.witnessforpeace.org) People-to-people licensed. Brings delegations to Cuba, some studying the impact of US policy.

Women Travellers

In terms of physical safety, Cuba is a dream destination for women travelers. Most streets can be walked alone at night, violent crime is rare and the chivalrous part of machismo means you'll never step into oncoming traffic.

But machismo cuts both ways, protecting on one side and pursuing – relentlessly – on the other. It can be tiresome to go out alone at night and steel yourself against the onslaught of pretendientes (men courting), unless you're really keen on them or improving your Spanish. There's also relatively few solo travelers in Cuba and no youth hostels which means fewer travelers to keep company with.

Cuban women are used to piropos (the whistles, kissing sounds and compliments constantly ringing in their ears), and might even reply with their own if they're feeling frisky. For foreign women, however, it can feel like an invasion.

Ignoring piropos is the first step. But sometimes ignoring isn't enough. Learn some rejoinders in Spanish so you can shut men up. No me moleste (don't bother me), está bueno ya (all right already) or que falta respeto (how disrespectful) are good ones, as is the withering 'don't you dare' stare that is also part of the Cuban woman's arsenal. Wearing plain, modest clothes might help lessen unwanted attention; topless sunbathing is out. An absent husband, invented or not, seldom has any effect. If you go to a disco, be very clear with Cuban dance partners what you are and are not interested in.

Women must bring their own tampons (non-existent in Cuba) or pads (called íntimos, literally 'intimates').

Weights & Measures

Weights & Measures Metric system except in some fruit and vegetable markets where imperial is used.