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
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).
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.
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.'
Forts & Castles
- Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña Havana's huge fort has museums, battlements and a nightly cannon ceremony with soldiers in period costume.
- Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Santiago's Unesco-listed fort is best known for its exciting pirate museum.
- Castillo de la Real Fuerza This centrally located Havana fort has a moat, lookouts and scale models of Spanish galleons.
- 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.
- 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.
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.