We wanted to travel around Cuba with the kids, not even for a long time, just two weeks. We had a vision of beautiful weather, white beaches and blue waters. And sure that is all true. But as luxury travellers, Cuba would be quite the challenge we soon discovered. We wanted to drive around the island, but distances are long, roads are bad, gasoline scarce and car rentals (for larger cars, which we need with 4 kids) very expensive. Most resorts in Varadero were not the kind we as experienced travellers were looking for either. Many of the resorts are filled with people that don't even know where Cuba is located and just come there for the sun and booze. So with pain in our hearts we decided to use Cuba only as a stop over on our way to Latin America. We stayed for 4 days, mostly in Havana. It was just enough to get a taste of the peculiar and beautiful island atmosphere.
But Cuba surprised us. No, it doesn't have luxurious hotels, at least not to western standards. But they are coming (unfortunately). The island does have hotels where you can feel the history and get a taste of the Cuban spirit. It has wonderful private restaurants (paladares). And Cubans are genuinely kind and helpful people. Although we did not regret staying only for a few days, we were really glad we still got to see it now. In a better state than 25 years ago, when I visited Cuba during my time as a student, but certainly not spoiled (yet) by modern western influences.
I can't imagine people not liking Havana, Cuba. Maybe it's my Latin blood, maybe it's the music, maybe it's the mystery. It is a place I would recommend to everyone, provided you go well prepared, if you have somewhat younger kids. It's a country different from most others. You won't find the standard amusement parks, comforts of modern life and you can't do any shopping, not even in the capital. But I am sure it's a country you will love and keep in your heart forever.
- Arrange a visa to enter Cuba before going to the airport. We forgot to buy one. The airlines will not let you embark the plane if you are not in the possession of a visitors VISA.
- Bring cash! ATM machines are limited and credit cards are not widely accepted, cash is king!
- If you have to use an ATM go to the regular bank and not the tourist bank. You can use the ATM and withdraw numerous consecutive times a limited amount. We needed the equivalent of 500 USD so had to withdraw 10 times 50 dollars worth in CUC (Cuban Pesos for tourists, CUP is the local peso only to be used by locals).
- When arriving at Jose Marti international airport take an official taxi to go to your hotel. It’s totally safe and trustworthy. Don’t go for a cheap bargain if offered to you. It is illegal in Cuba not to take a state owned taxi. Always agree on the price before hopping into the car. Transfer time from the airport to the city is about 20-30 minutes.
- People in Cuba don’t have a lot of things and supermarkets have a limited range of products. So bring some pencils, coloring books, “luxury” items like shampoo and soap if you want to make the locals happy.
- As people don’t have enough money to buy their day-to-day things, you will most likely be asked by locals to buy them something in a local store. That’s ok as long as you go in and pay yourself for the items needed. I, for example, bought a woman diapers. People are extremely grateful when you buy them something they really need. So be kind and help the people of Cuba, if you can afford it.
- The popular paladares are mostly fully booked at night. Try to make dinner reservations beforehand online.
- Despite the fact that Cuba is a very safe country, I chose to leave any expensive jewelry and my watch at home. Chances of you getting robbed might be very slim. But Cuba is a very poor country and I didn’t feel comfortable flaunting too many expensive items, if only out of respect for the locals.
- Chauffeurs of classic American cars love to drive you around. However, they have to pay a commission to the hotel if you let them pick you up at the lobby of the hotel. For them (and for you as it is cheaper) it’s better to walk outside of the hotel premises and ask one of the drivers to drive you around. Always agree on the price before getting into the car, also with the regular government owned taxis.
- If you like a driver ask for his number so you can call him if you’d like to make some private daytrips. If he cannot make it, he will arrange a friend to drive you around. That’s how Cubans help you and each other.
- Simple things such as sunblock, anti mosquito spray, baby formula etc are NOT (widely) available for sale on the island, so don’t forget to bring yours from home!
- Print out or download everything you want to see and do beforehand. Internet is really disastrous in Cuba, don’t expect to be able to download or search anything online while there.
- Considering this, don’t forget to bring a good book, magazines, or a deck of cards to enjoy yourself if you’re a digital addict.
- Things as high chairs or fixed children’s menus are not widely available in Havana when going to a local restaurant, either bring something or be prepared to take your baby on your lap when visiting a restaurant at night or for lunch. You can always ask the restaurant to make the children a simple chicken breast or steak. As Cubans love children they’ll go out of their way to make something especially for them.
- Have tons of fun with your family! Cubans are genuinely kind, they’ll make you feel very welcome and at home.
When to go
Year round - but avoid Hurricane season