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We've just returned from Cuba with our kids and I decide to prepare a little list of things that will help you make the most of your Cuban holiday!
Firstly a bit of information about Cuba! Cuba is a Caribbean island. It has sugar white beaches and the countryside is dotted with tobacco fields and farms, making the country famous for its legendary cigars. The capital, Havana, is lined with pastel houses, 1950s classic cars and Spanish-colonial architecture. Old Town Havana is especially delightful with its colourful buildings and small streets. Salsa music plays in the dance clubs and cabaret shows are performed at the famed Tropicana. The country is locked in a time warp and reeling from an economic embargo that lasted for more than half a century. Cuba is like another world, there is no wifi here, no phone reception and our Australian credit and bank cards don't work anywhere. Expect the unexpected and embrace this magical country.
Language - Spanish is widely spoken in Cuba and English is definitely not! Do yourself a favour and learn some Spanish basics before you go! A couple of fantastic free apps are Duolingo and Drops. If you can communicate simple things like "where is the bus" "where do I catch a taxi" "where can I eat" "where is the toilet please" these phrases will help you a lot.
Accommodation - there is a limited supply of hotels in Havana Cuba and they are very expensive. You might want to prebook one or two nights in a hotel for your arrival in Cuba so you have somewhere to head from the airport. The most common form of accommodation in Cuba is a homestay they are easily recognisable by a blue and white symbol above the front door. The symbol looks like an blue arrow with a blue line across the bottom on a white background. You stay in these homes with local Cuban families in a spare bedroom and share their kitchen, lounge etc. These home stays are a fantastic way to live like a local and learn about life in Cuba. Rates are approx $30 CUC a night to stay in Havana for two people, cheaper in the countryside. Most rooms are small but many home stays have two rooms available in a house so you can book both rooms one for you one for the kids or 1 adult 1 /2 children in each room.
Money - Do not expect your money cards to work, your ATM card and your visa credit cards are useless in Cuba. Due to the embargo with USA nothing American is accepted and you'll soon discover that all our Australian cards are linked back to American companies, so they aren't accepted either. So be sure to fly or cruise into the country carrying plenty of cash. You can exchange AUD, USD or Euro on arrival at the airport in Havana for CUC which is the Cuban currency for tourists (its unusual but they have one currency for visitors but locals use a different currency called CUP, which can get rather confusing when looking at the prices in shops as you are never sure which currency it is in) The CUC is virtually dollar for dollar with the USD. If you do run out of money the only assistance for Australians is at the Canadian consulate who represent Australia in Cuba. You'll wait many hours and eventually they will charge your own credit card back in Canada and give you the cash and charge you a very hefty fee for their trouble. So make sure you have enough money for your trip to Cuba take a minimum of 150 USD per day plus your accommodation costs to be safe.
Invitations from Locals - This only happened to us in Havana and no where else in Cuba. Cubans may strike up a conversation with you on the street and invite you back to their house. It is lovely to mix with the locals and its a great experience to see how they live and learn about their culture. In some cases they will ask you to buy them something as you leave maybe some milk or bread. Cuba is not a wealthy country and many people are on small wages from the government and are supplied rations for food. You can decide if you are happy to help and they don't get upset or angry if you decline.
Free walking tours - my number one tip for learning about Havana. There are several free walking tours to choose from. Like the history of Old Town Havana or the embargo with the USA. Free walking tours last around 3 hours you only pay what you want in tips at the end of the tour to your guide. These are super informative, you'll learn so much and get your bearings so you can continue to explore on your own. You can do a tour of the Grand Theatre it's right in the centre of Havana, it is stunning and the tours cost around $10. They depart everyday at various times.
Sunset - For sunset in Havana many locals head to the sea wall that runs along the beachfront. You'll find locals fishing, chatting, playing music, drinking rum or just catching up after a day of living in Havana.
Havana short trips - Take a ferry over to the massive Christ sculpture, it is the second biggest Christ statue in the world. You can walk through to the Fort then take a bus back. If you want to head to one of the local Havana beaches you can take the bus for around $5
Transport - there are many modes of transport in Cuba, from bus, pedal bikes, vehicle taxis, motorbike taxi, horse and cart, through to classic cars. Classic cars are quite expensive but its a must do experience in Cuba. You can negotiate your fare and the classic cars will take you anywhere in Cuba.
Beaches - Cuba has some spectacular white sandy Caribbean beaches you will need to venture many hours from Havana but towns like Varadero Cuba offer world class beachfront resorts, many being all inclusive. The beaches are popular with tourists and prices can rise significantly during the peak summer season.
Countryside - Be sure to spend some time in the countryside of Cuba amongst the farms and tobacco fields, they are beautiful. Towns such as Vinales (a few hours drive from Havana) offer excellent facilities for tourists, with accommodation, restaurants, horseback riding and you'll experience a total different side of Cuba. Prices are cheaper in the countryside and the locals are lovely.
Fresh food - you'll be amazed by the lack of places you can buy produce. You'll be looking around saying "where are all the supermarkets and shops" Its actually difficult to find fresh food and you'll most likely just head to restaurants as its easier. But if you explore around the back streets you will find small markets, they are very interesting but you'll struggle to buy anything as they deal in the non tourist currency.
Cuba tourist card - currently you need a Cuban Tourist card to visit. This needs to be obtained before arrival into Cuba. They can be purchased at check in for your flight in some countries. Do talk to a travel professional when booking a Cuba holiday.
Most importantly embrace Cuba, its an amazing country, thats totally different than anywhere we have travelled in the world. Its often difficult and confronting and if you don't speak Spanish you'll struggle a bit with the language barrier. Cuba will surprise you every day and the longer you stay the more you'll fall in love with fascinating Cuba.
Talk to us now about visiting Cuba. We can arrange everything from flights, accommodation, sightseeing and more. Many cruise ships now visit Cuba too! Call us 1300 296 543 or message us via Facebook
Download your complimentary Cuba travel brochures here
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