Cuba is a country where you can expect the unexpected. Even for the most seasoned traveller, this Caribbean nation is sure to impress. In a country where vintage cars, Cuban cigars and live music rule the streets; it’s time to find out if you should travel to Cuba.
|Population||11.5 million (2016)|
What type of traveller is Cuba suited for?
Are you a fan of exploring destinations filled with history and charm?
Do you enjoy white sand beaches and blue-hued waters?
How about vintage cars, pastel buildings and 50s style architecture?
Do you love to explore cities with a strong sense of cultural identity?
If yes to any of the above, we suggest that you might want to start thinking about Cuba as a potential destination to visit. Actually, scratch that. You need to get yourself to Cuba. Despite the fact that Cuba is experiencing growing popularity and a spike in tourism (thanks to President Obama’s historic decision to establish relations between Cuba and the United States), it still retains an authentic sense of culture, warmth and local life on the streets of Cuba. If you’re searching for the most authentic, local experiences then Cuba is calling your name.
The one thing I enjoyed most about Cuba was going back in time in all thinkable ways. Cuba is a destination like no other. There are no big brands like Mc Donalds, Subway or Prada. Wifi is hard to get. A rental car is far from dent and scratch free and then there are those stunning old-time cars.
Keep in mind that you are going back in time, so expect less and think of the positives. Wifi is hard to get, so you can enjoy your company or surroundings more. There are no fast food chains, so you can try the local cuisine. Shopping, apart from cigars, is not really an option, so you save money for experiences. And the most important advise: Bring a map, a travel guide with a map or screenshot a google maps route of your trip. Maps of Cuba are hard to get. – Jolanda, Woody World Packer
Weather in Cuba
Given its subtropical climate and proximity near the equator, Cuba is warm year-round.
- Dry season: November to April is defined as the dry season. This also seen to be the most popular time for visitors.
- Wet season (or hurricane season): May to October, visitors will find that rainfall will be higher in some parts of the islands and should be cautious of hurricanes that may appear. For obvious reasons, during the months where hurricanes are more prevalent, it’s likely that there will be a significant price drop.
Food and Drink in Cuba
These are the foods you need to try:
- Tostones: For those who are not familiar with plantain, you’ll soon learn that they feature in most Cuban dishes (and we’re not complaining). Tostones are the deliciously crispy, deep-fried version that you will find most often served as a side with dip.
- Chicharitas de planto: More plantain for you to enjoy! This version can be found served in bags found on the street and are thin slices, deeply friend. Yum!
- Costillas: Another plantain dish! Jokes, there is WAY more to Cuban food than plantain. This is a local dish featuring ribs with a Cuban twist. These come covered in orange juice (instead of barbeque sauce) along with lime juice, olive oil and garlic.
- Cuban sandwich: Everyone loves a classic sandwich, and the Cuban version will not disappoint. Filled with Swiss cheese, roasted pork, dill and pickles squashed inside a classic white roll, it’s simple but fantastic.
And these are the drinks:
- Daiquiri: Little known fact for you; the Daiquiri was in fact invented in a small town in eastern Cuba called Daiquiri and was said to be one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite drinks.
- Cuba Libre: The classic rum and coke combination found its name “Free Cuba” as a celebration of Cuba’s independence from Spain.
Top experiences in Cuba
The most important part of any adventure is the experiences; as these are where the memories are made. In Cuba, these are just a few of the top experiences that you need to make time on your agenda for.
Jump into a classic car
Okay, so we’re sure you’ve seen those photos of the many pristine, vintage cars in Cuba, but it wouldn’t be a complete experience without taking a ride in a classic car. Roof down, sunnies on – you know the drill.
The one thing I enjoyed most about travelling Cuba is how raw and untouched the country is and how friendly and lovely the local people are. You will feel like you’ve gone through a time portal once you step out of the airport – the whole country takes your breath away (in a good way of course haha).
My all-time Cuba recommendation would definitely be Trinidad – you will fall in love with the town. There is so much beauty that you could wander for days and days and still find hidden gems. Also, just in general, I recommend going to places that aren’t mentioned in your typical guide book – explore. – Katherine, The Belgian Wanders
Visit the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón
In Havana lies one of the largest cemeteries where vast marble statues that mark the location of graves for famous artists, revolutionaries and scientists can be found.
Explore the Partagás Cigar Factory
A quintessential part of the Cuban heritage and culture, make sure you take time to visit the Partagás Cigar Factory to learn more about cigar production.
Go bird-watching at the Gran Parque Natural Montemar
One of the most diverse ecosystems in Cuba, if you’re a fan of wildlife watching, you will be pleased to find that this is one of the best bird-watching spots in Cuba.
Walk along the Malecón
This 7km-long sea drive is one of the most soulful places in Havana and travels from the colonial centre along the ocean where you will find bars and restaurants with great views over the sea.
Share a meal in a paladar
To eat in a paladar is about as authentic as you can get when in Cuba. Similar to eating a home-cooked meal with family, some paladares may feel like a traditional restaurant and serve some of the best food out of someone’s house.
Wander the streets of Havana
Vedado, Centro Habana and Old Havana are all prime locations if you’re looking for places to find street art in Havana.
Cuba possesses a sense of eccentricity and enigma. The product of an exotic mixing of ethnicity and cultures baked, and a unique social, political, and economic experiment, Cuba truly is one place you don’t want to sleep for missing a vital experience. Socialism and sensuality, it’s almost surreal!
Don’t over-plan your trip. Cuba lends itself to serendipity. Connections with locals happen spontaneously, sparking fabulous experiences in a chain reaction. Cubans are a product of unique circumstances. Bone up on your history! Trying to comprehend Cuba is a challenge. it’s a very complex society and a nuanced understanding of the conditions that led to the Revolution are integral to understanding your experience on the ground. – Christopher Baker, Christopher P Baker
Cycle the Viñales Valley
Jump on a bike and cruise through some of Cuba’s most magnificent natural settings.
What I love about Cuba is the resilience, as against all the odds the Cubans survived their isolation and conditions most of us could never imagine. Their survival came with music, dancing, dominoes and a hopeful attitude that better things were on the horizon.
My recommendation for the first time traveler is to stay away from the all-inclusive resorts. That is not Cuba. Go to a paladar (private restaurant) and eat a delicious meal and at least one ropa vieja. Sleep in a historic hotel, crumbling just enough to give it an old world charm. Find where the locals dance, a casa de la musica perhaps, and learn how to dance. Put Havana, Vinales, Trinidad high on your must-see list, but try to see Baracoa or Santiago as well. Understand the history, from their point of view. But most importantly, go with an open mind and a willingness to learn. – Rachel, Meander the World
Cuban artist José Fuster converted his home into a fantasy masterpiece of colourful murals to a powerful visual effect.
Check out the Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Center
For anyone with an interest in modern art, one of Cuba’s most influential artists which lend his name to the gallery space in Havana.
What you need to know before you go
- Print your maps at home: Where would we be without Google Maps or the help of a smartphone GPS? In Cuba, a lack of internet means no maps. Sorry. If you have a guidebook, make sure you pack it in your suitcase to help get you from A to B.
- Cash rules: It’s worth noting that most establishments won’t accept credit or debit cards across Cuba, so best to come prepared and armed with a few wads of cash.
- Forget about Instagram: In some places, yes, you can access the internet, however, it might just cost you an arm and a leg.
- Politics are a no go: Avoid talking about politics when in Cuba. Just don’t even bother. While Cuba remains a communist country (despite a number of reforms), by raising any conversation about the government or politics could land you in trouble while making local citizens feel incredibly uncomfortable.
- There are two currencies in circulation: This is a tricky part of any Cuban trip. Two currencies are still in circulation in Cuba: convertible pesos (CUC$) and Cuban pesos (referred to as Moneda Nacional, abbreviated MN$).
- Travel insurance is mandatory: This is a non-negotiable element of travelling to Cuba and spots checks will be actioned upon arrival. Make sure you’re prepared and save the hassle.
- Me llamo…
- My name is…
- Por favor
Do I need a visa to visit Cuba?
Most visitors who plan to travel to Cuba for up to two months do not need visas. What you will need, however, is a Tarjeta de Turista (tourist card) valid for 30 days. It’s also worth noting that you cannot enter Cuba without an onward ticket.
As for Americans travelling to visa, it gets slightly more complicated. Thanks to the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US initiated by President Obama (as mentioned above), Americans can travel to Cuba provided they meet certain travel requirements. Currently, visitors undertaking non-tourism related activities are allowed to visit Cuba provided they meet the requirements.
For more information on Americans travelling to Cuba, take a look at this article here.
Hit that comment button below and tell us if you’re thinking of visiting Cuba!