Cuba travel guide, including map and photos of Cuba, top Cuba travel experiences, tips for travel in Cuba, plus political past, Havana and music
Stretching 1,250km east to west, Cuba is the Caribbean's largest island, and ringed by beautiful beaches and idyllic waters just like its neighbours Jamaica and the Caymans. But Cuba also has a political past that sets it quite apart from, well, anywhere else in the world.
Its people have resisted both Spanish and US attempts at domination, but since the fall of the Soviet Union, Communist Cuba has been out on its own. This has created a country with economic woes but a strong cultural identity, and an appealing time-warp feel: old Buicks rust on Havana's crumbling streets, expert musicians play traditional tunes, the landscapes are undeveloped and spectacular.
Times are changing here – modernisation is creeping in – but the island will always dance to its own rhythm.
While you're in Cuba, sign up for Spanish or dance lessons – both can be easily arranged and can bring Cuba to life.
If you're planning on cycling, take your own helmet and padded cycling shorts.
Take your own plastic bags to use at markets etc – bags are rare in Cuba.
Bring your own snorkelling gear. If diving, do not touch or damage the coral.
And finally, however persuasive, do not give to beggars.
Wanderlust web intern Thomas Rees on the things he wished he'd known before he arrived:
"The privately owned, collective taxis can be flagged down at most of Havana's intersections. They can be a little cramped but are an excellent and affordable way to see the city. You might even befriend a few of the locals in the process!"
"If it's musical friends you're after, be sure to pack a few guitar strings, they're hard to find in Cuba, and might earn you a few freebies from the wandering trovadors who serenade passers-by on balmy evenings in the capital."
Cuba is best visited, though most expensive, from December to April: at this time the temperatures are hot but not scorching (an average of around 25°C in Havana) and the storms have abated – Cuba’s hurricane season runs roughly from June to November. May onwards can be sticky and uncomfortable, with temperatures over 30°C. Santiago de Cuba’s Carnival (July) is worth braving the heat for.
Jose Marti International (HAV) 15km from Havana
Domestic flights link Cuba’s main hubs. Viazul buses are comfy and air-conditioned, and zip between Cuba’s key sites, so are useful for travellers; tickets are priced in convertible pesos. Hiring a car offers flexibility but can be a challenge – there are few signs, minor roads can be in bad condition and you’ll be sharing the roads with ox carts and farm animals. Many locals get round by bike, and hiring one is an excellent way to get around – there are plenty of bike lanes, and it’s a great way to interact with the people.
Casas particulares are the best accommodation option in Cuba. These are private rooms in local houses, available all over Cuba and recognisable by a blue ‘Arrendador Divisa’ sign outside. There are strictly regulated by the government and vary enormously in standard, but are a great way to meet local Cubans. Many offer meals for an extra charge.
There are plenty of hotels in Cuba, ranging in price and quality. Cheaper, government-owned hotels can be a little austere. There are big resorts on the Cuban coast. There are also some fabulous heritage hotels in Old Havana, where you can stay in renovated mansions.
Cuba isn’t renowned for its cuisine. Meals can be a little bland and unadventurous, often involving fried chicken, breaded pork, tinned beans or limp sandwiches. Creole flavours are common in Cuba – expect rice and beans, with pork.
Fish is usually locally caught; popular types include lobster, shrimp and sometimes snapper. Ice cream comes in countless flavours. Many restaurants are government owned. Look out for private paladares, small, family-run eateries.
Vegetarians will probably end up eating a lot of omelettes, or picking meat chunks out of soups. Casava and squashes, often served in a garlicky sauce called mojo, are another option.
Rum is Cuba’s alcoholic beverage of choice. Havana Club is the big brand, served straight or in cocktail form – minty mojitos, Cuba Libres and daquiris. Cristal and Bucanero are the main beer brands. Coffee is a big deal, served black and strong. Avoid the tap water.
Drink purified water. Bring high-factor sunscreen and a hat. Make sure you’re up to date with your vaccinations – seek advise from your GP before travelling. Wear repellent to protect yourself from mosquito bites. You will need to pay, probably in cash, for any healthcare you require while in Cuba – make sure you have adequate travel insurance.
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