The biggest Island in the Caribbean, Cuba has white-sand beaches and plenty of tobacco fields that play a part in the production of the country’s iconic cigars. Havana, the capital city, is lined with pastel colored houses and you can admire the 1950s-era cars driving around.
For Spanish-colonial architecture from the 16th century head to Old Havana. Enjoy the salsa music in the dance clubs and watch cabaret shows at the famed Tropicana club. Cuba’s other cities, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad are worth visiting for the grand cathedrals and beautiful courtyards. Christopher Columbus defined Guardalavaca (a coastal paradise on Cuba’s northern shore) as “the most beautiful land I have ever seen”.
Cuba Travel Info
Language: The official language of Cuba is Spanish, which is used by ninety percent of the population. Local people speak Haitian Creole, Galician, Corsican, and Lucumi. English is also used in a few touristy places by some Cubans.
Currency: Cuban Peso.
Visa: The required tourist visa, known as a tourist card, allows the holder to stay in Cuba for 30 days and can be extended for an additional 30 days and is valid for a single entry. You must provide proof of confirmed return flight and booked accommodation. Americans traveling to Cuba will also need a Cuban tourist card.
Electricity: Cuba operates on 110 volts, but many modern hotels use 220 volts. The power sockets are usually two-pronged and round. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each country you visit.
Cuba Festivals & Celebrations
Habano Cigar Festival: Cuba is known for their iconic product, the Cuban cigars. To celebrate the product, Havana hosts five days of debauchery starting February 25th till March 2nd. Cigar lovers from all parts of the world visit Havana for the trade fair, and the best part is you can also sample cigars that you want and learn about tobacco processing.
The Santiago de Cuba Carnival: From a list of all Cuban festivals, the one which you cannot miss is the Santiago de Cuba festival which goes on for one week. Touted as the oldest and the most significant Latin American festival, it pays respect to el son, which is the traditional Cuban music.
International Ballet Festival of Havana: Under the rich legacy of Alicia Alonso, a prime Cuban ballerina still in great shape at 96, there is hardly any doubt why Cuba celebrates classical dance. Celebrated every two years in the beautiful Gran Teatro, the International Ballet festival is the only festival in the entire world dedicated just to ballet, since 1960. And therefore, ballet dancers and choreographers descend to Havana to attend this fun cultural event.
Safety In Cuba
Just like most countries in the Caribbean, Cuba is a relatively safe place to travel to. Thefts, bag snatching and scams are prevalent in all big cities so be mindful of this. Based on my own travel experiences in the Caribbean, I wouldn’t leave home without travel insurance no matter how safe the destination is considered. You can still miss flights, lose your luggage or break a leg, especially if you’re as accident prone as I am. For this reason I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks or months before you plan to visit Cuba.
Top Things To Do In Cuba
In 1514, Diego Velaquez founded Trinidad which was later declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was a slave-trading hub and a sugar production center in the 17th and 18th century, and its wealthy merchants and landowners resided in luxurious mansions. The streets are made of cobblestone and lined with pastel-colored houses, and all this has barely been altered since then. Trinidad is on a hill, and constant cool breezes refresh the city at all times.
Explore Havana through a lens
Perched above the city of Havana is the Da Vinci’s Camera Obscura which is a splendid convex lens that converges the view of the town and allows you to see the entire city in one go. Da Vinci has himself stated that here all the figures and colors and every image is contracted to a point which is so beautiful. Here you can spend an hour gazing at the city, and one cannot explain the experience in words.
Enjoy live Music
Cubans believe that Cuba has played a significant role in the democratization of music and music is ingrained in the atmosphere of the country. Musicians as famous as a Grammy award winner can be found playing sax at any of the famous clubs or bars. Not only jazz but the beautiful son music, danzon, trova and many more forms of music are prevalent. Just talk to the locals, and they will tell you what to find where.
Enjoy a swim at Cayo Coco
The turquoise lagoons and bays of Caya Coco, its white sands, and its warm waters with schools of colorful fish swimming about are so appealing that you cannot stay away from it for long. Swim with the enchanting Jardines del Rey and then give the company to the beautiful pink flamingos.
Watch a dance show at Teatro Nacional
Even if you are not visiting Havana during its ballet festival, still you should not leave the place without seeing a dance show. Some of the most excellent performers of Havana perform at the National Theatre, but if you walk down the Linea Avenue, you will have some theatre options. For people who do not speak Spanish, dance is the best way to begin your journey.
Visit the Castillo El Morro
This castle was built between 1589 and 1630 and has a symbolic lighthouse just around it. This castle lashed by waves was constructed to safeguard the Havana harbor from foreign Invaders and pirates. The fort is situated on a high rocky point and has an asymmetrical polygonal structure with walls 3 meters thick and a protective moat. The lighthouse got constructed in 1844. The fort also has a maritime museum.
Get tainted with romance in Malecon
Malecon of Havana is a beautiful place where you will find rugged men smoking large cigars, where the roads are bumpy and uneven, but the music is enchanting, the sea breeze is cool and salty and caresses your face, and the atmosphere is full of romance. It stretches across 7 kilometers and is an essential landmark of the city. The place is swarming with Art Deco and Baroque style and is painted in yellow and pink, always vibrant and full of entertainment.
Enjoy watersports in Trinidad
Trinidad is an exciting place to visit with its colonial architecture, preserved palaces and enthralling atmosphere. More enthralling than all these are its Caribbean beaches, you can find the best at Casilda bay. The clear waters are perfect for diving and snorkeling. For the ones who are looking for a break from their crazy expedition, the beach with its pristine atmosphere and powered sand is a perfect place to laze around sipping some Mojitos.
Visit the Necropolis Cristobal Colon
It is the main cemetery in Havana and a national monument too. This monument is famous for its outstanding religious iconography as well as detailed marble statues. The cemetery is spread across 57 hectares and is least eerie. Visitors stroll through the emotional and educational history of Cuba while walking through the cemetery. The cemetery even has a map demarking the graves of well-known artists, politicians, sportspersons and the like.
Spend some time in the University of Havana
The University of Havana was founded in 1728 and has 60000 students studying here. The university is the alma mater of the famous Castro brothers and in 1950 was the hub of anti-government demonstrations. Till date, it is the center of social and political organization and the focal point of the modern culture.
Other than these top things to do in Cuba, there is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Be prepared to be flexible because sometimes other travelers that you meet on your travels will have the best suggestions for things to do in Cuba that are off the beaten path.
What To Eat In Cuba
Cuba is full of culinary treats and some of the very best are listed here.
Ropa Vieja: If you are a beef lover, you are going to enjoy this preparation. Braised steak is cooked to perfection in tomato sauce and served with white rice and fried plantains. The best part of the dish is the fried plantains- an absolute favorite.
Vaca Frita: This skirt steak preparation is just mouthwatering and is laced with herbs and spices. The locals then braise it till the steak becomes tender. Onions are infused in lemon and added to the dish which enhances its flavors turning it into a lip-smacking meal.
Tamale: Tamale is a classic Cuban dish that has stuck to its original recipe for ages. Tamales are made with corn that is freshly ground and seasoned. They are then packed in corn leaves and cooked in numerous ways, each as delectable as the other.
Yuca con Mojo: It is a national dish of Cuba which comprises adequately cooked cassava which is marinated yucca roo in lime, garlic and olive oil. It is seasoned and then baked in bitter orange juice. It tastes best when accompanied with roasted pork.
Tostone: Tostone is the perfect comfort food. These are green plantains that are peeled and cut in different shapes. The best tostone is the one which is fried twice in hot oil. The first time ensures that the inside is perfectly cooked and the second fry gives a crispy exterior. Sprinkle kosher salt on the tostones and enjoy them hot.
Where To Stay In Cuba
Cuba is a very affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Cuba is easy even if you’re on a tight budget. Cuba hostels and dormitories make travel here very affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget.
Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best accommodation options have already been snapped up. Cuba is a very popular year-round destination.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Cuba.
If you’re backpacking in Cuba or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in the Caribbean very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Cuba Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Cuba
The best time to visit Cuba is from December to May, when you can expect dry, sunny days and plenty of blue skies. The island’s location in the Caribbean affords warm temperatures year-round, with the average lows in Havana dipping to 65 degrees. The wet season begins in June and visitors to Cuba may want to avoid travel to Cuba entirely between August and October, when there is a risk of hurricanes.
Cuba Travel Budget
Cuba is generally an affordable destination for travelers on a tight budget. The cost of your trip to Cuba really depends on the level of comfort you will want while here. If you’re backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating fast food then budget between $35 to $50 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $50 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget about $250 plus a day.
- Budget: $15 – $35
- Mid-range: $35 – $100
- Splurge: $100 +
Meal For One
- Budget: $8 – $25
- Mid-range: $25 – $60
- Splurge: $60 +
Cuba Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Cuba, like most places in the Caribbean is easy, just remember to pack lightweight and breathable clothing for dry season and warm, waterproof clothing for trips during the rainy season.
Be prepared for the weather to get extremely hot during the summer so pack a high factor sunscreen and a sun hat. If you forget to pack something you can buy anything you need while you’re in Cuba. Prices are generally higher in smaller boutiques (aimed at tourists) than they would be online so expect to pay a premium if you don’t have the option of shopping around due to time restraints on your Caribbean trip.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Cuba include a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Cuba check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate Caribbean Packing List For Female Travelers.