The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba has stunning white-sand beaches and plenty of tobacco fields for the production of the iconic Cuban cigars. Havana, the capital city, is where you can drive by pastel colored houses in 1950’s cars and for 16th century Spanish-colonial architecture head to Old Havana. Soak up the salsa and street music and don’t miss a cabaret show at the famed Tropicana club. Cuba’s other cities, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad are worth visiting for the grand cathedrals and picturesque courtyards. “The most beautiful land I have ever seen” were the words used by Christopher Columbus to describe Guardalavaca, a coastal town on Cuba’s northern shore, another Cuban gem you should consider re-discovering.
CUBA TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
Cruise the Malecon
The Malecón is a wide esplanade that stretches along the coast of Havana for 8 km. Cruise along the sea front and discover the true spirit of Havana at this quintessentially Cuban favorite meeting spot of locals. Breathe in the salty sea air and enjoy the romantic atmosphere. This is the place to be in Cuba!
Live Cuban Music
Cubans believe that Cuba has played a significant role in the democratization of music and music is ingrained in the heart and soul of the country. Grammy award winning musicians can be found playing sax at many of the famous clubs and bars. Not only jazz; Danzon, Trova and many other types of music can be enjoyed here too.
The City of Trinidad
Charming Trinidad is a very photogenic town in central Cuba. A perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement where the clocks appear to have stopped in the 1850’s. Known for its colonial old town, cobblestone streets and a neo-baroque main square called Plaza Mayor. The city of Trinidad is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trinidad is an absolute must see when in the country.
Havana through a Lens
Conveniently located in the heart of the old town, this is a great place to enjoy unique views of the city through a smart invention called the Camera Obscura. The optical device gives a 360° view of the old town and it is fascinating to watch the real time activities unfold throughout the city. The guided tour which is included with the very reasonably priced admission fee (as is the air con that you will be very grateful fro) is interesting and informative too.
Swim at Cayo Coco
Cayo Coco is a tropical island just north of mainland Cuba, with some of the world’s most beautiful white sand beaches. The fourth largest island of the Cuban archipelago Cayo Coco is known for its beaches and coral reefs and its northern coast is dotted with all-inclusive resorts. Check out the lagoons and marshes that are home to birds such as the white ibis as well as a native colony of pink flamingos that’s ranked among the largest in the Americas.
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CUBA TOP 3 FESTIVALS
Habano Cigar Festival
Cuba is famous for its cigars. To celebrate the product, Havana hosts five days of debauchery and cigar smoking starting February 25th until March 2nd. Cigar lovers from all parts of the world visit Havana for the trade fair to sample cigars and learn about tobacco.
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 who was in great shape at 96, it’s easy to understand why Cuba celebrates classical dance. Celebrated every two years in the beautiful Gran Teatro, the International Ballet festival is the only festival in the world dedicated solely to ballet. Ballet dancers and choreographers descend to Havana to attend this fun cultural event.
Language: The official language of Cuba is Spanish, which is used by ninety percent of the population. Local people also speak Haitian Creole, Galician, Corsican, and Lucumi. English is also used in a few touristy places.
Currency: Cuban Peso.
Visa: Visiting Cuba requires a valid passport and a visa. Use these free online visa checker and calculator tools so you know if a visa for Cuba is required (which depends on the country you’re from) and if so, how long it will take to process your visa and the cost.
Electricity: Cuba operates on 110 volts, but many modern hotels use 220 volts. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each new country you visit.
Lonely Planet Cuba: Check price on Amazon
WHAT TO EAT IN CUBA
Some of the most delicious, traditional dishes that you must try when in Cuba are listed below. Prepare to drool!
Ropa Vieja: There are few dishes as quintessentially Cuban as ropa vieja, which means “old clothes” in Spanish. One of the national dishes of Cuba, but is also popular in Puerto Rico and Panama, as well as in Spain and the Philippines. It consists of shredded or pulled stewed beef with vegetables.
Vaca Frita: Steak laced with herbs and spices. The locals then braise it until 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: Cuban tamales are all made with corn, most with pork, but exact recipes vary according to region. For a spicier tamale, add roasted green chiles.
Yuca con Mojo: 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. Yuca con Mojo is best when accompanied with roasted pork.
Tostone: 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 eat them hot.
WHERE TO STAY IN CUBA
Cuba is a reasonably affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Cuba is super easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget.
Hostels and dormitories make travel to Cuba affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget. Whether you’re a backpacker, flash-packer or a luxury vacationer, Cuba will not disappoint you. A basic hotel room in Cuba can cost less than $30 dollars. If you’re looking for accommodation that includes western amenities and comforts then there will be more options to choose from in the big cities and popular tourist hotspots like Havana.
If you’re traveling to Cuba during peak season or wish to stay in a luxury hotel then it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have already been snapped up.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Cuba. However, if you are backpacking in Cuba or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel to the Caribbean more affordable and it’s also a great way to meet new travel partners and international buddies.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
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 all budgets. The cost of your trip to Cuba really depends on the level of comfort you will expect while here. If you are backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating street food then budget between $30 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 $100 to $200 plus a day.
IS CUBA SAFE FOR FEMALE TRAVELERS?
Safety is a concern for most people traveling to Cuba. Pick-pocketing, bag-snatching and other scams to take advantage of tourists are common. Female travelers should be extra careful when walking alone or at night. Some parts of Cuba are dangerous so do your research before you go and avoid these places at all costs. Based on my own experiences and mishaps as a solo female traveler, I would never leave home without travel insurance and recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you.
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CUBA TOURS & ACTIVITIES
CUBA PACKING TIPS
Packing for a trip to Cuba, like most other places in the Caribbean, is made easy with our Caribbean Packing Guides. You really don’t need as much travel gear as you may think for a trip to Cuba and it’s always best to travel light whenever possible.
That said, the gear you do bring on your trip should be the very best option available for you and that doesn’t always mean the most expensive. Jetset Bunnies around the globe are always discovering the latest travel gear for women and this is where we share our fabulous finds with you.
It’s so easy to travel light in hotter climates just remember to pack lightweight and breathable lose-fitting clothing. Be prepared for a few cool morning and evenings depending on the month you visit and pack a warm sweater and a coat just in case.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Cuba include a good quality travel backpack. Choose the backpack brand carefully and make sure that you find the correct size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Read our related backpack blog post which is all about how to choose the best backpacks for women travelers. Smaller items to pack include a padlock and a money belt to keep important documents like your passport safe.
So if you’ve found your travel inspiration, figured out the practicalities and got the travel gear it’s time to stuff it all in a bag and go right? Well, no, hold your horses, you see there’s an art to packing which we have (almost) perfected. Hop to our Travel Packing Tips for all of the latest on this topic.