Five Things First Time Travellers To Cuba Should Know
- You need travel insurance to enter the country. If an official asks to see proof at the airport and you don't have any, you won't be allowed to enter Cuba.
- The worst currency to exchange is the US Dollar. To avoid the extra 10% fee on top of the exchange rate, use other currencies like Euros, British Pounds or Mexican Pesos.
- Cuba has two currencies. The Convertible Pesos are used for most purchases in the country. For smaller transactions like buying fruit from street vendors, the National Peso is used.
- It's illegal to stay at someone's house for free in Cuba. According to Cuban law, all foreigners need to pay for accommodation unless they are friends with a local. If this is the case, you'll need to go to an official agency with proof that you know each other.
- Most hotels and casas particulares don't have access to the internet or a website. If you need to get online, you can buy a WiFi card and log on at hotspots in the major cities. The cards sell out quickly due to the high demand, so make sure you buy more than one at a time.
Best Time To Visit Cuba
The best time to visit Cuba is in Spring. From March to April the temperatures are warm without the sticky humidity of summer. While there is the threat of rain during this season, it's nothing like the heavier downpours from July to November.
For budget travellers, prices tend to be lower at the beginning of the year. From January to February you'll more likely find a deal on flights or accommodation. Just pack a warm jacket for the evenings when temperatures drop.
Prices are the highest in Cuba from July to August and again in December. The summer season coincides with the holidays, and the resorts are packed with local and international travellers.
September to October are the least popular times to visit Cuba. This is due to the high threat of hurricanes, especially where most beach resorts are located.
If you're looking to experience some of Cuba's famous festivals, book your flights for July and take part in the Carnival. Or visit Havana in December for the country's renowned Jazz Festival. But if neither of these fit in with your travel plans, you can still enjoy the plethora of music, theatre and visual art openings that happen almost every week.
Havana is the capital city of Cuba and the biggest city in the Caribbean. It's famous around the world for its dilapidated colonial architecture, 1950s cars and vibrant culture.
Visit Old Havana for a slice of history; dine at Bodeguita del Medio, a Hemingway hangout and explore the Cuban Baroque Catedral de San Cristobal.
To get the most out of your stay in the city, take a walking tour. You'll hear some incredible stories, discover lesser-known spots and get your bearings at the same time.
The city of Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's known for its beautiful 17th-century architecture, cobblestone streets and excellent museums.
While many tourists flock here to explore its old city centre, Trinidad comes alive at night. Join the locals in the main square, have a few drinks and learn how to dance salsa.
Santiago is the second largest city in Cuba and boasts the hottest temperatures.
Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, its plaza, the Parque Cespedes, is where Fidel Castro declared the revolution a success in 1959.
The city is full of other interesting colonial titbits as well as a vibrant cultural life. Make sure you visit Calle Heredia. It's one of Santiago's oldest streets where the music never stops.
Baracoa is Cuba's oldest city. Founded in 1511, it was cut off from most of the world until the early 1960s.
Despite recent modern development, the city has retained its remote feel. Some of its top attractions include the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the Museo Municipal and the picture-perfect beaches of Playa Maguana.
Top Attractions in Cuba
Parque Nacional Vinales
Located in Sierra de los Organos, the Parque Nacional Vinales is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It's one of the most famous places in Cuba with its lush landscape attracting outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.
Take to the hills and explore the many hiking trails on foot or horseback. Or visit the valley floor where you can visit the farmers grow the best tobacco in the world.
A trip to Vinales can easily be done as a day trip from Havana. But if you can, base yourself in the small town and give yourself more time to explore the surrounding area.
Castillo de San Pedro del Morro
The Castillo de San Pedro del Morro is one of the best-preserved Spanish fortresses. Completed in the 17th century at the entrance to the Bay of Santiago it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Built to protect the city against pirate attacks, it became a prison in the late 1700s. Today, visitors can explore its ancient walls and learn about its incredible history at Museo de la Pirateria.
Plan your visit around the daily cannon firing ceremony. It takes place at dusk, and the fortress is an excellent place to watch the sunset over the sheer cliffs and beautiful sea views.
If you're looking for a remote beach destination in Cuba, head to Cayo Coco. It rose to fame in Hemingway's novels and forms part of the Sabana-Camaguey archipelago.
Visit Playa Los Flamencos for a 5 km stretch of sandy white beaches. For animal lovers, El Baba Nature Park is home to an array of animals like turtles and flamingos. Playa Prohibida offers a scenic nature trail that winds through its undeveloped landscape.
Connected by a causeway, you can also visit Cayo Guillermo. This island is equally breathtaking with its bevy of pristine beaches and world-class resorts.
Museo Presidio Modelo
Built in 1926, Presidio Modelo is Cuba's infamous high-security prison. Modelled on the notorious Joliet Prison in the United States, it was once considered an excellent example of efficient design.
However, it wasn't long before the prison became known for its cruelty and high levels of corruption.
One of its most famous inmates was Fidel Castro and the rebels of the Moncada attack. The group was kept isolated from the other prisoners to avoid inflaming them with their revolutionary ideas.
Since releasing the last prisoner in 1967, the Presidio Modelo has become a museum where you can learn more about the role it played in the dark side of Cuba's history.
Plaza de la Revolucion
While it may not be the most exciting thing to do in Cuba, a stop here is worth it to understand the role it played in Cuba's history.
Over a million people gathered in the Plaza de la Revolucion to hear Castro's speeches. The 109-metre tall tower is a memorial to Jose Marti, a Cuban national hero. It's also the site where Pope Paul II celebrated mass in 1998.
If you want to learn more about the site's historical importance, you can visit the museum at the base of the tower. Or you can climb to the top and take in the panoramic views of Havana below.
Major International Airports in Cuba
- José Martí International Airport
- Antonio Maceo Airport
- Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport
- HOLGUIN Frank Pais International Airport
- Abel Santamaría Airport