Cuba
travel guide

Brightly coloured architecture, a thriving music scene and idyllic sandy beaches; Cuba is an incredible and unique place to visit. The Caribbean country provides travellers with everything a tropical island has to offer, with a funky culture at its heart. With its classic cars and complex political history, Cuba will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

Although it’s had a tumultuous past, Cuba has started to open up more and more to tourists. This has allowed Cuba to thrive and offer an entirely new experience to international visitors in a country that has been closed off for most of its existence. If you’re looking for something totally new fairly unknown to tourists, then Cuba is the place for you.

Where to go

There is a huge variety of different places to visit in Cuba, but one place in Cuba to visit above all else is Havana, a city that brims with culture.

Havana is the capital city of Cuba and is known for its narrow streets and upbeat cultural tempo. Old Havana, a suburb within the city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and once you explore the colourful architecture you’ll see why. Old Havana is the heartbeat of the city and where you’ll find most of the cities nightlife. As the birthplace of the mojito, daiquiri and Cuba Libre, the bars in this area provide a unique cultural experience.

Trinidad, not to be confused with the country of Trinidad and Tobago, is a town in central Cuba and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pastel-coloured houses found in Trinidad are one of the most iconic things about Cuba, with many colonial homes and Casas Particulars lining the streets. Trinidad is well known for being a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement, and is also surrounded by a selection of natural delights including former sugar fields and mills which are now archaeological sites; a testament to the booming era of sugar.

Havana and Trinidad are the most popular locations in the country, but there are a host of other villages and towns in Cuba to visit during your stay, offering different cultural insights and experiences. You can also explore the more rural parts of the country and admire the variety of scenery in Cuba that ranges from spectacular mountains that boast several different hiking and cycling trails to lovely sandy beaches that are perfect for relaxing in the sunshine.

Read more about Places to Visit in Cuba

Towns in Cuba

What to do

Cuba is a fantastic country for travellers looking for adventure. The extensive and varied rural landscapes play host to plenty of hiking expeditions, whilst the country’s coastline offers a range of different beaches that are perfect for sunbathing or swimming. The island’s position in the Caribbean sea means that water temperatures are very pleasant all year round, so snorkelling and scuba diving are also popular coastal activities.

Central Cuba is brimming with culture that gives you plenty of activities to try in the cities, such as trying your hand at rolling a traditional Cuban cigar or taking a salsa lesson in Havana. There’s a wealth of interesting things to do in Cuba that are not to be missed, and you’ll find yourself going home wishing you’d had enough time for them all.

Music is a huge part of Cuban culture, and many people travel to the country purely for this reason. The music in Cuba is rich and varied, and everywhere you turn on this tropical island its influence can be seen, with Cubans dancing and singing on the street. Streets are filled with small music venues where you’ll find people dancing salsa and listening to rumba. They love to see participation, and if there’s one thing you do before leaving the country, it’s to get stuck in and give the salsa a whirl.

Cars On The Road Havana, Cuba

When to visit

Month LOW °C HIGH °C Precipitation(inch)
January 19 26 2.8
February 19 26 1.8
March 20 28 1.8
April 21 29 2.4
May 22 30 4.7
June 23 31 6.5
July 24 31 4.9
August 24 32 5.3
September 24 31 5.9
October 23 29 6.7
November 21 28 3.1
December 20 27 2.4

Cuba has two distinct seasons; the wet season and dry season. Like any other tropical country, this means that during the wet season you’re likely to experience torrential short spats of rain and high humidity, while in the dry season you’ll be treated to sunny, cloudless days.

Peak tourist season is between mid-December and mid-March, which is when Cuba experiences its dry season and the country is at its busiest. If you’re looking for the best time to travel, when it’ll be dry and generally cheaper, travel in May-April. After this, the hurricane season begins and August to October should definitely be avoided.

Cuba has a whole host of eclectic and exciting festivals that take place all throughout the year. The carnival at Santiago de Cuba is a particularly raucous event spanning a whole week and celebrating some of Cuba’s oldest traditions. Do your research to find out if you’re travelling during festivals, and decide whether you want to get involved or avoid them altogether to help choose when the best time to visit Cuba is.

Further Reading – The Best Time to Visit Cuba

Accommodation

Although Cuba is slowly rising in popularity, conventional traveller’s accommodation is not as popular here. You’ll struggle to find any hostels, and even hotels are surprisingly hard to come by.

If you’re staying in Cuba, your best bet is to stay in Casas Particulars; homes of Cuban people who rent them out and therefore provide a unique cultural experience. Just call Cubans the original Airbnb hosts. There are two types of Casa Particulars, ones with a blue sign outside and another with an orange sign. The Blue signed homes are specifically made for foreigners and the orange signed homes are for Cubans. You can get into trouble if you stay in the wrong house.

If you don’t think staying in someone else’s house is for you, you can seek out one of the hotels. The hotels are either owned by Cuban hotel chains, owned by the government or are owned by international chains. Surprisingly the international hotel chains tend not to be found in Havana or the more touristy areas, but rather on beach resorts. The Cuban hotel chains can be found usually in cities, towns and beach resorts. There are five main Cuban hotel chains which tend to be looked on more favourably by the Cuban government, but don’t tend to even come close to the standards of Casas Particulars.

Read more about Where to Stay in Cuba

Cuba Old Town Havana

Getting around

Very few Cubans own cars, so the main form of getting around in the country is public transport, which seems neither tourist nor local friendly. If you’re expecting your train to be on time or for reliable public transport, you’re in for a nasty surprise.

Generally, the buses in Cuba are your safest bet. They work on a two-tier basis; Víazul for foreign passport holders which serve all the mainland cities and smaller, tourist hotspots, and the local bus service which tends to be overcrowded and without a timetable but is much cheaper.

For travel around the cities, almost every major area has a taxi. Some taxis can be fake and will prey on tourists while charging extortionate rates, usually around the airport and Old Havana. To spot legitimate taxis look for a blue license plate and ‘taxi’ sign while the one. To avoid any scams, agree on a price before getting into the taxi. If you want to travel around in one of the famous vintage Cadillacs and Ladas, expect to pay more for the privilege.

Visa requirements

Travelling to Cuba is not as easy as in other countries. If you have an EU, British, Australian, USA or Canadian passport, you will require a tourist visa, known as a tourist card. This needs to be applied for by post, which can take up to 4 weeks to be processed and costs £39. The tourist card lasts up to 30 days and only allows single entry, but this can be extended if you’d like a longer stay. You will need a valid passport for the length of your stay, along with comprehensive travel insurance. You can’t cheat the system this time!

As a tourist, you’re not allowed to travel directly to Cuba from the USA. This includes US nationals and anyone travelling through the US, no matter their nationality. To travel to Cuba from the US, tourists have to find access through another country before moving through to Cuba. This does not affect anyone travelling directly to Cuba from a different country.

Brief history

Cuba, which was discovered by explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, was controlled by Spain until 1898. Cuba heavily relied on its sugar exports as its principal agricultural economy which first started when Spain took over the country. However, this has declined since the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991. During 1980, approximately 124,000 Cubans migrated to the U.S., as they were freely allowed to do so by Fidel Castro.

Gaining its independence in the early 20th century, Cuba and the US have always had a very turbulent relationship which has often branded it a difficult country to visit. Since the communists took power in 1959, the United States had been hostile towards Cuba. However, after the stepping down of Fidel Castro, the relationship between the two countries has improved.

Although for a brief period you could travel between the US and Cuba, the restrictions have been implemented. In 2014 however, President Barack Obama announced more relaxed travel and trade restrictions on Cuba.

Food & drink

Unlike the stereotype of Cubans loving spicy and flavourful food, the opposite is almost true. To an extent, Cubans dislike spicy food and herbs which are hard to come by on the island.

Due to Cuba’s economic instability and embargo with the US, certain foods are hard to come by and it’s not unusual for restaurants to not be able to serve everything on the menu. This being said, the portions tend to be excessive as if to make up for this, and the food is often locally grown and fresh. It’s probably worth saying that being a vegetarian in Cuba can be difficult with meat dominating most dishes, as you’re likely to find a lot of fried pork and chicken accompanied by rice, beans and vegetables.

The best places to eat in Cubaare the paladares, which are owned by individuals rather than being government-owned restaurants. The government-owned eateries are notorious for having slow service, poor quality of food and a lack of variety. Paladares, however, are small restaurants which have been owned by Cuban locals since owning a small business became legal. The menus fluctuate greatly, as owners can have one ingredient one hour and then run out the next, forcing them to improvise. This is why many paladares have their menus written on chalkboards, rather than in a more permanent way.

As you’d expect Cuba thrives on rum. The national drink is cheap and available almost everywhere. Dark rum is served neat while the cheaper form of white rum is found mixed into cocktails. Unsurprisingly the Cuban drinking age is 16. Salud!

Cultural tips

Making sure you know all of a country’s idiosyncrasies isn’t entirely necessary when travelling somewhere new, but having a general idea of how to behave will save you a lot of issues down the road.

Here are some cultural tips to keep yourself ahead of the curb when visiting Cuba:

  • Unlike in most Latin American countries, in Cuba the natives find it incredibly rude if you blow your nose in public or sit in the street.
  • If you’re offered a drink from a shared glass, then be a sport and drink from it. You’ll cause mild offence if you’re with a group of locals who are passing around a glass of rum and you don’t partake.
  • As you know by now, Cuba has a bit of tumultuous political past. Starting up a conversation with a Cuban local about politics will make them very uncomfortable, as the government doesn’t tolerate any criticism.
  • Cuba has two official currencies, The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the Cuban peso (CUP). The Cuban peso is used only by Cubans to pay for non-luxury items. It’s actually illegal for tourists to use CUPs so make sure you always get the correct change!
Population 11.48 Million
Time Zone GMT -5
Currency Cuban Peso
Airports José Martí International Airport, HAV
Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport, VRA
National Dish Ropa Vieja
Capital Havana

Interesting facts

  • Cuba has the highest doctor to patient ratio of any other country. It’s not uncommon for Cuban doctors to be sent overseas to countries that are in need of medical aid. It’s even estimated that the Cuban doctors abroad bring back 8 billion dollars worth of money, which makes the exports of doctors more valuable than the whole tourism industry.
  • Coca-Cola is officially not sold in the country since the embargo with the US. This makes Cuba one of only two countries in the world that do not sell Coca-Cola, North Korea being the second.
  • Cuba is home to 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Old Havana and Trinidad.
  • The Daiquiri was invented in the famous Floridita bar in Old Havana, and Ernest Hemmingway is said to have helped dream up the cocktail.

Latest blog posts about Cuba

Trinidad Cuba Featured

Cuba in April

Havana Sunset

Cuba in December

Santiago de Cuba

Cuba in November

Cuba in October

Factory in Cuba

Cuba in August

Street in Havana

Cuba in July

Cuba in June

Colourful Cuba Houses

Cuba in May

Cuba in March

Misty Vinales Valley

Cuba in February

Cuba in January

Towns in Cuba

Cuba Old Town Havana

Where to stay in Cuba

Cars On The Road Havana, Cuba

Cuba in September