Cuba – travel information

Cuba – travel information

Anthem of Cuba

Cuba, or officially the Republic of Cuba, is a Caribbean country whose main territory is the island of Cuba and some 1,600 reefs and smaller islands of the Greater Antilles. One of the last strongholds of socialism, the protected cigar and rum land, dressed in a T-shirt with a portrait of Che and clutching a book of Hemingway – so the overseas tourist sees the Liberty Island. And by and large, this stereotypical image is almost true.

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Video: Cuba

General Information

Neither the collapse of the Soviet Union, nor the departure of Fidel, nor, finally, American sanctions have been able to derail socialist Cuba. Like fifty years ago, the Island of Liberty continues to fight tenaciously for the communist cause, albeit with less fanaticism since the death of the commander. Yes, there is still no freedom of speech, but there is free medicine and education. And year after year with more and more tourists, Cuba gets more and more visitors and this cannot but influence its image.

Thanks to the travelers’ money the sleazy cityscapes, with its distinctive revolutionary past, finally began to give way to modern buildings and the shelves of the city`s stores slowly began to be filled with overseas products. Today’s Cuba is not just sugar cane, rum pouring down the river and street salsa, but also a booming tourist infrastructure, almost Maldivian beaches and great diving. Add to that a rich architectural colonial past, virtually limitless eco-tourism opportunities, and a favorable tropical climate, and you can clearly imagine why Liberty Island has become one of the trendiest destinations for most Europeans in recent years.

Cities of Cuba

History of Cuba

The world became aware of Cuba’s existence in 1492, after Columbus reached this part of the Caribbean. It is clear that the visit of the Spanish navigator did not do Indians living there any good, becoming, in fact, only the starting point in history of methodical extermination and final enslavement of the indigenous population. For almost 300 years, Liberty Island remained a powerless appendage of raw materials to Spain, and only from 1823 the local inhabitants began to make the first attempts to fight against the ruthless colonizer.

Havana Bay in 1639.

In 1895, the Cuban patriots – not without the support of the ubiquitous US – succeeded in wresting most of the territory from the metropolis. But they bid farewell to Spanish colonization only three years later, with the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty. By that time Cuba was already in debt to the United States, which imposed a number of obligations on it. To be more precise, the island of liberty agreed to provide its territories for U.S. military bases.

In the 1950s, the dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista was established in Cuba, who immediately found opponents in the person of Fidel Castro. As a result, the country was plunged into the abyss of revolution for almost 5.5 years and emerged from it as a thoroughly socialist state headed by the same Castro. To overcome the consequences of the war devastation, the local government began to seek material support on the other side of the ocean, which it finally received from the Soviet Union. It is worth noting that friendship with the Soviet Union not only helped Cuba regain relative financial stability, but also finally soured relations with its stronger neighbor, the United States. Angered by this state of affairs, America rushed to impose a trade embargo on the Liberty Island that is still in effect today.

In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc that subsidized Cuba, Castro faced the need to reform the economy. In 1993, Cubans gained the right to legally hold U.S. dollars. Much of the economy collapsed under the onslaught of the all-powerful U.S. currency, and many manufactured goods and food products became available only with dollars. Cubans to whom relatives abroad could send money, and those who worked in foreign companies and tourist businesses where tips were given in dollars, soon gained an advantage over the rest of the country’s citizens. A decade later, the gap between haves and have-nots widened so much that Castro was forced to take action. Today all foreign currency must be exchanged for convertible pesos (pesos convertibles) with a high tax on the exchange of dollars.

Havana in the 1980s Havana these days

A Legacy of the Revolution

As one of the last strongholds of communism on the planet, the country is of abiding interest. While the rest of the world lives at the breakneck pace of the digital age, Cuba is going its own way unhurriedly, and only a minority here has access to the Internet. Through the dimly lit streets of the cities, the dinosaurs of the automobile world, repaired and painted American cars from the 1940s and 1950s, tromp along clumsily. In the countryside, ox-drawn carts, omnibuses, Chinese bicycles, and velorickshaws take the place of cars. Dwellings are furnished with ancestral furniture antiques and lit with energy-saving bulbs.

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Cuba is inseparable from the international politics of the second half of the 20th century. At the age of six, children become young pioneers – builders of communism. All over the country, giant posters contain spells of the country’s leadership like “Socialismo o Muerte” (“Socialism or Death”) and “Viva la Revolution” (“Long live the Revolution”). Portraits of Che Guevara, the revolutionary martyr of the 1960s, are ubiquitous on the walls of stores, institutions and homes.

The country has always been bursting at the seams under harsh communist rule. Its economic condition is directly dependent on world conditions, and the situation is made worse by the U.S. trade embargo and the damage caused by hurricanes. Many families live in cramped, dilapidated housing, and many Cubans earn less than $25 a month.

Cuban children play soccer in the street in Trinidad

The obvious weakness of the Cuban economy and the deprivation of the Cuban people cannot be overlooked. Moreover, there is no real freedom of speech, of the press, or of movement outside the country on the island, although there have been some relaxations under Raul Castro. But there is not the egregious poverty that is conspicuous in, say, Bangladesh, India, and Latin America. Housing is provided by the state, and hardly anywhere in Cuba you will see homeless people sleeping on the streets, and although the coupon booklets do not provide Cubans with all the necessary food, no one really goes hungry. Everyone in the country is entitled to free health care and education. Average life expectancy has increased from 57 years in 1958 to 77.7 years in 2011. This is the 57th highest in the world. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than that of the United States and the European Union.

The decrepitude, poverty, and restrictions only underscore the indomitable spirit of the Cuban people. They are characterized by a remarkable resilience, patience, and love of life that no amount of economic hardship seems to be able to undermine. The Cubans are extremely friendly and hospitable and always eagerly invite visitors to their humble homes. Overflowing with energy, schoolchildren-all in identical uniforms-are everywhere, dashing through the streets, playing a kind of neighborhood baseball called stickball, riding homemade skateboards, and flying kites.

Long live Cuba Graffiti with Che Guevara A Cuban flag on the street in Havana A big cigar and a cat – what else do you need? Just rousing music!

Cuba Today

Modern Cuba is slowly but surely beginning to make concessions to some of the capitalist goods that under Fidel seemed completely unthinkable. Moreover, they are no longer so aggressive toward their eternal enemy, the United States. A few years ago, to bolster the shaky state economy, Cuba tried to develop tourism, which has seriously changed its image.

New cab cars on the streets of Cuba

The number of those wishing to visit the poor but proud island of socialism has been growing year by year, which of course has an influence on the state changes. Gradually the country is acquiring the notorious “elements of sweet life,” contrasting with the picturesque ruins from the Revolution. Thus, for example, the ban on importation of foreign cars into the country has been recently lifted, thanks to which you can now observe quite modern cabs at the Havana airport. The coast of Cuba in recent years is actively built up with fashionable hotel complexes and spa-hotels. Though the service level of most hotels has a Soviet flavor, recreation here can be called quite civilized and comfortable.

5-star hotels in Cuba

Paradise Island

Many people arriving on the island for the first time Cuba amazes by its dissimilarity to other Caribbean countries. The best Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen compared the island to a “long green alligator”. That it is long is certain – the distance from “nose” to “tail” is 1250 km. Cuba, comparable in area with England, is divided into 14 provinces and has about 450 islands and islets called “cayos”, which means “reefs” and “keys”.

Given its size, it would take at least a month to explore the entire country. Most begin with the capital, Havana, and then travel to the famous tobacco plantations to the west, followed by the sugar cane valleys and the most beautiful colonial towns in the central part of the island. The easternmost region, called Oriente, is known for its high mountains and the second largest and first musical city of Santiago de Cuba.

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Along the true Caribbean beaches, mostly on the northern coast, many resort hotels have sprung up. Although many organized tourists still stick close to the sea, each region of the island has its own charming towns, forcing people to venture inland.

Cuba’s white-sand beaches are delightful, and the most famous are the long stretches of Varadero’s coastline in the north. Other beach tourism centers include Guardalavaca, Playa Esmeralda, and the islands of Coco and Largo. Sailing enthusiasts pay tribute to the countless natural harbors, anglers hunt for marlin off the coast, and divers explore coral reefs and shipwrecks.

Most tourists prefer a full-service vacation, but Cuba’s variety of attractions also attracts a large number of independent travelers who find much to enjoy besides the sea and beaches. At the eastern tip of the island rises its highest mountain range Sierra Maestro (up to 1974 m), the birthplace of many uprisings; in the west, in the province of Pinar del Rio, stretches the green valley Viña-les with huge mogotes, built of limestone steep sloping hills up to 400 m; In the central part of the island are the lushly vegetated mountains of the Sierra del Escambray and the old sugar cane plantations of the De los Ingenios Valley.

Sierra Maestro Mountain Range Viña Forest Valley

And then there are the big cities and small towns. Havana combines beautiful Spanish colonial architecture with a dynamic street life and a number of cultural events and attractions; Trinidad, a shining gem of the colonial era, attracts beautiful residences, churches and other buildings in the winding cobblestone streets; and Santiago de Cuba is a colorful cocktail of Spanish, French and African cultural elements.

City of Trinidad Santiago de Cuba

Climate

Cuba belongs to the tropical passatine climate zone. As for the seasons, there are only two seasons in this part of the Caribbean: dry (October to April) and rainy, accompanied by rather strong hurricanes (May to September).

Cold is a concept with which no Cuban is familiar. Even in January, the temperature on the island rarely falls below +22 ° C. The apotheosis of heat comes in August, when the thermometer column freezes at +28 ° C in the shade. An added bonus to the oceanic winds and tropical heat is high humidity, which often mar the first days of travel. But you don’t have to worry about it: you usually get used to local climate realities not more than a couple of days.

Rainy season in Cuba

Main tourist destinations

What Cuba truly disposes to is a lazy beach vacation: in fact, the entire coastline of the main island is a solid beach from the “Bounty” commercials with white starchy sand and azure shallow waters. If your plans are not only reigning on the lounger and get a chocolate tan, try to stay longer in the main city of Cuba – Havana. Firstly, you will not deprive yourself of a pleasant beach relaxation, because the city seized a 20-kilometer piece of the sea coast, equipping it according to the tastes of tourists. And secondly, you can fully enjoy the old architecture for which the Cuban capital is famous.

Santiago de Cuba is worth a visit to experience the typical Carribean color, to see the historic part of the city (this was, after all, the place where the Spanish colonization of the island began), and to dance to the inflammatory tunes of street musicians. The cradle of the Cuban revolution, Santa Clara, is mostly visited by those who are still fascinated by the romanticized image of ex-commando Che Guevara. For the record, the remains of the Argentine rebel are still resting in the local mausoleum. The cigar capital of Cuba, Pinar del Rio, is ready to offer its guests not only excursions to tobacco plantations, but also walks through the picturesque valleys surrounding the city. In Trinidad you can go back in time to the colonial era. Some of the local mansions, built by the “sugar kings”, are even included in the list of World Heritage Sites.

Of all the islands of the Cuban archipelago recognized Cayo Largo, Cayo Caco and Cayo Guillermo as the most tourist-oriented. The first piece of land is notable for its coral reef and iguanas roaming freely on the shore. There are almost no locals in Cayo Largo, but there are plenty of hotels and bars with visiting staff, as well as clean municipal beaches. Escape from moping and relieve stress is best in Cayo Coco. The main feature of the island – the cave disco, organized for tourists on Tuesdays. From Cayo Coco you can cross the sandy causeway to the neighboring island – Cayo Guillermo, whose main attraction are the pink flamingos living here. Paradoxically, but the Cubans themselves, here very much not allowed, unless they do not work in one of the island hotels, so enjoy the fantastic sunsets and all the benefits of an all-inclusive system in Cayo Guillermo can only overseas guests.

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Cayo Caco Cayo Largo Cayo Guillermo

Sightseeing and Entertainment in Cuba

The main historical sites in Cuba are concentrated in Havana and several other major cities. In the capital, the area of Old Havana, with its Cathedral of St. Christopher, the Prado Boulevard and the Colón Cemetery, dotted with pathos-marble monuments, is the first place to look. Seeing Havana’s Capitol (a recognizable copy of Washington’s) is also a great experience. It is also interesting to wander through the old city squares, framed by old colonial-style mansions. Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco – all these paved squares are included in the obligatory tourist program-minimum.

Havana Cathedral Prado Boulevard Colón Cemetery Havana Capitol

The tiny town of Remedios is worth the trip for its Carnival Museum, the Alejandro García Couturla Music Museum and the Church of John the Baptist. Pinar del Rio is the place to go to see the Guache Palace, see a performance at the Milanes Theater, and watch the production of authentic Cuban cigars at the Francisco Donatien tobacco factory. In Matanzas, the Vigia Square, San Severino Castle, and Montserrat Chapel are a must-see.

At the Francisco Donatien factory The Guache Palace in Pinar del Rio San Severino Castle The Ernest Hemingway House Museum

Cuba is not Cuba without a mention of Hemingway’s vintage. Here the writer is loved and honored, but not missing the opportunity to earn a little money on his fame. If you too are partial to the work of old Ham, look into the Finca Vihia estate near San Francisco de Paul (Havana area), to which the genius gave 20 years of his life.

For ecotourists in a country with 14 national parks and more than two dozen biosphere reserves, the possibilities are virtually limitless. The most famous and most visited protected natural areas are the parks of Bacanao, Desembarco del Granma, Sierra del Rosario and Topes de Collantes.

Bacanao National Park Topes de Collantes Deselbaro del Granma Beach Playa Esmeralda Party in Varadero

It’s hard to ignore the Cuban resorts, the most major of which is considered Holguín. Holidays here, though expensive, but fun and prestigious. In addition, the resort is attached the most beautiful beach of the country – Playa Esmeralda. Cheaper and less posh Varadero has made a reputation for itself on the active nightlife. Regulars of this paradise corner – fans of parties, sex tourists and just fans of rest in the style “all inclusive”. Well, travelers who do not belong to any of the above categories, we can advise to look into Varadero for excursions to the sugar factory Jose Smith, where at one time was first launched the production of rum legends – Havana Club.

Holidays in Cuba: everything you need to know for the tourist

A good climate, the ability to swim all year round and luxurious hotels – these are not all the reasons why Russians choose to rest in Cuba. We have collected interesting information about Freedom Island that you should know before you go there.

Why Cuba?

Not surprisingly, holidays in Cuba are preferred over many other resorts. Russians don’t need a visa, it is warm all year round, you can always swim in the clearest Caribbean Sea, the beaches are stunningly beautiful, locals welcome tourists, and as a bonus – delicious rum and cigars.

Surfing is popular in Cuba

Surfing is popular in Cuba. Photo: unsplash.com

Cuba is not too hot due to high humidity and sea breeze. During the summer season, it rains, which surfers love so much – because it’s the perfect weather for conquering the waves. For non-surfers, winter and early spring are the perfect time to travel to Cuba.

Cuba is not called the Island of Freedom for nothing – here you can fully enjoy life, eat and drink the famous cocktails, walk around among the colonial architecture and sunbathing on the beaches. You can also go fishing, take diving lessons, go skydiving and yachting. Cuba is also wonderful to walk through a pineapple plantation, a tobacco factory and visit a crocodile farm.

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Holidays in Cuba

In Cuba, you can find entertainment for all tastes. Photo: unsplash.com

All-inclusive vacationers will appreciate its popularity in Cuba: hotels on the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts offer unlimited food 24/7, which is much more profitable than eating in city restaurants and cafes.

Can I fly to Cuba now?

Despite the pandemic, you can fly to Cuba, but so far only to the islands of Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria. Of course, this does not mean that it is forbidden to travel within the country. For example, by renting a car you can arrange a trip to the capital. That is, if you are willing to spend on the road about six hours.

How long does it take to get to Cuba?

So far, only two islands are open in Cuba – Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria. Photo: unsplash.com

Like everywhere else in the world, Cuba has strict security measures in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus infection. You do not need to take a test to fly out of Moscow, but all tourists are required to do it on the spot. There is a plus – at the airport in Cuba a swab is taken free of charge, though, provided that you have flown on a tour and bought insurance. You will be able to pay for it upon arrival; it costs $30.

How long does it take to fly from Moscow and how much would the tickets cost?

On average a flight from Moscow to the capital of Cuba – Havana takes 12 hours. During the popular tourist months of December, January and March the ticket prices are the highest and reach over 100 thousand rubles. So it is best to fly to Cuba from May to October. During this time, tickets to Havana cost just over 30 thousand rubles. The price of tickets will depend on the selected airline. We recommend booking them in advance – preferably three months before your trip.

Three most popular resorts in Cuba among Russians

  1. The first place of interest to Russian tourists is Varadero, which is logical. It is an hour drive from Havana, where all travelers around the country arrive. Incredible beaches stretching for 25 kilometers, luxurious five-star hotels, all kinds of entertainment – both sea and party, the Museum of Rum – that’s what goes to Varadero.
  2. The second most popular resort among Russians is Cayo Coco. Pristine nature, as if untouched by civilization, a national park where you can be a climber and rock climber for a while, flamingos walking around everywhere, the cleanest beaches, local spas and fitness centers will make your stay in Cayo Coco unforgettable.
  3. On the third line of our ranking is Cayo Largo. Tourists love this resort for its beautiful nature, snow-white sand and clear water, under which you can see the rich marine world. The hotels are like individual small towns, which will be fun for both adults and children.

Features of the beaches of Cuba

Holidays in Cuba is difficult to imagine without visiting the famous beaches, which are spread over hundreds of kilometers. The most popular are located in the Varadero area, but there are always crowded, so you can forget about a quiet holiday. For solitude is better to choose wild unequipped beaches, but do not forget about their quality. The most beautiful beach in Cuba is Playa Sirena on Cayo Largo. There is a pool with dolphins to play with.

Playa Serena Beach in Cuba

The beach Playa Sirena is a true “paradise”. Photo: wikimedia.org

Transportation

The most comfortable way to travel around the resorts of Cuba is by special tourist cab, which you can order by phone or at the hotel reception. For example, tourist buses are available in Varadero. Tickets are valid all day, regardless of the number of trips. Intercity buses can also take you to any resort in the republic.

How to fly to Cuba

In Cuba, you can rent a chic retro car. Photo: unsplash.com. Author: michele spinnato

If you do not like public transport, you can rent a car. True, if you are over 21 years old and have an international driver’s license. Important: when renting a car you need to pay a deposit of 150 to 300 kukas.

What and where can I eat in Cuba?

To put a tick in your personal check-list titled “I tasted the national Cuban cuisine,” you should definitely try the local deep-fried dishes, pork or chicken with spices and vegetables, famous in Cuba sandwich with ham, roasted pork and cheese, and guava marmalade. If you want something exotic, you can easily find turtle eggs, crocodile meat, lobsters and crabs in the republic.

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What to eat in Cuba

Meat and fish dishes with plenty of spices are popular in Cuba. Photo: unsplash.com. Author: Ting Tian

It’s best to eat either at all-inclusive hotels, as we discussed earlier, or at local pizzerias. The establishments serve Cuban pizza, which is not at all like the Italian pizza and is a yeast flatbread topped with sauce and cheese. And right on the street, you can buy inexpensive avocados and mangoes in special carts. Of the budget options for eating out are the local cafeterias, where they cook kahitas. This is pork with congri rice and fried banana.

In Cuba, there are also homemade restaurants with simple and understandable food for tourists – fruit, bread with jam and butter, freshly squeezed juice and eggs. For lunch, they serve a soup or salad and a main course of meat or fish with a side of rice.

Currency in Cuba

In Cuba there are two types of currencies – convertible peso which a tourist can pay everywhere and national – an ordinary peso. It is used only by Cubans. There are not many ATMs in Cuba, so it is better to have cash. We advise to exchange your currency for a convertible peso (also called a “kuk”). It is tied to the dollar, so you can easily find your way around prices. But it is better to go to the country with euros to avoid 3% commission and 10% fine of the total amount.

Cuba currency

Cuba has two currencies – pesos and cookies. Photo: pixabay.com

It is most convenient to change money in special exchange offices Cadeca, which are also available at the airport. We advise you to check the change and count the money, because in Cuban banks tourists are often cheated, and the change from precious coupons are given in ordinary pesos.

Cookies can be used for paying in hotels, restaurants, museums, and tourist stores. With the same with conventional pesos you can save in street cafes or on public transport. For residents of Cuba, who pay in local currency, everything is much cheaper.

What language Cubans speak

Going on a trip to Cuba, do not count on widespread knowledge of the English language. Cubans mostly speak Spanish, or rather a Cuban dialect. With rare exceptions, you can hear English speech, and even more rarely Russian. In Russian speak only guides for Russian tourists.

People of Cuba

Cubans mostly speak Spanish, with a dialect. Photo by Ricardo IV Tamayo, unsplash.com

Tips for tourists wishing to go to Cuba

  1. Cuba cannot boast of quality electricity, plugs and sockets. Therefore, take an adapter, adapter and tee so that you can charge several gadgets at once.
  2. Hygiene products: shampoo, shower gel and sunscreen are better to bring – so you can save a lot of money.
  3. Before you travel, get the best internet tariff in roaming. It will be cheaper than Cuban Wi-Fi, and more convenient when you need the navigator on your phone. Tourists are not sold local SIM cards, this should also be taken into account.
  4. Cubans are not punctual. If you are told that you get to the right place in five minutes, multiply the time by two, and do not count on the fact that the store or restaurant will open at 9 am sharp, and the tour – at a strictly scheduled hour.
  5. Rum and cigars are better to buy in specialized stores – there you will not run into a fake and get a check, which you will definitely be asked at the customs.

Important! It is allowed to take out of the country no more than 100 cigars and three bottles of rum 0.75 liters. Otherwise, you may encounter problems at customs.

Cigars in Cuba

Cigars are part of Cuban national culture. Photo by Joris Visser, unsplash.com

And finally.

“Be sure to take mosquito repellent! There are a lot of them here, and they are much smaller than the Russian. They do not buzz, and you will not feel the bite, but then the skin itches terribly!” – Advises a Russian woman, who recently arrived from Cuba.

Journalist, copywriter at migrantumir.com (2020-2021) . Culture and peculiarities of life in different countries – that’s what really fascinates me. My dream is to see the whole world and talk about it in an interesting way.

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