Cuba – everything a tourist needs to know about Liberty Island
The first thing a tourist wants to know is where in general Cuba is on the world map, whether the trips are expensive and what the prices of hotels are. Cuba libre”, or “Cuba libre island”, is an island where you can go to a lot of places and see the great variety of beaches and resorts.
“Cuba libre,” or Liberty Island. The white sand of sunny beaches, endless ocean expanses, vibrant nature, unique architecture, rum and cigars – all this and a little more will tell Good TAM about Cuba.
General information about Cuba
Where is Cuba
The Free Republic of Cuba is located near the shores of the northern and South American continents, separated from them by the waters of the Straits of Florida. The state occupies the islands of Cuba, Juventud, and about 1,600 smaller islands with a total area of 110,860 km².
The southern coast of the main island faces the Caribbean Sea, while the northwestern and northeastern beaches are washed by the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the Population Division of the “United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs,” the population of the republic as of 2017 is 11.4 million.
The national currency is the Cuban peso CUP, CUC. At the exchange rate of 1 peso = 1 U.S. dollar.
Useful Telephone Numbers
- Phone code of the country: 53;
- Phone code of Havana city: 7;
- Call from Cuba: 119 – your country code – city code – telephone number.
- Call to Cuba: 8 – international call code – Cuba code – city code – phone number.
- Russian Embassy: (+53 7) 204-10-85;
- Russian Consulate: (+53 2) 268 61 46.
Emergency services (Havana):
- Police: 116;
- Medical care: 40-50-93;
- Fire department: 78-85-41.
- National Police: 82-01-16;
- Fire Department: 81-11-15;
- Medics: 24-28-11.
Payment and exchange in Cuba
Convertible pesos are in circulation in areas designated for tourists. Because of the warm relations between the island’s communist state and the Empire of Good, which is jealous at the other end of the Florida Straits, it’s best not to fly in with evergreen presidents on vacation. When exchanging U.S. dollars from you can take a commission of 10 to 20%. This is why experienced travelers recommend coming here with Euros. Interestingly, the non-convertible Cuban peso (CUP) is almost unreal.
If it is more convenient for you to use Visa/MasterCard take into account that:
- Visa is accepted in more establishments than Mastercard;
- When visiting small stores or cafes, it is better to carry cash, as there may be no payment terminal;
- Card transactions are subject to a tax of 11.24%.
Staying in Cuba should be as colorful as possible, you may have to add colors to your everyday closet. You have every chance of becoming a Cuban cigar fan after visiting their homeland, but smoking in public places is prohibited.
If you come across a cow on your way to the beach or during a tour, be extremely careful. This animal is sacred to Cubans, and the death of a cow in your presence can lead you to unpleasant conversations with the local police.
It is also important for tourists to know that it is forbidden to photograph government agencies, military equipment, soldiers, police officers. In addition, before taking a picture of a Cuban should always ask his permission.
What are the Cuban people like?
Cuba is a multinational and multicultural country, where the blood and traditions of the peoples of Africa, Spain, Italy, Britain, Germany, Cuban and American Indian tribes, immigrants from China and France, as well as the Jews displaced during the First and Second World Wars.
Local, friendly people. Don’t be too quick to turn down an offer to play dominoes or share a meal. Do not be surprised if they ask you for a drink in the cafe at your expense. And if the hotel or hostel staff will ask you to leave your personal hygiene products (razors, shaving foam, etc.) remember that this is due to the high cost and inaccessibility of the latter for poor citizens.
Safety on Cuban soil
The people in a communist republic are friendly, but poor. It is better not to show cash and expensive accessories. Watch your belongings, so as not to become a victim of petty crooks and pickpockets. At nighttime walking around in poor neighborhoods is not recommended because of the high probability of being attacked.
Climate in Cuba, when to go
The most favorable time for recreation is from November to April.
Fans of windsurfing will enjoy the summer, when the rainy season raises the biggest waves. The holidays can be darkened by the domination of hurricanes between October and November, but in fact, you can plan a vacation in Cuba at any time of year.
Interesting cities in Cuba
Due to the small area you can visit Cuba within a few weeks of vacation. So you do not miss anything important, our website has prepared for you a list of cities and resorts to visit.
The capital Havana is a city of opposites. Here modern skyscrapers are next to colonial pre-revolutionary mansions, where ordinary people live. The city is full of architecture, monuments, and places of interest. Havana dazzles with its white beaches, gourmet cuisine, and salsa sounds. The El Floridita Bar, one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite spots, is worth a special mention. If you’re not interested in the bar, visit the writer’s house museum and then head to the Roma Museum. For those who aren’t tired of daytime excursions, it’s important to know that closer to night, the city turns into one big disco filled with unbridled energy. It’s a good time to visit the Tropicana show cabaret, which has been world-famous since 1939.
Santa Clara is a memorable place for the Cuban Revolution where Comandante Che Guevara derailed the armored train of dictator Batista. The wreckage of that very train remains at the site of the derailment to this day, it is a pride and a landmark for the people of the country. Also, there is a mausoleum named after Ernesto Che Guevara and if you are an American citizen, you might not be allowed in.
Santiago de Cuba
The home of street culture is Santiago de Cuba. Music can be heard on every street corner. It is rightly considered the cradle of Cuban melodies and rum, because Don Facundo Bacardi was born here.
If you want to see the island as it was in the eighteenth century, Trinidad is the best place to do so. The authentic ambience of the place is amazing. The cobblestone roads, colonial-style houses, sugar plantations, and slave houses are an echo of the old days.
Matanzas the capital city of the province of the same name is known for a large number of bridges, which was nicknamed the “Venice of Cuba”. The province of Pinar del Rio is interesting to visit, where you can visit the tobacco plantations and admire the views of the Viñales Valley, which received the title of “Cultural Landscape of Humanity” in 1999.
Varadero is the oldest of the resorts, a popular and truly heavenly place with turquoise ocean waters and snow-white beaches. The resort can be called a classic vacation in the Russian style, everything is always included. Hour bars, buffets in the restaurant with cuisines from around the world.
Holguin is a resort of elite business VIP class. The hotels are mostly five-star. People visit this place for luxury, tranquility, and sophistication.
Guardavalaka, one of the best resorts for diving, famous for its coral reef. Esmeralda is a place of emerald beaches. For lovers of the original party you can visit the Cayo Coco island’s cave disco.
Isla de la Juventud, known as the Youth Island (located 100 km. from the island of Cuba) is interesting with its natural reserves. It is said that R.L. Stevenson described the image of “Treasure Island” from the very landscapes of Juventud.
Speaking of pirates, it’s hard not to mention La Yana, an ancient tree located on the island of Cayo Largo. Legend has it that it served as a landmark for the pirates of the Caribbean Sea when they buried their looted gold.
This is just a small part of the places you can visit during your stay in the country. Even if you visit Cuba several times a year for several years you will always be surprised and captivated.
Entertainment and Recreation on Liberty Island
The one thing thousands of tourists come for each year on vacation is scuba diving. The underwater world is interesting not only beautiful coral reefs, but also a lot of sunken ships off the coast. Windsurfing enthusiasts can catch waves off the sandy shores, those who do not want to (or do not know how to swim) dive in a submarine into the embrace of the ocean.
The main monuments of Cuban architecture are concentrated in some of the most famous among tourists cities. In Cuba’s capital, Havana, you can see many cathedrals, including St. Christopher’s Cathedral. And you better not brag that you’ve been to Cuba without visiting the Armory, Cathedral and Old Plaza of the nation’s capital.
The Che Guevara Memorial in Santa Clara, the cigar factory “Francisco Donatien” in Pinar del Rio, the caves with cave paintings of Mantanas. On Isla de la Juventud, the prison Presidio Modelo, which is a replica of F. Castro’s former prison, Joliet (Illinois). The natural landscapes and national parks more than make up for the small number of architectural sights, many natural areas of Cuba are protected by UNESCO.
When you come to vacation from July 15 to August 15 be sure to visit the carnivals that take place in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, because they are unforgettable colorful events full of music, dancing and colorful costumes. And for fans of smoking it will be interesting to know about the international-level Cuban cigar festival that takes place at the end of February.
And where to go without shopping, because you need to buy something really Cuban – cigars, rum and coffee. Popular among tourists black coral and products from them. In the malls of Havana or chain stores Casa del Habano you will not be cheated and sell goods of proper quality.
The predominant cuisine in Cuba is Creole. Basic national dishes are prepared from pork and chicken. Meat is prepared in many different ways. Among the dishes of national cuisine – “Creole Ahiaco” – one of the main. It is made of pork and vegetables with a good portion of spices. You should also try :
- Lobster with lemon;
- crocodile meat;
- turtle meat and eggs.
Fresh fruit slices are often served with each dish. Tasty and strong coffee is brewed. The main national drink is rum, which is part of almost all local cocktails.
Restaurants are mainly concentrated in resort and tourist areas and it is recommended to visit them with cash. The cost of a meal for one person in a good establishment is from 30 till 40 pesos, simpler establishments will cost not more than 15 pesos, and in a eatery you will leave a maximum of 5 Cuban coins. The tip is 10% of the check and it’s better to give it in the hands of the waiters. And if you decide to eat at the bar, you are unlikely to succeed. In the colorful Cuban bars you have to drink, and the meal you get at most nuts or chips.
The most common hotels in Cuba are 4 stars, although for those who do not plan to linger within four walls sufficient number of hotels of class 2 and 3 stars. But lovers of luxury have nothing to choose from as 5-star hotels are literally one and a half. Most of the hotels on the island of freedom represent world-renowned networks, which work on an “all inclusive”. Check-in at the hotel in Cuba is at 15:00, check-out is recorded at 12:00. Smart Cubans allow themselves three hours to clean the room before the arrival of the next guests, so you can safely make a claim if you find unwanted traces of previous guests.
Features of life in Cuba – what can surprise any tourist on the Island of Freedom
Cuba or officially the Republic of Cuba is a Caribbean country whose main territory is the island of Cuba as well as about 1600 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 holding a book of Hemingway under his arm – so the overseas tourist sees the Liberty Island. And by and large, this stereotypical image is almost true.
Save on a trip to Cuba!
Neither the collapse of the USSR, 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. Moreover, from year to year, more and more tourists visit Cuba, which cannot but affect its appearance.
Thanks to travelers’ money, unsightly urban landscapes, bearing the imprint of the revolutionary past, finally began to give way to modern construction, and the shelves of urban stores began to slowly fill 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 raw materials appendage of 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, which immediately found enemies 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 foodstuffs 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 bastions of communism on the planet, the country is a constant source of interest. While the rest of the world lives at the breakneck pace of the digital age, Cuba has a leisurely pace and only a minority 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.
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, a situation 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, press, or travel 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!
Modern Cuba is slowly but surely beginning to make concessions to certain capitalist benefits that seemed completely unthinkable under Fidel. 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
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 size to England, is divided into 14 provinces and has about 450 islands and islets called “cayos” meaning “reefs” and “keys”.
Given its size, it would take at least a month to get acquainted with the whole country. Most begin in the capital, Havana, 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.
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, every 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 see 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 Sierra del Escambray mountains 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
Cuba belongs to the tropical passatine climate zone. There are only two seasons in this part of the Caribbean: the dry season (October to April) and the rainy season, accompanied by quite 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 advertising “Bounty” with snow-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 Caribbean flavor, to gain impressions from a tour of the historic part of town (this is where the Spanish colonization of the island began), and to dance to the fiery 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.
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, bordered 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 Prado Cemetery Colon Havana Capitol
The tiny town of Remedios is worth a trip for its Carnival Museum, the Alejandro Garcia 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 the old Hemingway. Here the writer is loved and honored, but not missing the opportunity to earn a little money from his fame. If you too are not indifferent to the works of old Ham, look into the Finca Vihia estate near San Francisco de Paula (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 almost 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 lovers of rest in the style “all inclusive”. Well travelers who do not belong to any of the above categories can be advised to look into Varadero for a tour to the sugar factory Jose Smith, where at one time was launched the production of rum legend – Havana Club.