About Cuba

At a glance

Capital city: Havana (population 2.2 million)
Population: 11.4 million
Language: Spanish
Currency: CUC
Time zone: (GMT-05:00) Bogota, Lima, Quito, Rio Branco
Electricity: Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type B (American 3-pin)
Dialing code: +53

Best time to visit Cuba

Cuba's subtropical climate is ideal for travelling, with most places catching the cool trade winds that blow from the coast, giving Cuba pleasant temperatures year round. June, July and August are usually the hottest months, the dry season runs from November to April and the wet season from May to October. Even in the rainy season, downpours are short and heavy and shouldn't hinder travel plans. Tropical storms and hurricanes are more prevalent in September and October but rarely cause problems for travellers.

Cuba weather chart

Culture and customs

Local smiling with a cigar

With Spanish, African and Creole influences, modern Cuba is home to a fascinating tapestry of cultural influences. This is evident in the music, dance and food that the charismatic Cuban people are happy to share with visitors.

It’s well known that Cubans loves music and dance – with everything from Afro-Cuban rhythms to classic melodies permeating the atmosphere of clubs, bars, restaurants and street corners. The modern arts are also embraced here, with ballet, modern dance and film also rising in popularity, so much so that Havana is now home to many internationally recognised film, literary and music festivals. 

Living in a Communist country means Cubans sometimes go without the luxury items that many Westerners take for granted, with certain foods and products not available to the Cuban public. Despite this, special events like birthdays, holidays and marriages are celebrated with gusto, with special foods, music and dance featuring. This love of life is also evident in the street parties, festivals and fiestas that are celebrated throughout the year. Coffee, cigars and rum are consumed freely and people dance with confident grace as the sound of trumpets and guitars fill the air. Visitors to Cuba will soon be enamored with this uniquely infectious way of life and culture, not seen anywhere else in the world.

Eating and drinking

Sampling local food

UVisitCuba believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.

Cuba typically doesn’t have access to a wide range of ingredients, so your dining experience may not be as varied as you like. Regardless, there are still lots of great treats to savour.

Things to try in Cuba

1. Coppelia Ice Cream

Line up with locals to savour a sweet scoop of Coppelia ice cream. This Cuban institution serves tried and true favourites like chocolate and vanilla as well as exotic favourites mango and coconut.

2. Pastelitos

These small pastries can be either sweet or savoury depending on the filling. Cream cheese, guava and beef are the most popular fillings and make for a cheap, tasty meal on the run.

3. Fritura de Maiz

These deep-fried cheese and cornmeal fritters are a popular street food snack in Cuba and a great choice for vegetarians looking for a meat-free option.

4. Rum

The tipple of choice in Cuba is rum. Savour some Havana Club Rum straight-up, have it mixed up in a minty Mojito or sip on a Cuba Libre.

5. Coffee

Cuban coffee is of legendary quality, so be sure to get your caffeine-hit with a small yet rich cup of black gold.

Geography and environment

Rooftops of Havana

This island nation sitting in the Caribbean Sea is home to a diverse range of environments. From rolling hills to tobacco plantations, beaches, coral reefs and tropical rainforests, Cuba holds many of the regions plant and animal species. With more than 20% of the island covered with natural parks, there's much biodiversity here, making it a great place for eco-adventures, hikes, snorkelling and diving.

Large cities like Havana evoke a time gone by. Grand buildings dating back to the 1950s exude a decaying grace not found elsewhere, which makes for great photographs but also makes daily life quite difficult at times. Due to a lack of building materials, new housing and infrastructure is rare, making living conditions quite cramped for Cuban city-dwellers. Rural life offers more space and a quieter pace, but less access to services. Regardless of where you travel in Cuba, the people are generally kind, humble and hospitable in both the big cities and small towns.

History and government

Che Guevara mural

Recent History

Two iconic figures play the largest roles in Cuba’s more recent history. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are embedded in the national psyche of Cuba, their power and influence pivotal to the Cuban Revolution of 1959. After taking control, Castro soon set out to remove political opponents from the administration and gain control of newspapers, radio and television stations. Relations between the United States and Cuba became strained almost immediately with the US resenting Castro’s takeover and Communist rule. Trade embargoes were put in place after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 added further tension to relations between the US and Cuba, which continues into the present day. Standing alongside Fidel Castro as an equally important political figure, Che Guevara (although Argentinean) holds a very important place in Cuban history. A revolutionary, author, doctor and military leader, Guevara played pivotal roles in the guerrilla campaign leading up to the Cuban Revolution and the defence of the Bay of Pigs, as well as diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union, up until his death in 1967. It’s impossible not to notice the reverence and honour held for Guevara when visiting Cuba. Street art, monuments, statues and museums dedicated to the man Cubans simply call ‘El Che’ can be found all over the country.

Early History

Originally inhabited by indigenous people, Christopher Columbus first sighted Cuba in 1492, and later claimed it as a Spanish territory. The Spanish went on to create many settlements around Cuba, which created conflict and warfare between the Spanish settlers and indigenous people. With the establishment of tobacco plantations and other cash crops like sugar cane, Cuba came to rely upon African slaves for labour during the 17th and 18th centuries. Bringing unique customs, music, language and food with them, the African slaves added to the melting pot of cultures already forming in Cuba. Due to Cuba’s rich natural environment and relative prosperity, the island became a prime target for pirates and other foreign invaders. When visiting Cuba today there are a number of fortresses and other historical remnants that act as a reminder of Cuba’s pirate past. After the Spanish-American War, Cuba was handed over to the United States, which assumed control until 1902, when power was then granted to a Cuban government.


Top Picks

Street art

Top 10 Essential Experiences of Cuba

1. Get into the Groove

Cubans love to dance, so find your rhythm and try some Salsa, Rumba, or Afro-Cuban Conga moves. From open-air street parties to jazz clubs, be sure to revel in the infectious beats and lively atmosphere of Cuba’s legendary nightlife.

2. Meet Cigar-Rolling Superstars

Don’t leave Cuba without seeing the meticulous art of cigar rolling in action. Master rollers prepare cigars delicately by hand, with different shapes, sizes and flavours being created in front of your eyes. Their specialist knowledge and skills are envied by the world.

3. Get to Know a Caribbean Queen

Named after a woman, the warm sun and azure waters of Maria la Gorda beach are made for swimming, diving and snorkelling. With reefs of black coral, hidden grottoes and miles of white sand, this beach is fit for royalty.

4. Meander Along the Malecon

Soak up fresh sea breezes and watch the waves crash against the seawall on a walk along Havana’s Malecon. Wait for sunset when the sun’s golden rays illuminate the faded charm of the buildings that line the boulevard.

5. Catch Up Over a Coffee

Home to many coffee plantations, Cuba knows how to deliver a good brew. Served short, hot, sweet and without milk, cupping a coffee in a Havana café or coffee bar is a great way to get to know the city… and get kudos from the locals.

6. Capture Colourful Streetscapes

Photographers will love snapping the vibrant street art and gritty graffiti found in Cuba’s neighbourhoods. From faded revolution-era murals to modern stencils, there’s plenty of Cuba to capture through a lense.

7. Meet the Music-Makers

Listen to the moving ballads and poetic love songs of guitar-playing Trovadores on the streets of Havana. The roots of modern Cuban music lie in the Trova, so don’t miss catching a performance.

8. Get Your Game On

Chess and dominoes are popular national past-times in Cuba. Watch locals play chess in the park or try to get in on a dominoes match in a coffee house or bar. Sports fanatics should head to a baseball game to see passionate fans get behind their favourite team. The baseball season runs from October to April and games are a low-cost, fun way to absorb Cuban culture and meet locals.

9. Pig Out at a Paladar

Cuba’s small, family-run restaurants, known as paladares, are a great way to experience local hospitality and Cuban home cooking. Some have a fun, 1950s retro vibe, others a more rustic feel, either way paladares offer a chance to experience a slice of homegrown Cuba.

10. Get to Know Che Guavara

From the iconic image of Che located in Revolution Square to the memorial and museum in Santa Clara there are plenty of ways to spend quality time with 'El Che' while in Cuba.



Shopping in Cuba

Cuba may not be known for it’s shopping, but look closely and you’ll find lots of unique souvenirs to take home as a reminder of your holiday.

Before heading home, check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to import some items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand for example have strict quarantine laws. The United States also has restrictions on the amount of tobacco and alcohol that can be brought back from Cuba.

Things to buy in Cuba

1. Art

Cuba has a keen appreciation of the fine arts, so it’s not hard to find unique artworks by up-and-coming Cuban artists being sold at galleries and markets.

2. Cigars

The cliché is true - cigars are everywhere in Cuba. Be sure to buy authentic cigars from authorised sellers, as fakes are common. Purchasing straight from the factory is usually best.

3. Coffee

Cuban coffee is top quality, so stock up before you leave to enjoy a taste of Cuba from the comfort of your own home.

4. Music

With such a rich, musical heritage, Cuba is a great place to pick up a hand-crafted musical instrument or, if travelling light perhaps a CD.


Festivals and Events in Cuba

Havana International Jazz Festival

Local and international artists head to Havana every year to become a part of the cool jazz scene. From the impressive Teatro Nacional de Cuba to the city streets, the sweet sounds of jazz infuse the air of Havana during this festival.

Habanos Cigar Festival

Cigar connoisseurs gather each year to celebrate their love of the best cigar in the world - the Habano. With tastings, visits to plantations and factories, master classes and cigar-rolling contests on offer, this festival will intrigue the curious and delight cigar enthusiasts.

Santiago de Cuba Carnival

Watch this historic city come alive with street parades full of vibrant costumes, hot drum rhythms and lively dancers.

FAQs on Cuba

Tourists of most nationalities require a 'Tourist Card' which is similar to a tourist visa. These can be obtained through travel agents in your home country, or directly from Cuban embassies and consulates. Depending on the airline you are travelling with to Cuba, you may also be able to purchase the tourist card at the airport from the airline on the day of your departure - please check with your airline.

If you are an American citizen, American permanent resident, or hold any type of American Visa, and are considering travelling to Cuba, please refer to the US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website - travel.state.gov - for the latest advice. If flying with a charter airline from Miami, you can purchase your tourist card directly through the charter company. Passengers transiting through a third country can purchase the card at the airport where you connect to Havana. You can also purchase cards in advance through www.cubavisas.com

While tipping isn’t customary, Cubans will accept tips graciously. With most Cubans living modest lifestyles, leaving a tip for good service is a good idea. Restaurant workers, hotel porters, maids and taxi drivers will appreciate a small sum, but be sure to tip in Cuban pesos as foreign currency isn’t easily exchanged in Cuba.

Internet access isn't widespread throughout Cuba but availability is increasing. The internet can sometimes be accessed from government departments and hotels, although the connection may be slow, some websites may be censored and the cost is typically high.

Your mobile phone may or may not work while in Cuba, depending on what type of phone you have. Before leaving your home country, ensure global roaming is activated with your provider, but be aware that your phone may not get reception due to Cuba having the lowest mobile phone penetration in Latin America.

Public toilets are rare in Cuba, but western-style flushable toilets are available in hotels, bars and restaurants. Bring your own toilet paper and soap as these are rarely provided.

Can of soft drink = 1 CUC
Cup of coffee = 1 CUC
Cocktail = 3-4 CUC
Meal in a nice restaurant = 9-12 CUC

It's not advisable to drink water from the tap in Cuba. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and peel fruit and vegetables before eating.

Some credit cards are accepted in Cuba (Visa and Mastercard are usually more widely accepted), although cards linked to US banking institutions won't be accepted. Ensure you have enough cash and other forms of payment, as credit cards won’t always be accepted.

ATMs are accessible in large cities like Havana and Santiago, but are rare/non-existent in other parts of Cuba. Please note that you won't be able to use cards that are linked to US banking institutions. Ensure you have other payment options available in case you can’t access an ATM while travelling in Cuba.

Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of your trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

Jan 1 Liberation Day
Jan 2 Victory of Armed Forces
May 1 Labour Day
May 20 Independence Day
July 25 Day of Rebelliousness
Oct 10 Anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence in 1868
Dec 25 Christmas Day

Please note these dates are for 2013. For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/Cuba/public-holidays