[Long-read!] When someone says «Cuba», I`m willing to bet a whole lot that you immediately envision things you have heard about Cuba like pastel-colored American cars, beautiful (but run-down) houses, colorful art, and fancy cocktails.
Did you also think about steaming hot nights with live music, and sensual dancing? And maybe Fidel and Che? There are, however, a few more interesting facts about Cuba outside of the stereotype.
After traveling regularly for years as well as having lived in Havana I am not going to argue, it is all that. What you may not know, however, is that this Caribbean island nation is soo much more.
If you don’t research a little before you go, you might miss lots of really great experiences.
Did you know that Cubans are not allowed to board boats? I don’t know if that is a fun fact about Cuba, but it definitely is an interesting one!
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There Are Both Fun And Interesting Facts About Cuba!
A Little Introduction To The Islands Of Cuba
The Capital of Cuba is Havana or La Habana in Spanish. It is also the largest city in Cuba, its colonial-style architecture, particular buildings, and historic landmarks make for an impressive and beautiful skyline.
The old city of Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city is famous for its 500 years long diverse colonial history and cultural heritage, as well as recent history.
Out of the population of around 11 million, just over two million live in Havana.
The second-largest city is Santiago de Cuba, situated on the southeastern tip of the main island very close to the infamous place Guantanamo you probably have heard about.
- The main island of Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean
- Cuba’s coastline stretches over 3500 miles
- The most popular sport in Cuba is baseball
- Cuba’s three biggest exports are tobacco, sugar, and nickel
- Cuba has nine UNESCO World Heritage sites
In June 2022 I published my first travel guide e-book about Cuba, after living in Havana for one and a half years.
You will find all about the different destinations and sights, but also a lot of information no one tells you about – that you really need to know before visiting Cuba!
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Why You Should Visit Cuba!
Few nations across the world have the same aura and mystic ring to it as Cuba.
Apart from the interesting facts about Cuba, I also have lots of information and humble advice on how to survive, thrive, and fall in love with Cuba when you visit.
The no-brainer motivation for traveling to Cuba is the Caribbean climate, the sun, the sea, and the truly gorgeous beaches. For anyone looking for a relaxing holiday, there are plenty of destinations on this island that will serve you everything you want if you need to relax and recuperate.
If you prefer (or also like) the buzzing nightlife, there is no place quite like Havana for that.
Did you also know how many UNESCO world heritage sites are in Cuba? This little island nation actually has 9 UNESCO sites on the official list!
You find remnants of the 500-year history pretty much everywhere you go in the Cuban cities.
Even if history is not a passion of yours it is impossible not to be impressed and in awe when the elegant but scruffy beauty is on your face everywhere.
Best Way To Travel To Cuba
If you want to make the most of your Cuba vacation, a little planning is very smart to find out what is the best way to travel to Cuba for you.
If you want more than visiting just one destination (which you should), a road trip around parts of the country is a good option. You can take a bus, book a rental car (which you probably should NOT), or rent a taxi and a driver for yourself for the day, or for a while. But it would be smart to plan at least the outline of this.
Most drivers will be open to negotiating a price if you give them a business opportunity like being a designated driver for a few days. In 2022 they also are going to ask you to pay in Euros in cash.
Make sure to try the Cuban cuisine from a local paladar, traditional Cuban meals with rice, black beans, and chicken, or ropa vieja, which is pretty much available anywhere. You can also get whatever fine dining you prefer in one of the super high-end restaurants or bars now available in Cuban cities.
Take your time and don`t rush it when you visit Cuba. Go for walks, take in the atmosphere.
The Cuban art, music, and dance scene is unique, inside and out, day and night it does not matter. You will encounter bands of troubadours in the streets in the daytime, people suddenly dancing for no reason.
Visit the museums, showing off the interesting facts of Cuban history from a Cuban perspective. Like the history of the failed US invasion of the Bay of Pigs at Playa Giron 1961, the museum of the Revolution, or any of the many cultural show-off locations across the country.
In the evening the music leaks out from about every door, bar, or restaurant. Cubans don’t live for long without music, it is all the time, everywhere.
This can be a bit unnerving for a cool and calm Scandinavian, but secretly I love it. The warm ambiance is magical.
What Is The Weather Like In Cuba?
Cuba has a warm and humid Caribbean climate all year typical for the region, which can be divided into two seasons, the wet and the dry season.
The wet season, also known as the hurricane season runs from around May through October. In this period you have to expect the occasional tropical storm, as well as frequent afternoon showers.
It is super hot and humid, and the humidity and temperatures can seem excruciating if you are an active and exploring tourist.
During the dry season running from November through April, there are not a lot of the summer thunder and rain showers and the temperature is generally lower.
During this period, you may be very alone on the beaches as the Cubans find the winter months too cold for beach life but the nightlife is not affected.
Average temperatures in Cuba range from 22 °C (72 °F) in January and February to 28 °C (82 °F) in August. Rainfall is heaviest in June and October and lightest from December through April,
What Is The Best Month To Visit Cuba?
The best month to go to Cuba for you will depend on what you prefer. If you like the heat and do not mind crowds of other tourists, the summer high season is great for you.
The peak tourist season in Cuba runs roughly from mid-December to mid-March as well as all of July and August despite the wet season challenges.
Prices are also highest when the crowds are thickest which is in the summer, which is also the holiday season for Cubans as well.
If on the other hand, you prefer less crowded streets and sights, if you prefer to travel at lower costs and do not mind the cooler air (and some rain showers) the middle seasons might suit you better.
This would be something like March through to June, and late August to October.
If you ask my opinion as an ex-pat so to speak, I prefer the late spring and early fall in Cuba. The temperatures are nice but not sizzling, and there are tourists and life, but not millions. And the beaches, sights, hotels and all Cuba has to offer are still there all year round.
Why Is Cuban Spanish So Hard To Understand?
The official language in Cuba is Spanish, but I need to warn you; Cuban Spanish is nothing like any other Spanish. Cuban Spanish is so particular with its accent, slang, and pronunciation (and speed!) that it is a lot more like a language of its own. Cuban Spanish is hard to understand!
If you already speak Spanish, you will find out it still can be TOUGH to follow a conversation between Cubans.
Cuban Currency 101
From the 1st of January 2021, the only valid currency in Cuba is ONLY the CUP, the Cuban Peso, after the change of the national monetary system.
The Cuban peso to the dollar is 24:1, so one dollar is worth about 24 Cuban pesos in the bank. The price, or value, on the streets, varies a lot.
ATMs are easily available in Cuban cities for everyone, except those with American credit cards.
Due to the still-active sanctions from the US, Americans still can not withdraw or use their credit cards in Cuba.
Note that from ATMs you are only able to withdraw Cuban pesos, no other currencies is available once in Cuba.
Since January 2021 there has also been an inflation of the Cuban peso which has influenced the prices of groceries, foods, and commodities. Prices on some items have increased on average by around 400 percent.
I recommend you bring Euro in cash in to spend in the shops, restaurants, and outlets around the country.
Also read: Money in Cuba 2022 explained
Best Places In Cuba To Visit
There are so many beautiful and interesting destinations in Cuba, that it is hard to recommend what to choose when you are only visiting for a week or two. The most famous destination is of course Havana.
Havana offers you everything, history, culture, art, great food experiences, city vibe, recreation, dance, and nightlife. Whatever you like to experience on a holiday, Havana has something for you.
Like my mom said when she left after her first visit: «This has been a journey of formation», after meeting the country and the people she had heard so much about.
About two hours drive to the east of Havana lies the sandy peninsula Varadero which how houses loads of hotels, beaches, and water sports options.
A lot of people take their vacation to Varadero, and from there do short visits to other destinations like Havana. Varadero is truly a tropical paradise.
Although a Caribbean oasis, staying in Varadero the entire time is almost like not visiting Cuba at all. This all-inclusive hotel world is a bubble where nothing looks like the rest of the country.
Go to Varadero to chill, recuperate and enjoy the sand and sun for a while. Then go fon to explore the real Cuba; the cities, the streets, the people, and the culture.
The beautiful farmlands in Vinales is where there is a large production of sugar, tobacco, and rum is produced. Many farmers open their facilities for tourists showing off how everything is done.
The farmers make it all an adventure for you to experience the whole process.
Cuban farmers are also currently allowed by law to sell a small percentage of their products to tourists and not just to the state. While in Vinales you should also get adventurous and join a horseback riding day, often including extracting sugar from canes, smoking hand-rolled cigars, and testing out local cocktails based on short traveled rum.
You can visit Vinales for a couple of days and see how they do it. Then buy a cigar the farmer just rolled with his own hands while curious farm animals noisily stroll around you.
The Unesco listed city of Trinidad lies on the southern coastline of the main Cuban island. You can take a taxi or bus from Havana to Trinidad, but it is a little too long for a day trip.
In Trinidad, the architecture is particular, with low well preserved colonial colorful houses like pearls on a necklace along cobblestone streets.
Visiting Trinidad you should make sure you have at least an entire day to explore, including an evening to walk the night streets.
Enjoy the ambiance of the city, there will be music everywhere, nice restaurants and little bars, and lots of people all around.
Also, try to visit the museum showing off the Cuban victory after the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs at Playa Giron in 1961.
The Bay of Pigs is a reversed u-shaped narrow bay that is almost like a Norwegian fjord.
The bay is most famous for the US invasion attempt, and along the bay are beautiful beaches and places to do water sports. Most famous is the Playa Giron, where the US troops got stuck after the attempted invasion.
Cienfuegos is known as the “Pearl of the South of Cuba”. This city has seduced travelers from all over the world, who come to experience the mixture of its cultivated French spirit and its affable Caribbean style.
The city was founded in 1819 by a French emigrant, don Luis D’Clouet. It is full of classical facades and slender columns giving an atmosphere reminiscent of 19th-century France.
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is the second-largest city in Cuba, all the way to the East of the island. It is called the cultural capital of Cuba and is well known for
From Santiago de Cuba the distance is bigger to Havana than to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. This has shaped the identity of the city, which is heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean details.
The Cuban Keys
The Cuban Keys, Los Cayos, is the term used for all the islands off the shore of the main island.
There are in total more than 4000 keys around the main island, although some are more well known than others. A very popular area for vacations is the keys off the northern coast, to the east of Cuba.
Places like Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, and Cayo Cruz are islands dominated by tourism. Here you can spend your whole holiday in large resorts with azul pools and white beaches if you want, but then, of course, you have not really visited Cuba.
Isla de la Juventud
Isla de la Juventud, the Island of Youth, is the second-largest island in the Cuban archipelago, South of the western part of the main island.
It is described by Tripadvisor as “a pristine and unhurried island with Indian cave paintings to view, great diving opportunities, and a friendly local wildlife”.
The charming island has rather few visitors. Mostly it attracts divers because of its beautiful coral reefs and colorful fish, but they also are paradisiac beach with crystal clear waters which makes it one of the best places in the world for beach tourism.
How To Fly To Cuba From The US
You don’t need to worry about how to fly to Cuba from the US, American Airlines have daily flights to Cuba from Miami. You can also buy the pink US tourist card right there at the counter before you board the plane at Miami Airport if you have not bought one online in advance.
The crew at Miami airport is used to people traveling to Cuba. In other American airports that may not be the case. As there are specific travel regulations for Americans traveling to Cuba in 2022, make sure you have enough time at the airport if you are flying from any other US airport to allow for any extra checks.
I have only had problems traveling to Cuba one time, when I traveled from Memphis, TS. The check-in crew was not familiar with the Cuban tourist card or entry approval and genuinely shocked that I was traveling there. I actually lost my flight before they finally concluded that I indeed can travel to Cuba (which I knew).
Canadians have no issues traveling to Cuba, and can also get a tourist visa valid for three months instead of two. There are a lot of Canadian travelers visiting Cuba in 2022, and Canadians should not have any special issues with neither visas, flights, check-in, or entry into the country.
A lot of major airlines also travel from Europe, Canada, and the rest of the world to Cuba, and you do not need to have a stop-over in the US.
The price of a return flight to Cuba will vary dependent on where you book, where you fly from, and what time of year you go. Also hours of flight, stopovers, and how much luggage you bring.
From Europe to Cuba, the price has varied over the last two years between 600 and 1200 dollars, with one stopover, including checked-in luggage. I suspect the prices will fluctuate in 2022 dependent on the various pandemic situations in various countries.
The best thing you can do is check lots of different providers, and check prices for different airports. If you are flexible on travel dates that is a huge advantage, it is easier to find good deals on hotels, Casas, and accommodation than on flights so don’t worry about that!
How To Book A Flight To Cuba From the US
You might run into some small issues when searching for flight tickets to Cuba from the US on various search engines. Because of ongoing sanctions, some providers will not offer flights to Cuba. So on how to book a flight to Cuba from the US, here are some options.
You can book directly on the home page of an airline that has flights to Cuba from the US. American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, United, Republic Airways, and Mesa Airlines all fly non-stop to Cuba.
One search engine that offers flight searches to Cuba and will find the best available option for you on time, price, and included services in 2022, is Skyscanner.
Also read: Best travel deals and providers
Flying Time To Cuba
The flying time to Cuba from Miami Airport is around one hour. So you do the math, and figure out how long the entire flight will be with the additional flights you have to take before you depart Miami.
From airports in central Europe, like Paris or Amsterdam, the direct flight time to Havana is around 10 hours.
Where to stay in Cuba
There are unlimited options for hotels, casas, and accommodation in Cuba.
There is accommodation in all price ranges dependent on your wallet and preferences.
Generally, it is cheaper in the countryside than in the cities, but the more pricey high-end resorts are mainly outside the city walls if you want a chill-by-the-pool retreat.
In Varadero and the Cuban Keys (Los Cayos), there is a whole range of all-inclusive and luxurious resort options for parts or the whole of your stay. If that is not your thing, there are cheaper options both in the hotel range and not least through Airbnb and Hostelworld which are now big in Cuba.
A lot of Cubans all over the country offer a single room in their house, or a whole house, for you to rent. You can rent anything from a cheap room and breakfast to luxurious multi-bedroom houses and super facilities for your family or group of friends.
If you are a party traveling together, renting a multi-bedroom house may be both a budget option and offer you better amenities than separate rooms in a hotel.
On the super-cheap end, you can get a hostel bed for down to five dollars a night for a shared room, or a private room for 12 dollars a night. Higher quality hostels/bed and breakfasts or hotels/casa`s start from around 15 dollars a night and increases pretty much indefinitely, check the offers at Hostelworld.
High-end hotels are not always in the apps like hotels.com and booking.com, so you might need to go directly to the web page to discover these and do a booking.
I have stayed at several Iberostar and Melia hotels in Cuba, which are generally good options.
Also read: a comprehensive guide to hotels and accommodation
Traditional Cuban cuisine will consist of a lot of chicken, white or black rice, black beans, and vegetables. And of course the ropa vieja.
Also, the yukka plant and fried plantains (a type of banana) are common and popular. I had never even heard about Yukka before I visited Cuba for the first time, not really a common part of Scandinavia cuisine.
Cubans are serious about their food, especially the dinner (comida). Trying to serve dinner in the evening without rice will make people think you are deficient in some way, and you will certainly not make friends. So be aware!
Cuba has had a questionable reputation for limited food options for tourists, before visiting I had heard that the food is tasteless and bland and advised you to bring your own seasoning for your holiday.
My experience in recent years is that this is no longer the case. You normally will find anything the heart desires to eat, at least in Havana, the bigger cities, and the bigger hotels & resorts.
One thing is that Cubans do not survive without, is salt in their food, but meals are generally not very spicy compared to Indian or Asian food. However, most shops selling vegetables and fruit also have a variety of spices for sale so don`t worry.
Also read: Havana restaurants | Food and drinksssss
Food is an actual issue that you need to be aware of when traveling to Cuba in 2022.
There have always been certain shortcomings in commodities available in Cuba due to sanctions, but through 2021 the situation has deteriorated. This is due to a series of events, including the pandemic, the lack of tourism, the international sanctions, and domestic reforms of the monetary system, to mention a few.
As a tourist, you absolutely will not starve, don`t worry. You have the option of eating in your hotel, sandwiches sold in doorway shops and kiosks, and a variety of restaurants throughout.
You just may not be able to get exactly what you want when you want it. When browsing through the menus in Cuba, you should rather ask “do you have”, instead of “I would like”, as many options are simply not available to well-wishing restaurant owners.
Also, most Casas particulares provide a super breakfast for around five dollars/Euros, with toast, ham and cheese, eggs, fruits, juices, and coffee.
Prices In Cuba
Visiting Cuba can be as expensive as you want, but it can also be quite cheap. Although what you think is expensive and cheap probably depends on where in the world you are from.
The absolute cheapest option to stay in Havana is a shared hostel dorm and all cooking at home. This will come in at around 40 dollars a day if you do absolutely nothing that costs money.
A decent hotel or casa with breakfast, lunch, and dinner in restaurants, a few drinks, activities, and taxis will need a daily budget of around 120-150 US dollars.
Malecon by Night
The History Of Cuba
The story of Cuba is a lot richer and more complicated than the tabloid impressions of the world at large and starts a long time before Fidel Castro’s famous takeover of the island in 1959.
The most world-famous events apart from the revolution are the Bay of Pigs incident, and the failed US attempt to invade Cuba in 1961. Very famous escapade.
Then came the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the Soviet Union placed missiles on the eastern part of Cuba, and the US found out and wanted none of it.
No wonder you might say, Cuba is only a stone’s throw away from the coast of Miami.
But centuries before that, way back in 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba for the first time. He “discovered” the island and claimed it for the then-expanding colonial Kingdom of Spain.
That is how Cuba became a Spanish colony for a staggering 300 years facilitating the slave trade, the sugar trade, the tobacco, and more for the Spanish Empire.
Not until the Spanish–American War of 1898 did Cuba regain its independence with the help of the United States. Immediately after this war, Cuba was part of the United States Military Government for a while, until it gained formal independence in 1902.
However, the independence they regained turned out to be more formal than real as the US now had interests in the Caribbean island’s strategic location and resources.
The US Platt Amendment was formed, and this made sure the Cuban independence was under supervision from the US for more than half of the 20th century. Up until the revolution orchestrated by Fidel Castro and friends on New Year’s Eve in 1958.
The Spanish influence in Cuba was suddenly traded for an American one at the beginning of the new century, which continued until New Year’s Eve of 1958.
Fidel And The Revolution
The Spanish influence in Cuba was suddenly traded for an American one in the new century, which continued until New Year’s Eve of 1958.
Castros almost immediate nationalization of Cuban industries back to Cuban ownership was not received well in the multi-million dollar enterprises in the US running it since the turn of the century.
Castros Cuba was almost immediately subject to sanctions from the US in trade and international relations.
Relatively quickly Castro began developing relations with the Soviet Union instead of the US. Then, on April 16th in 1961 Castro officially announced that his government was socialist.
The next day, April 17th, 1961 the US attempted to invade Cuba to overthrow its new communist-led government. The US failed miserably as we know, and paid a high price for that.
After this incident, the Communist Party of Cuba was created in 1965 and has ruled the island ever since.
Of course, that is not the full story, it is of course a lot more complicated. I recommend you read about the super complex and interesting history of Cuba before your visit, it explains a lot about how Cuba developed into a society where revolutions could happen.
The Havana Skyline
There Is A Before And After Visiting Cuba!
For most people, a visit to Cuba is something you do once in your life unless you are one of the few people who fall utterly in love and can not stay away. If you want to experience everything about Cuba, you have to move here for a year or two, to be honest.
There are things to see and do all over the country, so it is wise to decide what parts you want to see. There is quite a distance between Santiago de Cuba on the eastern tip and the capital Havana.
For a short holiday, you really will benefit from making sure you choose what is important to you for your visit.
From Havana, you have the option to take day trips to other very famous locations as well, like mentioned above. From Santiago de Cuba you can take a domestic flight, or the 12-hour train journey if you like slow travel!
If you already know what destinations you want to visit, or don`t know yet but want to find out more about them check out all the information on every Cuban destination to help you decide and make a plan!