Best of the best
- 1Hostal Las Palmas
- 2Hotel Iberostar Varadero
- 3Hotel Paradisus Rio de Oro
- 4Blau Varadero Hotel
- 5Hotel Melia Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba
- 6Hotel Superclubs Breezes Jibacoa
- 8Hotel Iberostar Parque Central
- 9Hotel Paradisus Varadero Resort
- 10Hotel Playa Pesquero
- 11Hotel Iberostar Laguna Azul
- 12Hotel Sol Palmeras
Facts and information about Cuba
Airports / The main airport is Havana but there are other airports nearer the big resorts. Havana is well connected with the rest of the island and so it is no problem to arrive there. Cuba Contrary to what some might think, Cuba has been a land of many discoveries over the centuries. In fact, before Christopher Columbus reached its shores on October 28, 1492, the island had already been visited by “foreigners”: natives most probably coming from the Caribbean mainland, who, in the course of their explorations, had often sailed towards this new land seeking fair shores on which to settle. It is possible to imagine that these “indios”— as Columbus called them in the belief he had reached India — lived peacefully, surrounded by a nature that provided all their needs for a sustainable life. The European discovery of the New World, dividing the earth into hemispheres, ended the peaceful existence of the original inhabitants, marking the start of five centuries of history that up until present times has also been, in different ways and in different moments, a history of encounters with Cuba. It was especially Cuba’s status as an island and its privileged location in the Caribbean Sea that made the land attractive. The warm temperatures and tropical rains have shaped a landscape that is remarkable for its variety and uniqueness. This virgin and fertile nature seduced not only Columbus, who stated, “This is the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.” German naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who was considered the second discoverer of Cuba, provided the first scientific description of its fascinating mountains, endless beaches and the variety of its flora and fauna. Linked to the island’s nature, which had so impressed Columbus and Humboldt, was another discovery that would prove to be even more important. Between 1920 and 1950, ethnologist and author Don Fernando Ortiz made an in-depth examination of the most intimate secrets of that impalpable and complex atmosphere that had developed over the centuries, which came to be known as cubanía. The scientist, born in his beloved Havana, the Cuban capital, thus earned for himself the title of the third discoverer of the island. If Columbus had revealed to the world the existence of Cuba, and Humboldt had described the land, Ortiz was able to sketch its profile, defining the Cubans as the most generous fruit of this land, and their boasting of it as their greatest quality. Through a complex process, which Ortiz called “transculturation,” the inhabitants of Cuba evolved in a world apart and sprung from diverse ethnic roots, with the white Spaniards and other Europeans who emigrated to Cuba mixing with the black Africans, brought to the island as slaves starting in 1526. The mulatto, which refers not only to the color of skin, expresses one of the most important symbols of cubanía, a fusion of diverse cultures that has created its own identity. Under the Cuban sun, which beat down with equal intensity on the Spanish merchant, the Creole proprietor and the African slave, the diverse religious beliefs, customs and many psycho-social differences of all the inhabitants melted together in a particular syncretism, even despite the barriers erected by the white dominion and Catholicism. Other nationalities, though not predominating in Cuba, have by their mere presence contributed their own characteristics and participated in the creation of this fusion that makes up the Cuban identity. Among them have been the Chinese, brought to the island and subjected to slavery, the French and Haitians, who came when they fled the bloody Haitian Revolt of 1791 and promoted, among other things, the cultivation of coffee in the East of the country, and the North Americans, present in the country since the 18th century. There has even been an Arab contribution, which had exerted influence on the Spanish culture over the centuries. Cuba has always had an ambiguous relationship with the seas that surround it. From them came the conquerors, pirates and corsairs, the cyclones and hurricanes, and the slaves; they also brought scientific discoveries and such technologies as the printing press, the steam engine and the railroad. Because of the constant action of the waves, vast sandy white beaches developed, gently sloping into the clear waters of the bays that abound on the island’s long coastline. From across the sea also arrived, at the end of the 19th century, the United States navy, with the mission of intervening in the Spanish-Cuban conflict, but in reality interfering with the real independence of Cuba. And disembarking on the south coast in 1956 were the 82 young Cubans led by Fidel Castro, who once again took up the struggle for the sovereignty of their country, a half Republic since 1902 and governed by the interests of the United States of America. Surround entirely by water, buffeted on all sides by winds, the object of countless foreign passions, oppressions, conceits and plots, the island and its inhabitants finally became their own masters with the historic event that radically revolutionized the political, social and cultural life of Cuba. The 1959 triumph granted the people a heretofore unknown dignity, which itself generated new energies and other unknown quantities contributing to the Cuban personality and identity. The city of Havana, whose history since its beginnings has gone hand in hand with the history of Cuba, still continues to be one of the places that best exemplifies the memories of the past and the excitement of modern times, Cuban style. Among the elegant buildings from past centuries, saved thanks to a keen interest for the preservation of their heritage, and old American cars, whose impressive numbers testify to their unusual mechanical longevity, the Habaneros, like most Cubans, demonstrate what they have lived through and what they have adapted to: that which they themselves call the “culture of resistance.” Living in a paradoxical dialectic of survival and development, of immobility and international leadership, the Cubans have developed into one of the most interesting peoples in the world, especially if one considers that the country is neither particularly large nor populous. But the mystery of cubanía reveals itself with difficulty. The question, “What is a Cuban like?” can be answered in a thousand different ways, many of them contradictory. Lively and extroverted, profound and tenacious, able to joke even in the most difficult situations and ready for sacrifice and extreme abnegation. While not neglecting their prevalently sensual side, they are romantics and pragmatics, patriots and cosmopolitan, austere and spendthrift... As soon as we meet a Cuban, many adjectives come to mind in describing him. However, there are still no precise words for a people who, despite their short time as a nation, have been at the forefront of so much history, have faced such powerful enemies and have dreamed in such an enormously impassioned way.
The official language of Cuba is Spanish. Most Cuban’s have never left the island and so have not had much exposure to other languages. In the tourist industry most Cubans will speak some English, many very well, but if you venture out of the resorts it is handy to know at least some Spanish and carry a phrasebook around.
Cuba has two currencies. The Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso(CUC). The CUC was introduced to replace the US dollar which is no longer an accepted form of currency. All major currencies can be swapped for CUC at the banks and airport. The exchange rate between the two currencies is fixed at 24CUP – 1 CUC. Watch out for scams where you exchange your currency for CUC and get CUP instead. Stick to the banks and official bureau de changes. Tourists are encouraged to spend CUC as it’s more expensive and helps the economy, however there is nothing stopping you swapping some CUP. Buying things in CUP is far cheaper as it is the currency of the locals but choice is limited. It is great for the local markets though where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables for pennies. Cuban mangoes are especially good.
Best travel time
Cuba has a tropical Caribbean climate which means it stays pretty warm all year round. The dry season runs from November - April and the rainy season from May –October. In the wet season the sun still shines and you can have whole days without a drop of rain but when it does rain it pours. These tropical thunderstorms can be very enjoyable but you will get drenched if you are caught in it. The rains not too wet though and the sun usually comes out quite soon after to dry you out again. When it gets dark the magnificent electrical storms are quite a sight. All in all Cuba is a very warm sunny destination, perfect for beach holidays and sun worshippers.
European Nationals do not require a visa for Cuba. You just need a valid passport, onward ticket and the address of your first night’s accommodation and your tourist card which can be obtained from the Cuban Embassy but is often provided by your tour operator or airline. Nationals of the USA are forbidden from entering Cuba by the US government. It is possible to apply for permission e.g. for journalists or research. Cuba does not discriminate against American tourists and they should have no problems with the Cuban authorities. If you choose to break the rules and enter Cuba via another country then you can ask immigration not to stamp your passport.
Cuba has one of the highest (if not highest) doctor to patient ratio in the world but not much equipment. It is recommendable to bring basic first aid supplies with you and any specialist medicines you may need as they are not easily attainable. Vaccinations are recommendable but not compulsory. It’s best to talk to your doctor before your visit.
Phone reception is pretty good in most areas of the island. In the cities it is no problem at all, but like with all countries you will have more difficulties in more rural areas.
Country and People
Traditions and Culture
Cuba is a melting pot of cultures. It is a fascinating country and the people greet their visitors with a smile. Cuba is a communist country under a very strict regime but you would never know by watching the people. The salsa and rumba rhythms flow through their veins and you get the feeling watching the people walking down the street that they are just waiting to break out into dance. The older people sit outside their houses on their rocking chairs smoking their cigars and smiling at the children playing while around the corner some young men strum their banjos and add to the music and color of Cuban life. The Cuban people are a very tolerant and friendly race and tend to be very open and curious towards foreigners. Cuba has many musical and cultural traditions. There are many great jazz festivals and music is usually always being played somewhere on one of the street corners. Cuba is the home of many Latin dance types including samba, mambo and rumba. It is also home to Cuban rum and sipping a mojito on the beach is a must do for all visitors to this fantastic island. The people of Cuba are a relaxed bunch. Time passes slowly and no one seems in a great rush. Take your time to enjoy life the way the locals do and when evening falls join them for wild partieswith sexy dancing right into the early hours of the morning. Sights Havana is home to an array of sights. The city itself with its peeling colonial charm and beautiful ocean side promenade housing great building like El Capitolio is worth a day’s worth of sightseeing. It is also possible to have guided tours around the Tobacco factories to see how the famous cigars are really rolled. For more sights see the “things to do”in the region you are visiting.
Cuba is predominantly a Catholic country. The religion is a mix of the traditional Catholic values and syncretism. Santeria is one of the syncretic beliefs and was brought to Cuba by the African slaves. It found its way into the main stream and is accepted as part of the countries religion. There are also a minority of other religions practiced on the island.
Renting a car is not a problem. It is even possible to rent the American Vintage beauties. One of the major car renting agencies is cubacar. They have offices in all major cities and info desks in all bigger hotels. It is possible to rent the car with a national driver's licence. The driver must be at least 21 years old. Streets are quite bumpy in Cuba and there are a lot of slow vehicles on the roads - I would not recommend driving there to an unexperienced driver. Driving during the night is also not recommendable - there are a lot of unenlighted people on the road.
Public transport is mainly in the form of taxis in the cities and coaches between cities. If you are paying in CUC it is never hard to find a Taxi. If you want to travel between cities it is advisable to book your coach tickets a couple of days in advance as they are often full on the day.
Discover and Enjoy
Some of the event highlights in Cuba are: Havana Jazz Festival (Feb) Habano Cuban Cigar Festival (Feb) Pina Colada Festival (April) Cubadisco (May) 26th July Celebrations (July) Havana Carnival (Aug) Carnival of Santiago de Cuba (Aug)
Cuban cocktails probably top the list. Cuban cuisine has a mix of Spanish, African and Caribbean influences. A lot of fresh fruit and vegetables are used and plantain often features. Dishes are often intricately spiced and come in a selection of colors. If you want to try typical Cuban fast food visit Rapido the Cuban version of McDonalds or the peso pizza joints wereyou can get pizza for around 20p but is not for those with a weak stomach. The Cubans also love their ice cream.