Time

Cuba is GMT – 5 hours.

For details of daylight saving visit the World Time Zone website.


Dialing Code

To call Cuba the code is +53 followed by the area code and local number eg: Havana is 07, so to call Cubania Travel for example you would need to call +53 7 2079888.

To call the UK from Cuba you need to dial 119 then the country code and phone number.


Language

The national language of Cuba is Spanish, as a result of the country having been a Spanish colony for more than 400 years.  It is a very different dialect to the Spanish spoken in Latin America or Spain and may initially be difficult to understand so it’s worth learning some Spanish before coming over, or alternatively including some Spanish lessons in your holiday.  However, Cubans are experts at making themselves understood without speaking any other language so there is no real need to worry.


Weather

Cuba has typical Caribbean weather, which means that on the whole it is warm and pleasant for most of the year.  Unlike the 4 seasons we get back home, the weather in Cuba can be broken down into 3 categories: dry season, wet season and hurricane season.

Dry Season

This runs from November to April and is the most popular season with tourists who long for sunshine, beautiful beaches and perfect temperatures ranging between 22.0 °C (72 °F) and 25.0 °C (77 °F).   There are occasional cold fronts where temperatures can drop to as low as 10.0 °C  (50 °F) and with climate change affecting all parts of the world it is difficult to say how often these will take place.  Generally though, they are short spells lasting only a couple of days.  It is advisable though to bring some appropriate clothing for these months.

This time of year is Cuba’s peak season and hotels and private home-stays can get fully booked so it is worth booking your trip with enough time in advance if possible, although last – minute bookings can often be arranged.

Wet Season

This runs from May to October and is welcomed by the locals as a brief respite before the hot summer months ahead.  Tropical downpours are brief and heavy and will not impact on your trip, in fact you’ll probably find it quite refreshing!

The two hottest months of the year are July and August where temperatures can get as high as 38 °C (100 °F) on the eastern side of the island, though in Havana where the Northeast trade winds provide a steady welcome breeze temperatures tend to hover around the 32 °C (90°F) mark.   High levels of humidity can make these months uncomfortable, particularly inland and in the east.

Hurricane Season

Officially, hurricane season starts from 1st June and runs until the end of November, although unofficially locals tend not to expect any storms until July.  Cuba has received its fair share of tropical storms, generally they tend to pass the island on their way to the States, so although there will be very strong winds and plenty of rain, it is unlikely to be life-threatening.  Cuba has the best safety records and evacuation procedures in the Caribbean in these events and virtually none or extremely low casualty rates in stark contrast to places such as Haiti and also the U.S.   If you book your trip between June and November you should allow for the possibility of a hurricane and ensure you have full comprehensive travel insurance to cover your trip.

For more information on the weather in Cuba you can visit:


Electricity, plugs and adaptors

Generally, most places in Cuba have plugs at 110V (60Hz) and 220 V (60)Hz.  Some hotel resorts will use the European round pin model but overall you will find the U.S. twin flat blade kind.

Important:  At casas particulares the air-conditioning equipment always runs from a 220V wall plug.  It is always best to ask the casa owner to confirm which plugs are 110V and which 220V to avoid blowing any fuses on your own equipment or that of the casa.  (eg: TV, fan etc)

Below are images of the wall plugs you can expect to find in Cuba.


Maps of Cuba


Public holidays

Public holidays in Cuba are all focused around independence and revolutionary victories, other than Christmas Day. As in the UK it is mainly offices and schools that will close, the majority of shops, bars, restaurants etc will remain open.

  • 1 Jan Liberation Day
  • 2 Jan Victory of Armed Forces
  • 28 January Birthday of Jose Marti, father of Cuban independence
  • 18 April Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961
  • 1 May Labour Day
  • 20 May Independence Day
  • 25-27 Jul National Rebellion days
  • 10 Oct Anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence in 1868
  • 25 Dec Christmas Day

Cuban Money

Cuba has a fairly complex currency system in that it runs a dual economy:

  • The Peso Convertible (CUC)
  • The Peso Cubano (MN or moneda nacional)

The Peso Convertible has no value outside of Cuba and is roughly tracked against the USD $. 1 CUC is around 1.03 USD due to a 3% charge set by the Cuban government when exchanging cash or using credit cards, traveller’s cheques or ATMs. As a tourist you will always be charged in the CUC currency everywhere you go in Cuba.

The Peso Cubano is the currency in which Cubans are paid and which they use to purchase food items at ration stores or ready made food sold at street stalls and certain restaurants or for public transport. There are around 24 pesos cubanos to every 1 CUC. The average Cuban salary is around 300 pesos cubanos, approximately 15CUC per month.

The difference between the two currencies is visible by the words pesos convertibles below each denomination as shown below.

The best places to exchange money are at the official exchange houses or CADECAs which can be found at Havana Jose Marti International airport, and in every city in Cuba as well as a number of hotels. The main currencies exchanged are British Pounds, US Dollars, Euros and Canadian Dollars, and although other currencies are accepted we advise mainly relying on one of the suggested currencies to be on the safe side. It is also advisable to exchange your money in stages rather in one go as you may find you spend less than you originally imagined.

Alternatively you can also exchange money at any of the banks, though you may find that queues are very long and service extremely slow.


ATMs

ATMs can only be found in certain cities in Cuba, currently Havana, Santiago and Camaguey. We generally suggest that you do not rely solely on credit or debit cards during your holiday as you may find that machines do not work, do not have any cash in them, or do not accept your card for no specific reason. Before leaving for your trip it is strongly adviseable to check with your bank whether it has any links with US banks as your card will most certainly not work if this is the case. Cirrus and Maestro card, American Express and Diners are not valid in Cuba.


Travellers Cheques

We tend not to recommend travellers cheque due to the fact that they are not readily accepted in all places, cannot be replaced if lost and don’t carry the same exchange rate as cash.

Top Tips

  • We always suggest bringing as much cash as possible when coming to Cuba, backed up by a credit or debit card that is not linked to any US bank.
  • Never exchange money in the street, even if someone assures you they have a better rate than the bank. This will always certainly be a scam and you stand to lose much more than you stand to gain.

Events in Havana

There are a number of world class events that take place each year in Cuba, such as the Habanos Cigar Festival, International Ballet Festival of Havana, and International Film Festival of Havana, alongside a number of other events of national importance such as the famous Cuban Carnaval of Santiago. To read more about these events visit Havana Events.


General Safety

Cuba is possibly one of the safer places to travel, particularly for solo female travelers. There is very little crime against tourists, mainly due to the very harsh penalties for those committing the crime, even for minor incidents. This is done in order to maintain Cuba’s reputation as being a safe place for tourists to come to. The crime that does exist tends, on the whole to be bag or jewelry snatching or pick-pocketing. The majority of Cubans tend to be very poor in comparison to a tourist (bear in mind the average salary is around 15 CUC a month, around the same in USD).

We always advise people not to draw attention to themselves by wearing expensive jewelry; to not carry un-necessary cash or mobiles if you are not going to use them; and to wear rucksacks to the front and carry cameras in bags, rather than have them dangling around your neck, especially in busy areas. In hotels it’s advisable to keep your valuables, passport and money in the safe provided or locked in your suitcase. You’ll generally find however, that petty theft is a rare occurrence and if you apply simple common sense, you’ll have a problem free holiday.

If, in the unlikely event you are robbed, it is very important to log the complaint immediately with a police station and try to obtain a report for insurance purposes.


Transport

It is very unlikely you will need to use public transport in Cuba as you’ll find you are probably within walking distance from a bar, restaurant or nightclub if your accommodation is in old Havana. If not then taxis are readily available, however always ask for the meter to run or you are likely to end up paying more than necessary. Public buses are not advisable as these get extremely busy and if you are not sure where you are going can end up taking you out of your way and pick-pocketing is more likely to happen here than it is anywhere else.

If you would like to experience local transport then probably the easiest and most fun option to choose from are the local ‘maquinas’ , literally translated this means ‘machine’ but in fact refers to the old classic cars that barrel up and down various routes between old Havana and Miramar picking people up and dropping them off along the way. The average price of a trip costs around 10 Cuban Pesos moneda nacional (around 50 cents) or 20 Cuban Pesos moneda nacional (less than 1 CUC) for a longer trip.


Hustling

During your stay in Cuba you are bound to come across a number of hustlers or ‘jineteros’ as they are locally known. These are people that will start chatting to you in the street, trying to sell cheap cigars, recommending a good place to eat or a good casa to stay at, and they work on a commission basis. Generally they are quite harmless and often you will find that they want to know a little more about where you come from, though it’s probably best to keep conversation to a brief polite chat and move on, or you may find yourself accompanied throughout your trip!

Perhaps those that potentially stand to lose the most are the many single men and women who come to Cuba on holiday and find themselves swept off their feet by a local man or woman they befriend on the streets, primarily in the tourist areas. These are the jineteros (male) and jineteras (female) to watch out for, as they are almost certainly after your wallet, a plane ticket off the island and citizenship of whichever country they can reach. Sadly, the difference in economic situation between a tourist and jinetero means that the relationship is almost always cloaked in dishonesty and deceit, and the likelihood of a happy ending is very slim.

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The majority of Cubans however, are decent, honest people who would be horrified at the idea of asking for money or favours, and are ashamed at the behaviour of those that create the idea that all Cubans are only after financial gain. Unfortunately these aren’t the Cubans you will meet in the street, it is therefore wise to keep your wits about you when forming relationships to avoid any financial or emotional losses! Having said that, if you are aware of what is going on, Cubans are certainly some of the most fun people to have around, they are always up for a party and live for every moment.


Airlines that fly from the UK to Havana

  • Virgin Atlantic  (London Gatwick– Havana)
  • Iberia (London Heathrow – Madrid – Havana)
  • Air Europa (London Heathrow – Madrid – Havana)
  • Air France (London Heathrow – Paris – Havana)
  • KLM (London Heathrow – Amsterdam – Havana)

Useful links


Interesting reading

Here are a few of our personal favourites:

Fiction

  • Diary of a Runaway Slave by Miguel Barnet
  • Three trapped tigers by Guillermo Cabrera Infante
  • The lost steps by Alejo Carpentier
  • Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia
  • Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway
  • To have and to have not by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Handsomest Man in Cuba by Lynette Chiang
  • Songo Casongo by  Nicolas Guillen
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
  • Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
  • Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer
  • Paradise by Jose Lezama Lima
  • Cuba Diaries by Isadora Tattlin
  • Selected Writings by Jose Marti

Non-Fiction

  • Che Guevara, A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson
  • Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas
  • Enduring Cuba by Zoe Bran
  • Cuba – A New History by Richard Gott
  • Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara
  • Havana, Tales of the City (Chronicles Abroad) by John Miller, Kirstin Miller and Susannah Clark
  • Land of Miracles by Stephen Smith
  • Fidel, A Critical Portrait by Tad Szulc
  • Cuba or The Pursuit of Freedom by Thomas Hugh
  • Es Cuba: Life and Love on an Illegal Island by Lea Aschkenas
  • This is Cuba: An Outlaw Culture Survives by Ben Corbett
  • Travellers Tales of old Cuba by John Jenkins

Guide Books

  • Lonely Planet Cuba Country Guide by Brendan Sainsbury
  • Moon Cuba by Christopher P. Baker
  • Time Out Havana by Time Out Guides Ltd
  • Reader’s Companion to Cuba by Alan Ryan, Christa Malone and Steve Ryan
  • The Rough Guide to Cuba by Fiona McAuslan and Matthew Norman

Cuba Nature Books

  • Birds of Cuba by Orlanda H Garrido and Arturo Kirkconnell
  • Trees of Cuba by Angela Leiva
  • Flowers of Cuba by Angela Leiva