Cuba is a country rich in history and colourful in nature. Sea and sand, palm trees and mountains – this island has everything for an amazing holiday. There are open, friendly and independent people here, who are happy to introduce you to their homeland. Welcome to Cuba, it’s waiting impatiently for you.
Cuba on the map
Geographical location of the country
Cuba is a country commonly referred to as Latin America, as the island has long been a Spanish possession.
It is located on the largest island of the Antilles archipelago, just south of the Florida peninsula, which belongs to the US. Cuba is washed by the Gulf of Mexico in the northwest and the Caribbean Sea in the south. To the north-east, the Atlantic Ocean waves sweep over the island.
Cuba has no land borders with other countries. The country’s closest neighbour is Haiti, on the island of the same name. It’s only 77 km away by strait. Slightly more, 180 kilometres, to the coast of Florida, 140 to Jamaica and 210 to Mexico.
The area of Cuba is 110 thousand square kilometres. In addition, more than 1600 small islands belong to the republic.
Dangers for tourists
For the tourist, a trip to the island of freedom can be a dangerous as well as enjoyable experience. Many of the usual factors for local people turn out to be unhealthy for tourists.
The bright sun is a prime example. The danger of getting sunburnt is very high. A second danger is enteric infections. Water in Cuba is not of good quality and is frequently contaminated with pathogens. Poisonous snakes and jellyfish are abundant in the waters around the island, so bathers have to be on their guard. Poisonous sea urchin needles and the sharp teeth of moray eels may lurk. And the island’s jungle is home to the sand flea, a vector of many dangerous diseases.
The streets of the cities are hunted by pickpockets, and the rules of the road exist only on paper. According to world ranking of tourist safety, Cuba is on the 26th place, between Romania and Poland.
So staying here, be careful and watch out, otherwise a wonderful holiday may turn into a painful one.
For many foreigners, the Cubans seem like a very cheerful people, always ready to sing and dance. And Cuba itself is seen by visitors as a land of eternal celebration. It is both true and false. There is a real holiday atmosphere in the resorts of Cuba, but for the most part the islanders are not wealthy and are more concerned with their daily bread than their entertainment.
There are five public holidays on the island and they all have revolutionary roots. The Triumph of the Revolution, Occupation of the Moncada Barracks and Workers’ Day are major public holidays. Christmas, celebrated on December 25th, is also a public holiday.
There are other festivals and celebrations for tourists, which take place every month. These include festivals of cigars, rumba, theatre and ballet, guitar, grapefruit and new Latin American cinema.
Noisy carnivals with parades of giant figures, dancing, masquerades and all sorts of shows are also a regular occurrence.
Things to do in Cuba
Tourists go to Cuba primarily for the beautiful beaches, the warm sea and the fascinating underwater world. This relatively small island can provide the tourist with a lot of interesting activities.
- Beach holidays. The beaches of the island are mostly sandy, very beautiful, protected from the high waves by coral reefs. There are the usual beach activities and attractions.
- Diving. A favourite pastime of tourists visiting Cuba. The underwater world around the island is very rich and varied. Here one can learn how to dive under the supervision of an experienced instructor, or improve previous skills.
- Yachting. Yachting is another popular pastime. Tourists can simply rock on the waves, sunbathe on board a yacht or go fishing. Marlin, a big and beautiful fish, are found in the local waters.
- Amusement Parks. Cuba has a number of parks where the whole family can have a great time. Havana Zoo, the dolphinarium, water parks, Baconao Park with giant dinosaur figurines, and many others are among the most popular ones.
- Nightly discos and bars. A perfect place for the outdoor enthusiast. Here you can listen to live music, dance to local rhythms, try exotic cocktails, sing karaoke.
- Carnivals and festivals. There are parades, masquerades and parties which draw crowds of tourists and the locals are always on the spot.
- Attractions, excursions. Havana’s Old Town, La Real Fuerza, Bellamar Cave, and Tropicana Cabaret are some of the must-see sites in Cuba.
- Learning. A trip to Cuba allows you to not only relax, but to learn something different. There are plenty of schools for dancing, playing musical instruments, and educational excursions to factories and farms.
- Cooking. The island is famous for its original cuisine which is based on beans, rice and meat. Culinary delights can be sampled at high-end cafes and restaurants but also at small eateries and hawkers.
Information on Cuba
If you are planning to visit Cuba, here are some of the most important things to know
The country’s official language is Spanish, and 12 million people speak a dialect of Cuban. This dialect has been heavily influenced by the languages of people from Africa, who were brought to the island in large numbers as slaves, as well as English. This has made it difficult for Spaniards to understand Cubans.
Some of the population speaks fluent English and French, whilst others speak Russian – many of whom were educated in the USSR, and even today one may come across expatriates from the Cuban Liberty Island in Russian universities.
At present, the country has just over 11 million inhabitants. Most of them are descendants of European settlers and African slaves. About 60% of Cubans are of European race and 25% are mulatto, descendants of mixed marriages. The black population makes up 10% of the island’s inhabitants. According to other data the number of mulatto is over 50%.
There are also many Chinese, about 1.5%.
For more facts about Cubans, their personality and local colouring, read this article.
Cuba’s current national currency is the peso. It consists of 100 centavos.
The peso has been in use in Cuba since 1857, replacing the Spanish real. The peso is not convertible and is therefore used mainly for local circulation.
The convertible peso, which has become a substitute for the dollar, has been issued as a special currency for the country’s tourism industry. But the experience was not entirely successful and since 2021 the convertible peso has been withdrawn from circulation.
Nowadays tourists coming to Cuba should have cash euros, which can be changed at markets or even at the lifeguard station on the beach. The official exchange rate for euros in banks is not favourable. And dollars are not accepted in banks at all.
Cuba is considered a secular state. There is freedom of religion by law, and the church has long been separated from the state.
Historically, the first Europeans to arrive at the island were the Spanish, who also brought Catholicism here. Nowadays, Catholics make up the majority of believers on the island. But there are also Protestants, Orthodox and even Jehovah’s Witnesses.
However, almost half of Cubans do not belong to any religious denomination, practicing atheism.
Cuba has a tropical trade wind climate. The island is heavily influenced by the ocean and the warm currents of the Gulf Stream.
The year on the island is divided into two seasons. The winter dry season lasts from November to April and is characterised by low rainfall. Even in the coldest January, temperatures do not drop below +24 degrees during the day and +17 degrees at night.
The hotter, rainy summer is from April to October. It can get as hot as 34 degrees, and even bathing in the water is no relief as it gets too hot.
Short, but very heavy downpours often occur during the summer afternoons, quickly flooding the streets. Generally speaking, summer in Cuba is a hurricane and storm season. Quite often, cyclones strike the island’s shores.
You can swim in Cuba in any season and the water never drops below +23 – +25 degrees Celsius, and sometimes it is even warmer than the air.
- During the low season in summer, the water temperature rises to between +27 and +29 degrees.
- In autumn the temperature of the sea gradually decreases but is still hot. By November, it cools down to +24 – +26 degrees.
- Winter in Cuba is a high tourist season. Visits to resorts peak at this time. The temperature of sea water in winter remains comfortable: +22 – +24 degrees.
- In the spring, the water temperature begins to rise again, reaching +27 to +28 degrees by May.
The situation with natural disasters on Liberty Island is rather complicated. On the one hand, holidays here are considered fairly safe, on the other hand, the potential for natural disasters in the region is high.
Cuba’s shores are often disturbed by hurricanes in summer, which at times turn into devastating storms. This can significantly spoil your holiday.
The island lies in a tectonically active zone and although the epicentres of earthquakes are mostly away from Cuba, their reverberations are often felt here too.
Active volcanoes are close by in a global sense, in Mexico and the Lesser Antilles. They erupt frequently, and ash clouds have threatened international flights several times.
There is also a high risk of wildfires in Cuba, particularly during the hot winter months.
You can read about the most destructive disasters in Cuban history in this article.
Cuba is a presidential-parliamentary republic. Executive power is in the hands of the president, who is also head of the Communist Party. The executive branch is also the government, consisting of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers.
Legislative power is exercised by the unicameral National Assembly.
Administratively the republic is divided into 16 provinces and 169 municipalities.
Cities and resorts
Havana is the capital and the most populous city of the Republic. Founded in 1517 by the Spaniards, the city now has 2.5 million inhabitants. Its historical monuments, castles and cathedrals attract many tourists as well as its nightlife and festivals, which are particularly popular in mid-July.
Santiago de Cuba is the country’s second most populous city. With a population of 440,000, it was founded in 1515. It is also home to many historical monuments and has a beautiful beach – a favourite destination for divers.
Varadero is the most popular Cuban resort. It is famous for its snow-white sand beaches, well-developed infrastructure and fashionable hotels. There are plenty of attractions and entertainment for all tastes, and very close by is the villa of the famous gangster Al Capone, now converted into a popular restaurant.
Cayo Coco is a resort island near Varadero. It is famous for its amazing beaches, very clean and clear water and pristine nature. The island is home to many birds, including flamingos.
Holguin is another popular tourist resort in the north-east of Cuba. It’s positioned as a family resort with little adult entertainment and no nightlife, but it does have beautiful beaches and a variety of sea attractions.
Symbols of Cuba
The island of Liberty could not be without its original and recognizable symbols with which it is associated in the minds of millions of tourists around the world.
Rum is the most popular alcoholic drink in Cuba. Considered a favourite drink of the pirates who once plied the local waters.
Cigars – considered the finest in the world and still highly prized by fans. Cigar exports play an important role in the Cuban economy, bringing in a quarter of all revenue.
Mariposa is a lovely white lily that Cuban women love to weave into their hair. The mariposa was used to send secret messages during the war for the revolution.
Danson is a pair dance created at the end of XIX century. It is danced by everyone and everywhere in Cuba, along with the salsa.
How to get to Cuba
Getting to Cuba is not a big deal. The country has four international airports – Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Varadero and Holguin. These connect the island of Liberty to almost every other country in the world.
Cuba is also connected to neighbouring countries by sea, but this is not an option for European or Asian tourists. There are long sea cruises to Cuba from Europe, but they are designed for people who like to travel by liner. For example a sea cruise from Genoa to Havana lasts 21 days and is quite expensive.
How much money to bring
Cuba cannot be called an expensive country for tourists, but prices in high season may be twice as much as in low season. That is, it is financially more profitable to go to Cuba in summer, and the quality of rest will be higher in winter.
Price of tour for two people to Cuba for 14 days starts from 2 thousand dollars, which is very cheap in comparison with other countries.
Next are the costs directly on the island. They will be based on food, transportation, tours and souvenirs. How much to budget for the rest on the island – everyone decides for himself, based on his own financial capabilities. The minimum amount for a sufficiently rich and comfortable holiday for 2 weeks will be around USD 1000.
In this amount we pledged the following expenses:
- Meals in tourist cafes – 400 dollars.
- Paid excursions – $200.
- City and island transportation – $150.
- Souvenirs – $100.
- Other expenses – $150.
It would be ideal to have over $2,000 for two people for a fortnight. And, naturally, the more money you have, the more complete your holiday programme will be.
If you have already visited this country, please share your impressions in the comments. Please add your thoughts on what you like best, what makes your memories of the country and what you would recommend to other tourists. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!