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Cuba

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Cuba

The land that time forgot

History, culture, music and hospitality: Cuba is totally unique. Lost in the past, Cuba embraces simplicity and an atmosphere found nowhere else. From its breathtaking coastline to its crumbling architecture, Cuba is perfect for the adventurous traveller seeking something completely different.

Overview

Located in the northern Caribbean, the Republic of Cuba comprises the main island of Cuba, Isla de la Juventud and several smaller islands. The best time to travel is between December and May; try to avoid September to October which is peak hurricane season.
The scenery is diverse, with mountains, plains and forests (which cover 25% of the country). Cuba also boasts more than 600 beaches along 6,000km of coastline with numerous natural harbours and bays.
Cuba is probably best known for its opportunity to step back into the past: classic cars are everywhere. This is a country frozen in time but quickly embracing modernisation without losing its unique culture.

Top Cities Havana (capital), Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Holguin, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara Languages Spanish, with some English in the resort areas. Currency Cuba operates a dual currency system: Cuban peso for locals (CUP) and Cuban convertible peso for visitors (CUC). CUC cannot be taken out of the country and you will need Euros or Canadian/US $ in the airport. The CUC is currently pegged to USD. Time Zone Time zone is (GMT-5 hours), making Cuba 5 hours behind London and this difference remains the same throughout the year. Drinks Imported beer: $2.00 Domestic beer: $2.00 Water: $0.92

Meals Inexpensive restaurant: $6.00 Meal for 2, mid-range, 3-courses: $30.00 Hostels Hostels can be found around Havana for about $8.00 upwards but many backpackers use B&Bs or homestays (casa particular), costing approximately $45.00 in Havana and $25.00 elsewhere although it is always worth negotiating. Hotels Hotels are state-run in Cuba and you can expect to pay $70.00 for 3-star and $120.00 for 4-star hotels in Havana. Prices can be more than $200.00 for luxury resort accommodation. Tipping Tips should only be given for good service but are still expected due to the very low salaries. Aim for 10% in restaurants and 1 CUC for porters, bar staff or each day of hotel housekeeping. In stores, it is customary to leave small change and tour guides/drivers would appreciate 3-5 CUCs. Street musicians would also expect to receive 1 CUC for their performance.

Taxi $0.54/km is the average cost for a taxi in Cuba but none are metered so agree the price in advance. Be aware that some will only take CUC and some will only take CUP; there is no way to distinguish between the two other than by asking. However, taxis are the most efficient way to get around for most visitors. Another option is the ‘local colectivos’ - these are usually classic American cars being used as unofficial taxis with several people on board. There are also tourist taxis available and although metered, the meters are often not working. Prices will be more expensive around the resorts. In Havana, look out for the bright yellow coco taxis which are great fun and also for the bicitaxis (bicycles) which are found everywhere. Public transport There is a train network linking the main cities of Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara and Camaguey. However, it is slow and unreliable. Tickets must be purchased in advance and you will need your passport to do so. Buses (guaguas) are the main form of long-distance transport. There are two networks: one for CUC paying passengers and one for local CUP passengers. Book in advance and, because it can be complex, it is probably best to use a tour operator to assist you. Prices are around $50.00 to travel from Havana to Santiago (which takes 15 hours). Using local buses in the cities can be complex for visitors with a lack of information, timetables and overcrowding and so they are usually only used by locals. If travelling from one end of the country to the other, you might consider taking an internal flight. However, be aware that many of the planes are very old Russian aircraft - they are small, cramped and you will need nerves of steel! Highlights Havana is a ‘must-see’, perhaps for a few days before or after travelling around the rest of the island. Havana Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is perfect for admiring the 16th-century architecture or touring around a cigar factory and then stopping for refreshments in the many bars and restaurants. Don’t forget to try out a Cuba Libre or a Mojito made from Havana Club rum! To the west of Havana, you will find the giant hills of the Vinales Valley and tobacco plantations as well as excellent diving at Maria la Gorda, whereas to the east of Havana you can relax at the many resorts around Varadero with all-inclusive hotels and watersports. Visit Santa Clara to get your Che Guevara fix or try Cienfuegos (known as the ‘Pearl of the South’) with its French feel. Trinidad, with its colonial style, is also worth a visit and as a base for exploring the area. Further on, Camaguey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Cuba’s oldest towns - enjoy its June carnival in the cobbled streets. Santiago de Cuba on the south-eastern side of the island offers a real Caribbean feel, and a good time to visit is during the carnival in July. In Holguin province, Guardalavaca is popular amongst tourists and locals alike for its white sand beaches and is also ideal for scuba diving. Isla de la Juventud offers even more beaches, diving and relaxing walks or bike rides. The catamaran ferry takes 2-3 hours and costs about 50 CUC each way. Cubans love celebrating and there are many festivals taking place: July 25th-27th is a particular favourite when locals celebrate the success of the Cuban Revolution.

Interesting Facts

Cuba is a socialist state run by the Cuban Communist Party (the only legal party) and the government controls all forms of media.
Cuba is the most populated country in the Caribbean.
Cuba is renowned for its music and the main style is ‘son’.
Baseball is the most popular sport on the island and dominoes is the most popular game, played in doorways everywhere.
In a traditional Cuban meal, all the food is served at the same time rather than in separate courses.
Coca cola is officially not sold in Cuba although it can be found in hotels.
Until 2011 there was an import ban on cars in Cuba which is why there are so many old classic cars in the country. Many have had to be repaired with whatever was to hand at the time so there are some interesting modifications!
Ration books are still used in Cuba as wages are so low that essential goods are heavily subsidised by the government.
Cuba is home to both the world’s smallest bird (the bee hummingbird) and the northern hemisphere’s smallest frog (Monte Iberia eleuth).