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Cuba Overview Planning Tips and Fast Facts

Our Expert Opinion

Cuba has been the “forbidden fruit” of travel for U.S. citizens. With the recent relaxation of travel regulations, the cruise lines and hotel chains are prepared to bombard the island. Now is the time to go and see Cuba before the influx of U.S. tourism inundates and changes the island. Although the infrastructure to support yachting is in its infancy, you won’t regret visiting it before the masses. The islands off the south coast of Cuba are a pristine natural wonderland.

What is Destination Known For?

Beautiful beaches, rich cultural heritage, revolutionary history, top-grade cigars, fantastic food, spectacular vistas, excellent dive sites, fabulous music, ideal for active and cultural vacations.

Location and Size

With an area of 42,803 square miles (110,860 square kilometres), roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Cuba and its nearly 2500 islands and cays is the largest country in the Caribbean. It has a coastline of 2,316 miles (3,735 kilometres) and is situated about 90 miles (160 kilometres) south of Key West, Florida. The capital city Havana, lies on the north coast.

History

The Guanahatabeyes were the earliest inhabitants of Cuba and were joined soon by the Ciboneys and the Tainos. The latter were skillful hunters, fishermen and agriculturists – growing peppers, peanuts, squash, yucca, fruits and tobacco.

Knowledge of this region eluded the Europeans until the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. The name Cuba evolved from 'Juana', which Columbus had named this place, in honour of Prince Don Juan, son of Queen Isabella.

The Spanish ardour for gold now pointed towards this new prospect. Their insatiable hunger failed to reciprocate the hospitability of the aborigines, who were mistreated and tortured to yield information on the precious deposits.

The first fleet of Spaniards left disappointed, but they spread the news back home that there was gold to be found in Cuba, provoking Diego Velasquez to invade the country in 1511 with an army of 300 men. The islanders were initially resilient - awakened by the betrayal of the earlier troops, but eventually had to bow down to the mighty, cruel European army.

Thus began the colonization of the country, which had little gold, but very good agriculture. With a large size of the population perishing to the attacks and epidemics, the native labor force would not suffice for the agricultural exploits. So slaves began to be brought in from Africa for the purpose. They especially worked on Cuba's enormous sugar and tobacco plantations.

The strategic location of Cuba, which served as a stopping point for traders, lured all European sea powers, motivating the British to capture the capital Havana in 1762. It was returned to Spain a year later in exchange for Florida.

As Spanish exploits escalated, the country prepared itself for a revolt. In 1868, Cuba waged its war of independence, which effectively lasted for the next thirty years. The US defeated Spain and took over Cuba in 1898 – 12 years after slavery was abolished in 1886. Four years later on May 20, 1902, the country finally became independent. However, the country still reeled under economic and political instability. Gerardo Machado y Morales emerged as a brutal dictator of the country. He was overthrown by Fulgencio Batista. Around that time, ties between Cuba and the US also started to deteriorate, while Batista himself began his oppression. His reign was ended on January 1, 1959 by the soviet-ally Fidel Castro, who has been the father figure of Cuban politics ever since.

Cuba has left its tumultuous past behind, and the 'Sugar Bowl of the World' has instead, consolidated its identity as a beautiful Caribbean locale, producing some of the finest cigars on Earth

Getting There

The Jose Marti International Airport in Havana connects the country with regular flights to different parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Charter flights operate between Cuba and the United States, while scheduled air and ferry services between the two neighbors are withheld at present, but are expected to be in operation soon

Best Time to Go

The weather remains cooler and drier, at around 70-75°F (21-24°C) with the water temperature approximately 78°F (25.5°C) from November through April – making this period ideal for all outdoor activities. Again, the months from July to August, though wetter, coincide with a few local festivals. Consequently, these two periods are the peak seasons, and the best time to go to Cuba.

Local Customs to Observe

The Spanish influence on Cuba has led to social, dining and other etiquettes that are very European. Cubans love to dress casually, hence visitors need not have any qualms on dressing likewise. However, provocative attires should be avoided. The dual currency protocol must be strictly followed

Helpful Fast Facts

Currency: Currency: Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the Monedanacional or Cuban peso (CUP). Tourists are permitted to use only the CUC.

Time Zone: UTC-04:00 and UTC-05:00

Local language: Spanish is the official language of Cuba. Haitian Creole, Lucumi and Catalan are also spoken by a large number of people. Businessmen and others engaged in the medical or hospitality industry use English to communicate with foreigners.

Population: 11,392,023 as of March 27, 2016

Airport: LJose Marti International Airport (HAV), Havana.

Entry Requirements: All nationals traveling to Cuba require a valid passport and visa.

Departure Tax: 25 CUC per person (included in the ticket price).

Legal Drinking Age: No legal drinking age. Alcohol can be purchased by anyone over 18 years.

Smoking Regulations: Smoking is forbidden in all enclosed public spaces.

Staying in touch: GSM networks facilitate mobile services in the region; the conventional landline is another option for telecommunication. Cuba is covered in the international roaming plans of various cell phone companies. Internet services, though much slower, are also available.

Medical Information: Cuba offers superior medical facilities with specialized services at Hospital Clínico Quirúrgico and Hospital Ciro Garcia in Havana. Some hospitals also exist beyond the capital city.

Public Holidays: January 1 – Triumph of the Revolution; January 2 – Victory of the Armed Forces; Good Friday, May 1 – Labour Day; July 25,26,27 – National Revolutionary Festival; October 10 – Independence Day; December 25 – Christmas; December 31 – Year End Celebration

Tourist Office: The Cuban tourism dedicated portal http://www.cubatravel.tur.cu/en provides detailed information on travel in the region.

Shopping Information: The Plaza América at Varadero, Galería Victor Manuel at Havana and ARTex at Santiago de Cuba are popular places for buying collectibles, souvenirs and a load of other items. Outlets selling exquisite Cuban cigars and rum exist throughout the country.

Top Ten "Must Do's"


·     Hang out at the Malecón as the sun sets and dapples the buildings with ethereal light

·     Experience pure wilderness at Ciénaga de Zapata National park

·     Visit Cuban artists in Matanzas

·     Give the usual a break with Baracoa's spicy food

·     Enjoy more sun and sand at the mesmerizing Playa Paraíso

·     Dive into the opulent marine life at the Queen’s Gardens

·     Stride down the “car museum” streets of Havana with its 1950s fleet of old American cars

·     Visit the UNESCO heritage site town of Trinidad

·     Eat at a “Paladar Paladares”, a local Cuban restaurant in a private home

·     Check out a performance of the Opera de la Call

Major Local and Regional Events


·     Havana International Book Fair – A very popular event drawing readers and writers from across the world

·     Festival del Habano – Held in late February, it is Cuba's premier cigar festival

·     May Day Celebrations – Marked by public gathering, music and cultural events on May 1

·     Camaguey Carnival – An annual cultural event held from June 24 to 29

·     Festival del Caribe – A week-long event celebrated with local music and dance

·     Santiago de Cuba Carnival – The largest traditional carnival of Cuba

·     July 26 Celebrations – The day honors the martyrs of Cuba's revolution

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