Cuba Travel Guide
Immaculate beaches and verdant hills, wildlife-rich rainforests and tumbling waterfalls, imposing mountain ranges and vibrant cities, all wrapped in defiantly Revolutionary politics; the island of Cuba can rightfully claim to be one of the most singular destinations on the planet.
The largest and most populous island in the Caribbean. Cuba’s 1959 socialist revolution and the subsequent US trade embargo has frozen the island in time; vintage American cars still roar through the ramshackle streets of its cities, while horses and carts clatter through the countryside.
The capital, Havana. serves up a heady mix of dilapidation and debauchery. It is a city where beautifully restored colonial buildings rub shoulders with the rundown tenements of regular Cubans. The contrasts can be stark, but Havana s ubiquitous salsa rhythms, uninhibited dancing and potent cocktails galvanise the city and make for an enthralling urban experience unlike any other.
Cuba s other cities are experiences in themselves. Santiago de Cuba is a veritable melting pot of Afro-Caribbean cultures, where pastel covered buildings meet grand cathedrals. And then there s Trinidad, which offers a snapshot of a bygone era with its cobblestone streets, faded colonial fa ades and charming courtyards.
Delightful though these cities are, for many visitors Cuba s greatest allure is its beaches. Christopher Columbus described the sandy coast of Guardalavaca as the most beautiful land I have ever seen, and you can see why he was so taken the improbably white sands and warm turquoise waters are exquisite. Others prefer to head inland and gaze upon the verdant, limestone peaks of Vi ales, where Cuba s famous tobacco is cultivated.
As Cuba slowly opens up to the West, modern resorts have become increasingly common, but the most rewarding stays are in casa particulares. These private homestays offer a true insight into everyday Cuban life, which you won t get in a hotel.
Though travelling around Cuba can be challenging, the country s affable climate, captivating history, beautiful beaches, swinging salsa rhythms and ubiquitous mojitos are fair compensation indeed.
Last updated: 01 December 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice .
To reduce the risk of theft from luggage during baggage handling, both on arrival and departure, remove all valuables, lock suitcases and if possible have them shrink-wrapped before check-in.
There are a small number of bogus tour agents and taxi drivers operating at the airports and around Old Havana. Don t travel with anyone other than your tour operator. If you need to take a taxi, make sure it s a registered one and not a private vehicle.
Car-related crime and muggings occur from time to time, not only in Havana but also in Santiago de Cuba and other areas. Take care in central Havana at night. Use a taxi rather than walk, even if you re only a few blocks away from your destination. There have been attacks on foreigners in hire cars after their tyres have been deliberately punctured. If you get a puncture in a remote area, drive on to a town before stopping. Don t stop for hitch-hikers as they ve also been known to carry out attacks.
Beware of pickpockets and bag-snatchers, especially in Old Havana, on public transport, at major tourist sites and in nightclubs. Don t carry large amounts of cash, avoid wearing expensive jewellery and leave valuables in the hotel safe. Carry a copy of your passport and lock the original away. Beware of thefts from rooms, particularly in private guest houses ( casas particulares ). Hi-tech items like phones and laptops are highly sought after in Cuba and are particularly attractive to thieves
You will need a valid UK Driving Licence to drive in Cuba. If you rent a car make sure the insurance includes local third party cover.
All drivers and passengers of motorcycles and scooters are required by law to wear a crash helmet. In view of serious accidents that have involved tourists, you should not use mopeds or three wheel Coco-Taxis for travel around Cuba.
Driving standards are variable. Many vehicles, including public transport, are badly maintained. Roads are poorly lit and sign-posted. Beware of cyclists, potholes and cars that stop without warning to pick up hitch-hikers. Vehicles that break down are often left on the road until repairs can be made.Avoid driving at night, when animals and unlit vehicles are a real danger.
Don t drink and drive.
If you re involved in a serious traffic accident the police investigation may take several months to resolve. During this time you will normally not be allowed to leave Cuba and may even be detained. If convicted of killing someone in a road traffic accident, you can expect to receive a very lengthy prison sentence. If you do have a serious accident, contact the British Embassy as soon as possible.
Radio taxis are generally reliable. Avoid private taxis and the older model private cars being offered as taxis which lack proper licencing and modern safety features.
There are concerns about standards of maintenance of public transport. The FCO can t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn t necessarily mean that it s unsafe.
In 2008 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Cuba.
You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network .
Cuba is a one-party state. There is a high level of social control and a strong police presence. There are widespread restrictions on freedom of speech, association and assembly for Cuban nationals. Political demonstrations or gatherings not sanctioned by the government may be broken up. You should avoid demonstrations or large public gatherings.