Destination Profile: Cuba
It is not certain how much of Cuba's fascinating old-world atmosphere will remain once allowances are made for a new wave of American travelers, but it seems unanimous that now is a great time to visit! Here is an overview of what you can expect from this unique island nation.
Location: Cuba is a popular Caribbean island destination between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, situated about 93 miles south of Key West, Florida. The largest Caribbean island, it is just smaller than Pennsylvania.
Climate: This lush Caribbean island experiences a tropical climate with both wet and dry seasons. A rainy season with the highest potential for hurricanes in September and October guarantees that November through April remains the peak travel period.
Capital: Havana, with a population of 2.137 million.
Time Zone: UTC-5, the same as New York.
Government: The Republic of Cuba is Socialist, with President Raul Castro serving as both chief of state and head of government.
US Embassy: The US currently has an ambassador serving in Havana since July 2015.
Currency: Cuba has a two-currency monetary system with the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) as the major unit being used by tourists and exchanged for foreign currency, while the Cuban Peso (CUP) is primarily used by locals. US travelers should note that there is a 10% penalty charged when exchanging USD.
How to get there:
A cruise is a very popular and efficient way to explore different regions of Cuba. Choosing the right cruise can be a matter of taste and what you want to get out of your overall experience, and we are keeping up-to-date with the latest Cuba cruise information.
In addition to a wider variety of cruises, Cuba could expect up to 155 new flights arriving from the US every week beginning as early as September 2016, contingent on the approval of operational licenses by both US and Cuban transport authorities. In fact, the first commercial airline services were recently given final approval to operate regular flights from the US! JetBlue and American Airlines will offer routes from Fort Lauderdale and Miami, respectively, beginning by the first week of September. Initially there will be flights going into airports at Santa Clara, Varadero and Cienfuegos, all of which are a 2 to 3 hour drive from Havana. We can arrange comfortable private transfers from any of these airports.
Cuba's people and history:
Cuba is a country undeniably rich with character and beauty. One of the most refreshing aspects of a trip to our southern neighbor is the friendly and unassuming authenticity of its people. Here you will still find, at least for a time, a people and a place suspended in the past with the potential to breach a new era brought on by improved relations and a boost to the travel industry.
The ample bounty of this "unknown" land was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, during his first trip to the New World. During the subsequent colonial period, over a million African slaves were brought over to work the sugar and coffee plantations. Today's multiethnic Cuban society takes its origins from an ancestry of Amerindian tribes, combined with Spanish colonization and an influence of imported African slaves to produce a unique cultural identity. Echoes of this blended heritage are found in everything from the food to the language to the music and rhythms that define Cuba as many know and love it today.
The US and Cuba have a rocky history, but have recently taken steps to restore diplomatic relations. Assisted by the US way back during the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Cubans overthrew Spanish rule and eventually became an independent republic in 1902. Then after many years of corrupt leadership, Fidel Castro came along in 1959 to establish his own authoritarian regime that became close with the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Diplomatic ties with Cuba have been severed since 1961, but July 2015 marked a huge step for diplomacy as President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro shook hands at a summit in Panama.
The Cubans are a highly social and expressive people. Life takes place in local cafes and out on the streets, where people gather to debate, drink café Cubano, make music, and dance. They are a very close society, and the community takes precedence over the individual. The arts and literature are nurtured and encouraged, and admission for entertainment such as concerts, the ballet, cinema, and sporting events are accessible to all. The Cuban poet and national hero Jose Marti has many quotes that can sum up the Cuban mentality and way of life. One of his famous quotes on morality reads, “We light the oven so that everyone may bake bread in it.” If you find yourself in a discussion with a local, you may bring up Marti’s name and an insightful conversation is sure to follow.
Main cities and attractions:
The darling of Cuba, the capital of Havana will most likely be your base during the majority of your Cuba exploration. Here in Cuba’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, you can find it all – history and architecture, beaches, nightlife, music and dancing, museums, and great food and socialization. Highlights of a Havana visit include a floorshow at the Tropicana nightclub, a world-famous spot for cabaret. Another necessary item for your trip is a stroll through Old Havana, with architectural and historical attractions such as the Baroque style cathedral in Plaza de la Catedral, the miscellaneous architecture of Plaza Vieja, and the Presidential Palace, housing the Museum of the Revolution. Travel with us and discover what made this island Ernest Hemingway’s favorite place on earth.
Santiago de Cuba
Nearer to the southeastern tip of the island, you will find Cuba’s second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba. With its own distinct vibe and particularly Caribbean flare (being closer to Haiti and the Dominican Republic), this city follows a more frenzied pace than you will find in Havana. It is a colorful, tropical and riotous center of culture nestled between the dramatic Sierra Maestra and the glittering Caribbean Sea that is especially known for its traditional music scene featuring all genres of Cuban music and festivals such as Carnaval.
This city is more like an open-air colonial museum, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. Backed by the Escambray Mountains on the southern coast of the island, the opulence of the wealthy sugar plantation owners is on display in the Plaza Mayor. You can also enjoy the white sands of Ancon beach, and the nearby characteristic fishing village of La Boca.
The city of Cienfuegos, called the “Pearl of the South”, is known for its French influence and has a distinct elegance among Cuba’s major cities. Situated on one of the most stunning natural bays of the island, the city has a tranquil seaside appeal, along with a rich culture that you can witness in its historic center including a park dedicated to Jose Marti, the grand Teatro Tomas Terry, and the beautiful Palacio de Valle.
The people-to-people requirement for US travelers means you will be interacting with locals and learning about the Cuban lifestyle with different activities every day! As we mentioned, some of the favorite pastimes for Cubanos are the arts and culture (but not just museums!), dancing, food and community, and a unique history with a strong interest in defining a cultural identity.
You might find yourself involved in intimate local music nights, dancing lessons, cooking demonstrations, historical and architectural walks, literature readings, overnighting in a homestay, discovering tobacco or sugar plantations, or cozying up to a bar where the Cuban mojito was invented.
Many activities are possible in Cuba, whether you are interested in history, food, art, or adventure excursions. During this exciting time for travel to Cuba, you’ll need to plan your trip with an experienced destination expert. We are here to ensure that your Cuban travel experience runs as smoothly as possible!