Did you know?
- Cuba is home to the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, a tiny 5cm from beak to tail.
- The birth rate of Cuba at 9.88 births per thousand is one of the lowest in all of the Western Hemisphere. The population rate has slowed in the last few decades, though the total population has increased from seven million to around twelve million since the sixties.
- Cuba has socialist principles and has a state-controlled economy. The major means of production are controlled by the government. Most of the labour force is employed by the state.
- The private sector is just starting out. The main industries in Cuba are petroleum, tobacco, nickel, cement, steel, agricultural machinery, pharmaceuticals and sugar.
- The largest flamingo colonies in the Western Hemisphere can be found in Cuba
- Cuba’s major agricultural products are tobacco, citrus, rice, potatoes, beans, livestock and sugar.
- Cuba has a literacy rate of 99.8%, one of the highest in the world
- Cuba is a very diverse cultural place. The most prevalent faith is Christianity although there are also Jews, Muslims and members of the Bahai faith. Another unique religion that is widespread in Cuba is Santeria, a mixture of Catholicism and other African faiths.
- Havana’s Parque John Lennon is home to a life-size bronze statue of the famous Beatle.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Cuba need a visa at this time.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia.
You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
The Australian Embassy in Mexico is responsible for Cuba:
Ruben Dario 55
Mexico City 11580
Ph. +52 55 1101 2200
Fax. +52 55 1101 2201
The official currency of Cuba is the Cuban Peso. Notes come in denominations of CUC$100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 3 and 1.
The recommended currency to take to Cuba is the Euro, in cash, as their local currencies are not available outside of the region. Ensure you request smaller clean notes as many places will not exchange large denominations or notes that are torn and dirty. Once there, you can exchange your Euro for the Peso. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have Euros with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Havana is approximately €1
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately €5
- The price dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately €14.00
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately €1.50
Surprisingly for an island so rich in marine life, fish and seafood rarely top the menu in Cuba as most of it is exported. Cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Afro-Caribbean, heavily reliant on rice, beans, chicken and pork. Fresh vegetables are hard to come by, and flavours are limited by the lack of available herbs and spices. Some of the best cooking is found in paladares (small, private restaurants). In state-run establishments, service can be painfully slow and sometimes even surly. National specialties include soup made of chicken or black beans, black beans and rice, chicken or pork with rice and omelettes, often stuffed with meat and cheese. National drinks include Cuban coffee which is very strong, Cuban beer and cocktails (especially the daiquiri, mojito and cuba libre).
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
The climate in Cuba is tropical. It is moderated by trade winds. There is a dry season from November to April and a rainy season from May to October. Cuba is susceptible to hurricanes and destructive storms. These are most common in September and October.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
Due to the lack of cars in Cuba, either walking or cycling is a wonderful way to see the sights of Cuban cities. Bikes can be hired very easily in each town and your hotel should be able to help you with this. Also, taxis are very inexpensive and can be hailed easily. All taxis should have a ‘taxi’ sign and blue number plates.
When catching taxis, make sure you have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. We recommend you ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Cuba…
Havana is by no means a great shopping city (although it is the best in Cuba). Given the reality of the Cuban economy, all shops selling any goods above and beyond the basic necessities are by default geared entirely toward tourists. Hence, it’s a challenge to find interesting shops offering unique local items at good prices. Cigars are Cuba’s most prized product. The word “Cubans” is synonymous with the highest quality cigars on the planet. Locally, they are called puros or habanos; the latter is the name of the country’s official cigar company. Cuba doesn’t have a strong tradition in producing handicrafts, but the rise in tourism has seen local artisans quickly making up for lost time. Tourist gift shops as well as the street markets are well stocked with locally produced handicrafts. The best buys are woodcarvings and statues, papiermâché masks and religious figures, and simple jewelry made from shells and seeds. You’ll also find a host of Afro-Cuban percussion instruments for sale. For example, different drums include the two-headed hourglass-shaped bata drums, paired bongos, carved African-style religious drums, and congas, the modern salsa backbone. Shekeres (gourd shakers) and claves are also available.
- In Cuba, a handshake is the normal form of greeting. Cubans generally address each other as compañero, but visitors should use señor or señora.
- Some Cubans have two surnames after their Christian name and the first surname is the correct one to use.
- Find out about Cuban history. People will be interested to talk to you if you know about José Martí or Maceo, and visits to museums and historic buildings will be more meaningful.
- Do not buy cigars in the street. They are either stolen from state factories or home rolled and ‘faked’ so you can’t be sure of the quality.
- Don’t leave money in your hotel room; always put it in the hotel safe or security boxes
Celebrations & Public Holidays
The fabulous Santiago de Cuba Carnival is one of Cuba’s biggest and flashiest festivals, and one of the oldest in Latin America. Celebrations pay homage to the rich, traditional Cuban music from the days of the famous Buena Vista Social Club. You’ll witness parades, vibrant costumes known as mamarrachos, dancers and of course, a great range of incredible musical sounds. Known for the cigars, it’s no surprise Cuba has its own Festival del Habano, held each year in February, celebrating Havana’s prestigious cigar brand.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- Liberation Day (Jan 1st)
- New Year’s Day (Jan 2nd)
- Good Friday
- Labour Day / May Day (May 1st)
- Revolution Anniversary (July 25th)
- Day of the Rebellion (July 26th)
- Revolution Anniversary Celebration (July 27th)
- Beginning of the War of Independence (Oct 10th)
- Christmas Day
- New Year's Eve
Situated on the north coast of Cuba, Havana is built around a natural harbour and is one of the most lively and colourful cities in the Caribbean. Much of the city’s charm can be found among the narrow streets packed with crumbling buildings and fascinating people. Every open door and overhanging balcony allows glimpses of rocking chairs and colourful washing accompanied by the strains of music. On the streets Chinese-made bicycles, yellow, egg-shaped coco-taxis and two-humped camello (camel) buses weave among the clash of 1950s Chevy’s and Russian Ladas. The historic old town, Habana Vieja or Colonial Havana, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and fast becoming a tourist Mecca. The Spanish left behind some superb colonial architecture and many of the great buildings and grand plazas are being restored to their former glory.
One of the most visited towns in Cuba, Trinidad maintains a charming colonial atmosphere with its uneven cobbled streets, quiet plazas, red tiled roofs and wooden shutters. Bicycles and horse-drawn carts bump along streets lined with pastel-coloured houses, where open doors offer views of folk on rocking chairs and birdcages, and the strains of salsa music drift out from courtyards where the intricate steps of the dance are practiced. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, Trinidad has escaped the modern tourist infrastructure and large hotels that usually come with a popular destination. Surrounded by sugarcane plantations, Trinidad’s location provides easy access to the beach and surrounding countryside, where vestiges from the 18th and 19th centuries in the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) testify to a time of prosperity during the sugarcane boom.
Known as the Southern Pearl, Cienfuegos is an uncharacteristically calm and inviting port city. Although Columbus visited the protected harbour on his second voyage, and the Spanish built the Castillo de Jagua in 1745, it wasn’t until 1819, when a group of French colonists settled here, that Cienfuegos began to grow and develop. The French influence continued with Cienfuegos becoming a major shipping point for sugar, tobacco, and coffee. As trade with the US grew in importance, Cienfuegos lost some of its strategic importance to the ports of Havana and Matanzas. Today Cienfuegos remains a busy port, with an assortment of heavy industry and sugar plantations. With its stunning El Nicho Waterfalls, historic centre and beautiful harbour front buildings and Malecón, Cienfuegos is a wonderful city to explore.
Small Group Tours
Embark on an exciting adventure through historic Mexico and colourful Cuba.