Cuba 101 – What you Need to Know

Travel guides and books are one thing, but when you really just want to know the important ins and out about your upcoming or proposed holiday, the rest can wait. So, after several Cuba holidays from The Holiday Place and days spent rooting through various books and journals myself ahead of my own jaunts to the hallowed nation, I decided to put together the briefest and most concise “101” guide to Cuba you’re likely to find.

Though if you do happen to find a superior one, fell free to tell me where I’ve gone wrong!

[Capitolio Nacional, Havana]

Geo Intro

Cuba is the biggest island in the Caribbean and is approximately the same size as England. It forms part of the Greater Antilles island group and is the farthest island to the West, roughly about 90 miles to the South of Florida. The countries closest to Cuba are the USA, Mexico, Haiti and Jamaica. The country is blessed with gorgeous weather almost every day of the year, though is of course susceptible to occasional extreme weather like hurricanes.

Weather

Shy of a storm warning, you can travel to Cuba at any time of the year and expect delightful weather. November to April is considered the dry season, May to October the rainy season and June to November the season most likely for hurricanes.

Language

The country’s official language is Spanish, though the overwhelming majority speak very good English.

Religion

Contrary to popular belief, the main religion in Cuban is Roman Catholic and minority religions are far less common.

Power

Plug sockets are the standard US two-pin across the country, though in some of the larger and more exclude resorts you’ll find the rounded two-pin sockets from Europe – best to pack a multi-country converter.

Money

Cuba’s national currency is the Cuban Peso, which is comprised of 100 centavos. However, the currency tourists and visitors will be spending on their trips is the Peso Convertible, which has taken the place of the American Dollar in most tourist areas. Dollars are not accepted anymore across the country and a fixed commission of 10% is payable when and where US Dollars must be changed. Should you have any say in the matter, the best currency to bring to Cuba is the British Pound, the Euro or the Canadian Dollar.

[Picture of Che on the Ministry of the Interior building, Havana]

Etiquette

The standard form of greeting in Cuba is the handshake, so don’t be afraid to offer or accept one when and where the situation demands. You’ll hear nationals calling each other compañero as an informal greeting, but unless told otherwise it is more polite to stick with señora and señor. If addressing a person with two surnames, use the first one. If invited to a home, use general common sense in terms of Western courtesies, like brining a small gift, removing shoes and so on – nothing OTT or too formal. Cubans seldom wear shorts unless on the beach, but visitors will not cause offense by doing so. Legs and arms should be covered if going to church and women dress up to the nines when hitting the town.

Tax

None. Period.

Eating

Not as spicy as you’d expect, but plenty of seasoning. Local foods centre around pork, rice and beans, root vegetables and seafood. Most meals are served with beer.

Safety

No huge concerns, streets are safe, help is always close by and there are clear guides to places to avoid.

Tipping

No standards or expectations, but tourists tend to stick with the 10% gratuity.

About the author:

Jacob Stevens has in his 31 years travelled more than a dozen average souls for both work and family reasons, and has decided the time has come to share his wisdom with the world. He is a strong advocate of booking independently or favouring Cuba holidays from The Holiday Place as opposed to mainstream tour operators. He currently resides in Northumberland where he is working on his first book.

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