When most people consider vacationing on a Caribbean island, a family vacation to Cuba probably isn’t the first destination that springs to mind. That’s particularly true for Americans, many of whom are under the mistaken impression that traveling to Cuba is illegal.
Actually, Americans can travel to Cuba, though they have to jump through hoops to do so. Once there, they’ll discover that the island nation is a wonderful destination for the whole family, and typically worth the effort it takes to get there.
Because visiting Cuba is complex, it’s best to plan early. For U.S. citizens, a visit to the website of the Department of the Treasury is a good place to start. Citizens must complete and file a license application for traveling to Cuba.
Although several different categories of licenses are available, the one that allows travel to Cuba is known as an Education Exchange or People-to-People license. Rather stringent rules apply to this license. Mainly, visitors are required to stick to an itinerary that is packed with museums, historical sites and natural attractions.
Since many of these places are destinations that tourists would visit anyway, the schedule isn’t too much of an imposition. Many people hire a local guide to help facilitate their wanderings. It’s an excellent plan, particularly since English is not widely spoken in more rural areas.
Family Vacation to Cuba is a Wonderful Destination
With all of the restrictions in place, Cuba might sound like a destination to avoid. The truth is that Cuba is actually a fantastic destination for those wanting a family vacation to Cuba and that’s filled with interesting attractions and friendly people.
Because it’s a communist country, visitors should be prepared for some culture shock. For Americans, the most noticeable difference might be the lack of advertising.
While people living in the U.S. are accustomed to being bombarded by a constant stream of commercials on television, radio and billboards, no such efforts are allowed in Cuba.
Billboards are seen, but they largely consist of propaganda messages that sell nothing but political philosophies.
In fact, Cuba is not an ideal destination for people who love to shop on vacation. Consumer goods are rare in this country.
This means that the Cuban people are forced to muddle along without many possessions, and it also means that visitors are unlikely to be able to pick up much in the way of souvenirs.
Nonetheless, Cuba is fascinating, and it is certainly an appropriate destination for the whole family.
As far as safety goes, Cuba has few problems in the tourism zones. It’s not unusual to see police officers on every corner in the cities, and Cuba has few problems with violent crime, especially against foreign visitors.
However, it’s best to keep a sharp eye out for pickpockets who prey upon the unwary. It’s not advisable to carry a great deal of cash or to wear any flashy jewelry.
In a nutshell, Cuba is a clean, safe and interesting destination. The government and the people recognize that international tourism is by far one of the nation’s biggest moneymakers.
Consequently, the locals strive to provide a memorable and positive experience. Children are particularly well regarded by the Cuban culture.
Visitors shouldn’t be surprised if locals stop them on the street to admire their children. It’s nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s all a part of the warm, friendly Cuban way. They dote upon kids here, and kids typically love all the extra attention.
While kids can certainly enjoy the Cuban experience, it’s worth noting that people traveling with children should prioritize spending some adults only time. Cuba’s cities are packed with hot nightclubs and opportunities to get into the local music scene.
Moreover, arts attractions like the Cuban National Ballet, the opera and various theatrical troupes are excellent, but won’t necessarily pique the interest of youngsters.
Havana Cuba’s Top Family Vacation Destination
Havana just might be Cuba’s top destination. It has the distinction of being the Caribbean’s largest city and Cuba’s capital.
The Old Havana quarter is an absolute must-see. Its oldest building dates back to 1519 when the Spanish founded the city. For centuries, the city was a major waypoint for Spanish galleons that were loaded down with treasure from the New World.
Later, Havana became a major shipbuilding city. Its prosperity is borne out by the many highly detailed baroque and neoclassical structures that are found in Old Havana.
Today, the district is packed with fascinating museums, ancient forts and cathedrals.
Visitors should include the Morro-Cabana Historic Military Park on their itinerary. Its main features are the 1630 El Castillo del Morro and the San Carlos de la Cabana, which was built in 1774.
Military museums are found inside the buildings. Kids love the daily cannon firings that happen at 9:00 pm. Standing nearby is the capitol building and the Great Theatre of Havana. While still in Old Havana, a stop at the Museum of the Revolution is definitely worthwhile.
It houses an amazing collection of artifacts dating from the revolution during the 1950s and also tracks the country’s development since then. Visiting the museum might be one of the best ways to understand what has gone into creating the Cuba of today.
One of Havana’s other fantastic attractions is the Malecon, essentially a seaside boardwalk that connects Old Havana with the bustling Vedado neighborhood. It’s a beautiful walk with plenty of opportunities for photographs and rest stops for cool drinks.
Worthwhile attractions include the Colon Cemetery, where many notable personalities are buried, and the Callejón de Hammel, an outdoor art exhibition. The Playa district also makes for fascinating exploration. Be sure to make the trek to the José Martí Memorial.
It’s the highest point in Havana, and it’s the best place for getting panoramic views. Stop by the Plaza de la Revolución too, and spend a few minutes gazing at the Che Guevara image on the Ministry of the Interior.
While touring Havana, parents might consider taking one night off to visit the historic Tropicana. It’s a rather decadent nightclub, and a rarity in Cuba. In fact, it’s rather expensive. This means that the locals do not go there.
The Tropicana nightclub all but exclusively entertains international visitors looking for cabaret entertainment and a decent meal. It’s like stepping back in time to the Cuba that was an international hotspot back before the revolution.
The Tropicana is a one-of-a-kind experience and a must-do as long as trusted child care can be found.
Varadero Cuba Great Destination for the Kids
Cuba is packed with historic destinations like those found in Havana that help make it a great family vacation to Cuba. Of course, that kind of itinerary doesn’t always appeal to the kids.
People traveling with youngsters may want to make the city of Varadero their main destination instead.
The city boasts several all-inclusive resorts that have excellent programs for kids and can certainly provide some much needed alone time for the adults.
Varadero also has the advantage of being close enough to other cities where more historical and cultural attractions can be found on day trips.
The resorts are fabulous in Varadero with packaged holidays, and many of them offer a full program of events and tours.
After settling into a hotel room, it probably makes sense to check out the resort’s schedule so that any interesting activities can be included in the family itinerary.
Since most of these properties are on the ocean or have spectacular pools, it’s possible to start the relaxation right away.
Kids especially enjoy a trip to the Delfinario where it’s possible to take in a live dolphin show. The Boat Adventure is also a hit. Passengers sit on top of a high powered watercraft to take a speedy trip through a mangrove swamp.
It’s definitely the go to choice for high energy kids. Visitors willing to travel a bit farther afield might consider seeing Trinidad. It’s a gorgeous and remarkably well preserved colonial city. Kids tend to enjoy the colorful street markets and the cobblestone streets.
The architecture throughout the city is ancient and breathtaking, exhibiting the influence of many different cultures. It’s a really walkable city, too, so kids shouldn’t get too worn out while exploring.
If there is time, it is certainly worthwhile to take a bus out to the Topes de Collantes, a beautiful nature reserve about 20 kilometers outside of Trinidad.
This unspoiled area is filled with rivers, natural pools, rainforests and caves. There’s a wonderful visitor center where tourists can learn about the region’s history.
Perhaps the most popular attraction within the park is the hike to Caburni Falls. Trekkers make their way through coffee plantations and past traditional homes to find a beautiful 203 foot high waterfall and a series of serene ponds.
Back at the Varadero resort, parents can drop kids off for fun and educational activities while they take a turn at the Varadero Golf Club.
It boasts an excellent 18 hole course, and with the gorgeous Cuban weather, it’s always a good time to play a round. Another great way to entertain children in Cuba is by signing up for a day of cruising. For most kids, it’s enough just to be out on the water.
However, it’s possible to arrange for a vast diversity of experiences ranging from deep sea fishing to snorkeling in a peaceful little cay. These cruises are a wonderful opportunity for families to reconnect and enjoy some quality time while also learning about Cuba’s natural wonders.
Resort concierge desks are wonderful resources for finding out what kinds of cruises are available and for making reservations.
As is noted above, traveling to Cuba can be something of a culture shock. That’s particularly true for kids, many of whom tend to be very much attached to their schedule at home.
In addition, kids who are attached to particular items, such as a favorite sippy cup, would be well served if this item is brought along.
As mentioned earlier, consumer goods are rare commodities in Cuba.
Little variety is available, and what is available typically has an outrageous price tag.
Although this may mean having to pack fairly heavily for kids, it is definitely worthwhile when it comes to keeping the peace.
Cuba Health Care and Travel Insurance
In addition to favorite toys and other possessions, parents may want to pack all necessary toiletries, diapers and other daily necessities. It’s easier to find these items in cities like Havana, but it can still represent a serious headache.
Overall, these kinds of things are excessively hard to come by in Cuba. The other thing that is virtually nonexistent in Cuba is stroller rental. Car seats and playpens are also generally not available for rental. If any of this equipment will be needed, it’s best for travelers to bring their own.
Moreover, although Cuba has an excellent health care system and an entire hospital that’s exclusively devoted to foreign travelers, getting a prescription refilled can be extremely aggravating. But, good travel insurance can alleviate some concerns if transportation is needed back to the US. Checkout our article Travel Insurance How You Can Choose the Best Plan.
Travelers can guarantee a safer, happier experience if they stock up on any necessary medications before leaving home. That said, most hotels and resorts have medical staff on site, and this can make many situations easier.
Although it is perfectly legal for Americans to visit Cuba after jumping through all of the bureaucratic hoops, there are monetary restrictions that must be observed.
American debit and credit cards do not work in Cuba. Thus, cash is the best means of paying for everything. The U.S. dollar is widely accepted in Cuba, which certainly makes things easier.
American travelers cheques can make a sensible alternative. However, they can be a bit of a pain to use because there are no options for replacing lost or stolen cheques.
In addition, anyone using travelers cheques must be able to present their receipt for initial purchase of the cheques, which can be something of a headache.
While traveling to Cuba is not without its complexities, the rewards of exploring this unique country more than make up for any hassles. In some ways, Cuba has come a long way in recent decades.
It offers modern resorts and a wealth of attractions has made it acceptable for a family vacation to Cuba. Nonetheless, it retains much of its historic character and boasts acres and acres of unspoiled wilderness. Visitors of all ages are likely to be enchanted by Cuba.