Isolated from Western influences since 1959, Cuba is an exotic, enigmatic holiday destination, strikingly different from its Caribbean neighbours. It is a fascinating time-warped fusion of African and Spanish cultures, of Spanish colonialism and post-war revolution.
In Old Havana, grand, though decaying, colonial mansions and museums line the cobbled
streets; old Chevies and Cadillacs rumble along the Malecon. Sip Havana Club rum, a mojito or a daiquiri, or enjoy a Cuban cigar – all locally grown and made, as is the coffee.
Cuba was home to renowned authors such as Hemingway, Stephen Crane and Graham Greene, and Cuban literature and poetry is also widely enjoyed around the world.
But it’s the music that gives Cuba its most enduring fame – the salsa, mambo, cha-cha-cha and samba were invented here and are still played with rhythm and gusto by street bands on every corner.
Cuban food is a fusion of Spanish cooking mixed with spices and flavours of the Caribbean. While fresh produce is sometimes limited due to the decades-long embargo, Cubans still cook whatever they have with imagination, and food is plentiful and cheap.
Cuba also has beautiful beaches, tropical islands and lots of sun. Its official language is Spanish.
According to sources, Cuba has a very low violent crime rate, even in neighbourhoods that you might avoid in other major cities (such as Centro Havana). However, petty crime – bag snatching and pick-pocketing, especially in busy locations such as discos or markets – is quite common.
Secure your handbag or camera so it’s difficult to snatch, and avoid wearing expensive neck chains or jewellery that may be targeted.
In major tourist spots you may encounter jiniteros/as (literally ‘jockeys’) who may pester you for cigars/‘friends’/special paladares and so on, however if you respond with a polite but firm ‘no’ they will usually leave you alone.
It’s best to stick to bottled water – most households in Cuba will not drink tap water unless it has been boiled. There is a risk of dysentery or hepatitis from contaminated food, so avoid buffets or eating in places that are not clean.
Also it is advisable to get vaccinated for typhoid, rabies, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Check with your GP or visit the Travel Doctor website for more health information.
While the standard of medical care in Cuba is world-class, doctors are often restricted in their access to medications due to the long-standing embargo, so if you require prescription medications it is best to take enough with you for your entire stay, along with a letter from your doctor.
Hurricane season, when landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services may occur, is usually June to November. During this time you may experience delays or cancellations to your travel plans.
So it’s worth considering travel insurance, which is not expensive and may save you considerable cost and trouble.
Worldcare has a range of travel insurance options and inclusions to suit any Cuba holiday budget – even if yours is limited.
You may have difficulties accessing funds, as Australian dollars cannot be exchanged in Cuba. Credit cards, debit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted if issued by US banks (this includes all American Express cards) or Australian banks affiliated with US banks.
If you have a Visa or MasterCard you may be able to arrange a cash advance at a bank, large hotel or Cadeca exchange house. It is best to bring as much cash as you will need for your stay.
DFAT advises that you must have a visa to enter Cuba, however, other sources state that this is unnecessary and you can in fact enter the country on a standard travel card purchased over the counter in Mexico for about 250 pesos ($15 AUD).
There is no Australian embassy in Cuba. You may be able to find consular services from the Australian Embassy in Mexico, or the Canadian Embassy in Havana.
Standalone GPS units and satellite phones are prohibited in Cuba; however, it is OK to bring in a phone with GPS already installed.
As soon as adverse events such as bad weather, natural disasters and others that may affect your trip hit mass media, you are not covered unless you already have travel insurance, as it’s no longer ‘unforeseen’.
It’s wise to buy your insurance in advance of travelling, as you never know when disaster can strike and cause you to cancel or delay your trip. If you have your policy arranged well in
advance of travelling, you are protected. So take it out before you leave and you should be eligible to claim.
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