The majority of visitors to Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, come from Canada, Europe, and South America. Americans are still not allowed to take cheap flights to Cuba, although President Obama has relaxed the restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans. Some would say that Cuba’s relationship with the United States has helped to preserve its charm. Certainly, its beautiful beaches, rich and stirring history, wonderful diving and natural wonders make it an enchanting destination.
The capital city is Havana. Habana Vieja, Old Havana, is listed by Unesco for its Baroque and neoclassical architecture. The museums, theatres, concert halls and galleries stand beside the night clubs and bars that serve the delicious, rum-based, mojitos.
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second-largest city, is much more Caribbean than Havana. It’s a city that dates back to the days of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and takes in French and British colonial forces as well as Haitians. It’s known for its carnival and for the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, a restored 17th-century fortress, listed by Unesco for being a complete example of military architecture.
Varadero, the resort town in Matanzas on the Atlantic Coast, is the pride of Cuba’s beaches, while the Isle of Youth and Cayo Largo de Sur are the stand-out beaches on the Caribbean side. Both have soft-white beaches and offer amazing diving.
Cuba’s climate is tropical and temperatures are moderated by the trade winds. The average minimum temperature is 21 degrees Celsius and the average maximum is 27 degrees. The average temp in Havana is 25 degrees.The rainy season runs from May to October and the dry season extends from November to April. The hurricane season is June to November. Landslides and flooding are a risk during these months.
December to April is high season, when most travellers arrive on cheap flights to Cuba. Other high season times are July and August, Christmas and New Year, Easter and July 26 (the anniversary of the revolution). Havana and Santiago de Cuba are popular year-round.
Intrepid travellers could save money by visiting between August and October as this is when hurricanes are most likely. In general, June to November (hurricane season) is low season.
AeroCaribbean links Havana with cities such as Santiago, Holguin and Cayo Coco.
Air-conditioned bus services are offered by Astro and Viazul.
The rail network is creaky, due to years of under-investment, and the trains can be sometimes unreliable. It’s best not to take the train if you have to be somewhere at a certain time.
Cuba has an extensive road network and renting a car is an easy option.
Mopeds and three-wheel Coco-Taxis are available too, but travellers need to be aware that they can be dangerous. Local public transport is cheap, but like rail travel, is not reliable.