Travel guide to Cuba

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Cuba welcomes all visitors with open arms - and plenty of rum, music and dancing. In the towns you will meet with classic American cars from the 50s and 60s, whilst the coastline offers unending white sandy beaches.

Facts

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Local name
Republica de Cuba
Capital
Havana
Size
110,860 square kilometres
Principal Languages
Spanish
Principal Religion
Officially the worship of a God is incompatible with the Communist 'religion', but it is estimated that at least 40% of the island's inhabitants are Catholics. Furthermore some Cubans are Protestants, Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses - as well as some voodoo-like animistic religions being practised in the Republic.
Inhabitants
11,142,000 (2000)
Government
Communist republic
Geography
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean Sea, with a coastline stretching more than 3,000 kilometres. In the North you will find white sandy beaches surrounded by coral reefs, while the southern part of the island is characterised by swamp and marshland. Furthermore, the island consists of rocky mountain-areas with pine and mahogany forest.

Travel preparation

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Best time to visit

Cuba is a wonderful place to be all year round. The tropical temperatures change very little during the year, but if you visit the island between May and October you will see that this is the rainy season. Cuba is situated in an area often hit by hurricanes, and on average a hurricane hits the Caribbean island once a year.

Literature

Lonely Planet Cuba Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring

Local conditions

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Currency

1 Cuban peso = 100 centavos

Net cafes

Apart from in most large hotels, Internet access is offered only in very few places.

In case of emergency

In order to get police assistance on the island, the following numbers should be dialled: Police: 116 Fire department: 115

Tipping

A small token of appreciation is generally expected when paying for services in Cuba, and you should therefore add 10% to the price when paying at restaurants and hotels. It is not necessary to tip cabdrivers, but as it goes without saying, it is appreciated when you do. Musicians and entertainers at bars very often have tips as their only income, so when visiting these places it is a good idea to be a bit generous.

Timezone

When the time is 12 noon in Great Britain, it is 6:00 o'clock in the morning in Cuba. Cuba also changes to summertime, however not always on the same day as the rest of the world.

Weight and Measures

The following weights and measures are used in Cuba: Weight: kilo Temperature: Celsius Distance: metre Cubic content: litre

Photography

Photographing military facilities, local police, harbours, railways and airports is illegal, and you may be charged a fee for photographing some monuments and museums.

Drinking water

Tap water must not be used as drinking water, as it may be infected, and at best it is heavily chlorinated. The sensible thing to do is to boil or buy your drinking water.

Electricity

The Cuban power source is: 110-230 V AC, 60 Hz

Behaviour

In Cuba you greet each other by shaking hands. Unless you are near a beach, men should not be wearing shorts.

Business Hours

Monday through Friday banks are open from 8:30 in the morning till noon, and again from 1:30 till 3:00 in the afternoon, while they are open for business between 8:30 and 10:30 in the morning on Saturdays. Stores are open from 9:00 in the morning till 7:00 in the evening Monday through Friday.

Food and drink

The Cuban coastline stretching more than 3,000 kilometres ensures all kinds of delicious seafood, and in addition to this, the Cuban cooking tradition is primarily based on substantial bean and meat dishes as well as omelettes with lots of rice. The local rum is known around the world, and apart from being a part of the classic Cuba Libre (consisting of rum and coke) the drink is used for delicious cocktails such as mojitos and daiquiris.

Disabled travellers

At the very large hotels you will find facilities for the disabled, but in general Cuba is not well equipped with appropriate facilities for people with a disability.

Holidays

Liberation Day: 1 January Labor Day: 1 May Celebration of the National Rebellion: 25-27 July Day of Cuban Culture: 10 October

Accommodation / Hotel

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Camping

There are quite a few camping sites on the island, of which some are equipped with various facilities such as a tennis court, swimming pool and car and bike rental. Camping on the beach and in fields is illegal.

Hotels

Most hotels in Cuba are found in Havana and on Varadero Beach, and are generally of good quality and in good condition. During the tourist season it is important to book a room in advance or at the latest before noon, as everything may be booked by the time you need a place to sleep.

Bed og breakfast or guesthouse

A few B&Bs can be found on the island, but such a place is only legitimate if the family running it has a license issued by the authorities; on the front door of a licensed B&B you will see a triangular sticker which is blue around the edge and white in the middle.

Local transport

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Planes

The local airline is Cubana, Empresa Consolidada de Aviacíon, which flies between the largest cities on the island. Booking in advance is important, as there are few seats available. In return, flying is cheap.

Bus

There are cheap and reliable buses between most cities in Cuba, however a lot of them may be overcrowded, especially during rush hour.

Trains

The train from Havana to Santiago de Cuba leaves twice a day, just as there are trains between Havana and all regional capitals. Travelling by train is a great way to see the provinces of Cuba without any stress, even though it often takes a lot longer to go by train than by bus or car. It is important to be at the train station at least half an hour before the train leaves.

Taxi

It can be difficult to get a taxi in Cuba, and if you manage to find one, it will rarely be in very good shape. The best thing to do is to have the hotel call a taxi in advance. There are also quite a few private pirate taxis, and since these do not have meters, it is important to agree on a price with the driver before the trip starts.

Car rental

There are a lot of car-rental companies in the area, and this is an easy and rather inexpensive way to get around. The island has a good road system.

Other Transport

A lot of Cubans hitchhike to get around, and all state vehicles are obligated to pick up hitchhikers if there is room in the car.

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