CUBA – Old School Cool _ The Cuba guide for those traveling with Kids

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This entry is dedicated to all my friends and friends of friends interested in visiting the beautiful country of Cuba.

My family and I traveled to Cuba for my 4.0  birthday a week ago, we spent 5 days and 4 nights there and it was one of the most amazing vacations I have taken for a few reasons. It was a milestone birthday, I elevated to the 4th floor :). I spent it with the people that mattered most and I was in a country that really in many senses of the phrase made me “appreciate what I have”

I started this post because from the day I returned home, many people have asked about my experience and tips on how to get there and what to do. I also wanted to share how it was traveling with 3 children, a challenge but not impossible. I researched everywhere for articles on how to travel to CUBA with children and unfortunately to no avail.  I thought “this is a need especially with the doors of CUBA finally opening to Americans” So let’s start.

 

How to Book

I started my research a few months back in an effort to understand why there was so much hype on “special reasons” to travel there. I even reached out to a travel agency but unfortunately, they were not helpful, so I decided to do the work myself. What was the worst that could happen? I get caught and my family and I live the rest of our days in a Cuban prison? Hmmm, I doubt it! So I went straight to jetblue and booked a direct flight for 7 people. (the seventh person never made it, but that will be an entry later) They asked “what is your reason for traveling” upon purchasing the tickets and they offered 12 options, I chose “help the Cuban people” I felt it was the most generic (Check here for other options) After consulting with some friends who traveled there, I heard many kids and women lacked essentials like Advil, Tylenol, and even Bras. Children wanted pencils and toys, so I bought a bunch of travel size acetaminophens, toys and trinkets and divided them into little ziplock bags. Not many, maybe 20. If I was asked. It was what I was distributing. Reason CHECK!

please note – They ask for your passport number upon booking so you definitely need it before purchasing. But purchasing your flight will be fairly simple.

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Mi Visa, Tu Visa

All the research and people I inquired wth said I needed a visa. There were different ways to obtain it, but I went with a bit more of an expensive option and had them delivered to my door. To be honest, if I had to do it again, I’d buy them at the airport, it’s $35 cheaper. So I went to CUBA visa services, completed a survey with all my travelers (no passport information was asked) payment made online and 4 days later my visas were at my door. As staples used to say “That was Easy!” Once you open the package however the visas are blank. Just a piece of paper, that YOU then fill out with a pen. Really? That doesn’t seem legit but sure enough, it was. Visas are super simple to obtain and complete. So if you want to save some money get it at the airport for $50 bucks or so.

 

We Landed 🛬 

We land in Cuba and it’s pretty straightforward. The airport is small like many airports in countries like the Caribbean. Emigration was also pretty straight forward. You just need your Passport, Visa, and the immigration card you receive on the place. The blue one.

Cool, then you go through a security check where the “TSA agents” are all women wearing fishnet stockings, lol. That’s a statement! Alrighty then, moving on to baggage check. Now because I was traveling with children I checked baggage, otherwise, I strongly recommend carry-on luggage only. The wait was almost an hour for our luggage, big learning, but with kids, it’s a must for me.

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Off we go

So, I have to admit, I didn’t think about transportation from the airport to the hotel, so we were at the mercy of the taxis and bus agencies. Honestly, however, we found a bus driver who could fit my whole family and it cost $40 USD (American $) for a 30-minute trip. For me, definitely worth the money. For those traveling with toddlers like I did with 2, I did not carry car seats. This was a first!  I was told cars really don’t have the safety features to hold a car seat and they were right. So the cubs road lap for 5 days. Was I nervous? Absolutely! But interestingly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought and I’ll tell you more about that later. The driver was great, gave us tips and pointers along the ride to the hotel and also connected us with a driver for the rest of our trip!

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Hotel vs. Casa Particular (Air BNB)

Because our boys, my husband and I thought it would be best to book a hotel for several reasons. Vacations as a family are about the kids mostly. What do they want to do, how so they enjoy themselves, how do we keep them busy all day? Having a pool was important because we knew if nothing else they could splash around all day. We stayed at the Melia Habana. Hands down, one of the best decisions of the trip. It was clean, service at the hotel was great and we found it convenient. Now, remember we traveled there in February. Was it warm? yes, but some mornings and evenings were chilly, and because this hotel is by the beach, (not a sandy beach, unfortunately) is was very winding and the pool water was cold. But the kids didn’t mind it at all. I strongly recommend staying at this or another hotel if you want the “convenience” of food all day, hot water on demand and more TV channels than the 4 channels Cuba offers. Also, you have access to limited wifi, which does NOT exist on the rest of the island. Now if you are open to maybe a more rural experience and want to spend less, and it’s just adults, I say venture off and stay at an Air BNB, or Casa Particulars because they are significantly less expensive and you’ll have a different experience. Cuba Junky is an app recommended by my friend who also has a great blog on her travels to Cuba thetravelingfro. The app has tons of casa particulars and other helpful things like car rentals and places to go.

Expect the Unexpected _ Where to go when you’re there

Cuba is like a prince in a poor man’s coat. It doesn’t look like much when you arrive but this country is “rich” in its own way.

Places you MUST visit

El Morro of Santiago de Cuba –  El Morro fortress served as the stage for defensive battles against marauding attacks, which is where it got its current name: “The Museum of Piracy” It’s beautiful and opens at about 6pm. It also has a daily cannon shot every night at 9pm as a tradition. Even if you don’t like forts (or if the fort is closed), make sure you visit. The views across the Canal de Entrada back to Havana Vieja and the Malecon are stunning. Climb the lighthouse for an added bonus.

Fusterlandia – One of the highlights of our trip to Havana. You need to spend about an hour here wondering through this neighborhood and through the artist’s house to see how much talent he has and what he has done in the area. Jose Fuster, the artist, has created a town of mosaic glass that is indescribable. My Kids loved it.

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Plaza de la Caterdral– The outside architecture of the cathedral is amazing, but the inside: I didn’t get to see it. The plaza is very cool with plenty of restaurants around. Not to be missed on a trip to Havana.

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Santa Maria del Mar – The beach is only about 20-30 mins away from Centro Habana. These blue waters are exceptional. warm water, clean ocean, soft sand. We rented chairs and umbrellas from the locals on the beach. They brought us drinks to our chairs and for lunch brought us a table with chairs. A great day away from the Havana city life.

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Plaza Vieja – Old square at night is much better than through the day (though lovely then too) at night it comes alive with Cuban bands in the bars and people eating and drinking all over the square. The kids also enjoyed running around in the open space. We ate at “la Vitrola” Food is REALLY good compared to others we had and awesome entertainment. Fried fish and Ropa vieja were on point.

For the Cubs

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Parque Infantil La Maestranza – The pros: it’s very cheap– $1 to get in with 2 ride tickets, $1 for 4 more ride tickets; it has plenty of bouncy castles and some other rides that go around (carousel, rockets, train); it has fairly clean public washrooms; it is very near the Malecon and Old Havana so a good chance to let the kids blow off some steam between rounds of sightseeing; some facilities like the monkey bars and slides are free. The Cons: The safety around the rides is sketchy, you have to stay close to the kids to make sure they stay safe.

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Circuba– This was a nice size tent that we thought would be an animal circus. It was more of an acrobatic show. Everything inside was at the bare minimum and there wasn’t much to keep you engaged but the show. Lucas actually loved it. I was a bit bored.

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Show me the money.. 

A great suggestion from thetravelingfro was to transfer your USD (American Money to EUR or CAD before leaving the US and then converting that money to the local currency. We did this at the hotel, but you can do it at the airport, just expect a line. Our hotel accepted USD but NOWHERE else was that even considered valuable. Remember us Americans are not supposed to be spending money there. I would take enough money in advance. My family and I took a lot more than I would have as a couple with my husband. We brought back some money EUR, but because there are no ATM’s I would be sure you go with an amount you feel comfortable having without feeling stuck at the end of your trip, AND credit cards are NOT accepted.

Although there are two currencies used, the more common is the CUC. the conversion is easy

1 CUC= 1 USD

The other currency was the CUP used by locals and that was .26 CUP = 1 USD it was rarely used but we did use it a few times for candy or the park where we took the kids. understand which one they are working with.

All Taxi’s use CUC, they are insulted if you use CUP.

Like many foreign countries, everything for the locals is a hustle, and they LIKE to get tipped. I’d try to get $5’s and singles to ensure you can take care of those who are deserving. That includes taking pictures by the old cars.

 

TAXI!!!

Getting around for us was fairly easy because we befriended a taxi driver who became our personal chauffeur the entire trip. We were introduced to him by the Bus driver that took us to the Hotel. He was amazing, He didn’t have an OLD FASHION CAR which would have been nice but more expensive but Vidiel was so knowledgeable, kind and punctual that nothing else mattered after that. He pushed our strollers around, carried bags, he was a true gentleman. It cost from $60-70 a day but he was literally with us whenever we wanted to go anywhere. If you are traveling there and are interested in his contact info, please let me know. Also, there is literally no traffic there because their barely any cars. So you get to places quickly, so don’t fret.

Where to Eat 

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I want to caveat this section with this. You don’t go to Cuba for the most amazing food and drinks you’ve ever had. Being Latina, I like tons of flavor and spice but i was forewarned and will do the same for you, don’t expect the best food, but it is all edible. There are tons of restaurants and many bloggers have lists. I will share my favorites. Breakfast was great for us, because the hotel offered free breakfast every day of our stay for free. Lunch we ate where ever we were at the time, so sometimes it was pool side, another time at the beach. Dinners however, I always wanted to try something new so we did that every night.

La Vitrola – In la plaza Vieja. Sits on one of the 4 corners and as i mentioned before it was cute, had good food and the service was great.

Doña Carmen – This restaurant was not far from the Morro. It is lives in the back of a casa particular, its one of the places Beyonce ate because they have photos of her everywhere, (it not obnoxious so don’t worry) but the food there compared to what we had, was very good!

San Cristobal de la Habana– Also another restaurant that is behind a casa particular. Holds maybe 6 tables but food was good as well. Arroz and frijoles were yummy.

The other night we ate at the hotel because the kids were exhausted, and that was A-OK!

We also visited the cutest ice cream parlor LA Casa del Gelato the ice cream was super yummy and we really enjoyed it.

Net-Net there are many “GREAT” restaurants to try but that doesn’t mean they will be open or available to you while you’re there. We got two recommendations for great restaurants, one was shut down for serving lobster which for that place was against the law, and the other wouldn’t allow us to eat on the rooftop in fear of rain. So be prepared to change plans at the last minute because nothing is “confirmed” there. 🙂

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Things to Pack

So anyone that has traveled with me or knows me well, is aware of how much of an over packer I am.. (actually, once was) through my job and as I’ve become older I have become a much more of a savvy packer.

With That being said however,  when traveling to a country where I understood there was not much I could find if I forgot anything, I became a bit neurotic and wanted to make sure I had everything, including snacks for my kids. I packed 2 people per suitcase and one suitcase had just food. I carried pasteurized milk for my youngest, boxed juices, and snacks such as apple sauce, crackers, peanut butter, cereal and health bars, etc.. to ensure if they didn’t like the food there ( which happened as kids are finicking eaters) they didn’t go hungry. This  was another great decision, and as much as my friends and husband criticized me before hand, it was imperative so that we weren’t panicking about what the kids would eat next because we had it all with us. ( my husband gave me the “good job babe, mid trip”) Travel with toys, pacifiers and juice cups and bottles because again all that was impossible to find.  

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Big Question- Bring the kids or not?

Because it was a milestone birthday for me, I couldn’t have imagined celebrating it without them. They have also traveled every year of their little lives, so travel with them is not bad, however traveling to Cuba with children while not impossible, comes with more preparation than other countries I’ve traveled to with them because of the limited resources and places to entertain them. The experience for my husband and I was amazing, we both agree that we wouldn’t have had it any other way, but I wanted to share my story of this trip, because the research I did for this information was very hard to find.

Overall, Cuba is an amazing city with hidden treasures, I would go back to experience the journey differently because I’d have more options like traveling outside of Havana and venturing into other areas.

For those afraid that Cuba will be “Americanized” and it will lose the magic of being a taboo country to visit, I honestly don’t see that happening soon. Consider Cuba for your next mini getaway, I can almost guarantee you won’t regret it!

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Besitos,

Lioness

 

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “CUBA – Old School Cool _ The Cuba guide for those traveling with Kids

  1. Nice to know that Cuba is now open to many. It is a place I have added to my bucket list. It is similar to my parents home country (Puerto Rico) and their main language is Spanish. Although, you did not mention if the local speak English at least I know communication for me should not be an issue. Cuba does have Poverty more than other countries. Castro is responsible for that, or blame it on the embargo – as the Cuban government does, day after day. Although many people in Cuba are dirt poor they are rich at heart. I pray God will give me the opportunity to visit Cuba. Thanks for all your information.

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  2. I agree with most of what Farida Mercedes said. Don’t waste your time getting a visa ahead of time. You can get it at your last port of exit before arriving in Cuba. Usually $50. As for the affidavit for your reason for visiting, I filled it out when I bought my ticket online. But when I got to the airport, it hadn’t registered. I had to fill out a paper affidavit. They collect it when you get your visa, but no one even looked at which reason I checked off.

    Food is very hit or miss. But if you speak Spanish and talk to the locals, they can tell you where to find a decent meal. To give you an example: A typical dinner in old habana (and it is spelled “Habana”) cost about $10 or more a plate. We went to a place were the locals at on our last day. 3 blocks away from the Revolutionary Museum. And a complete lunch for 4 people was $9.90 total. Not per plate, TOTAL. So try as much as you can to do what the locals do. You’ll save yourself a lot of money.

    And lastly, I can’t stress this enough, bring extra cash! Even if you don’t use it all. As Americans the only access to cash is what you bring with you. There is no back up. By the last day we were counting pennies to get back to the airport.

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  3. I’ve been meaning to take my first SOLO trip…would you recommend Cuba? If so, I’m thinking I’d probably do a hotel rather than Casa Particular…just for “safety reasons”. What do you think?

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    1. Hi Yadi, I think you could definitely do a solo trip there. I would strongly reco staying at the hotel, and honestly because I trusted our driver, I would use him to get you around, he will take you to the right places and make sure you’re always back safe. and he’s hella funny! send me a message if you want to chat separately!

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