Cuba, a large Caribbean island nation under communist rule, is known for its white-sand beaches, rolling mountains, cigars and rum. Its colorful capital, Havana, features well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture within its 16th-century core, Old Havana, loomed over by the pre-revolutionary Capitolio. Salsa emanates from the city's dance clubs and cabaret shows are performed at the famed Tropicana.
Welcome in the big Island of Cuba, the largest in the Antilles. With almost 6000km of beaches of white sand, its tropical flora covering its many mountains, its colonial cities and its peaceful countryside, it is easy to fall under its charm.
The European and African influences, mixed with the aboriginals and Asians, gave birth to a very characteristic and diversified people. They are a warm people and very sympathetic. Their blood is hot, especially when the hypnotic rhythms of Cuban music are heard nearby.
The Cuban economy consists mainly of sugar cane, rum, tobacco, coffee, exotic fruits, fishing, pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries, nickel mining and especially tourism. Education is free for all the levels and is obligatory until the end of high school. Medical services are free for all Cubans.
Havana Currency : Cuban convertible Peso Driver's License : International license recommended. Must be 21 years old and have a credit card Electricity : 110 V, 60Hz, American plugs. Hotels often have 220 V . Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 1 month beyond intended stay, a tourist card and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -5hr. Daylight savings time is applied. Government : Communist state Land size : 110 992 km2 Language : Spanish, basic English in resort areas National Airlines : Cubana Population : approx. 11,451,652 Religion : The catholic religion is the most widespread but the afro-Cuban practices are very present. Required Vaccines : None Tourist Season : Novembre through April
The Cuban kitchen blends Spanish and African influences with a dash of Chinese. Aliaco is the national dish: a kind of stew including vegetables, meat (traditionally pork) and seasonings. Other traditional dishes include seafood, roasted pig, fried plantains, black beans with rice, tamales and baracoa chicken.
The national drink is rum, whether it is refined, white, amber or aged. If one likes to drink it alone or with ice, it is preferable to choose an amber or aged rum. For cocktails, on the contrary, the white rum (carta blanca or carta plata) is preferred because it is at the base of most cuban cocktails such as the Cuba Libre, the Mojito, the Daiquiri, the Cubanito and the Saoco.
Culture The Cuban culture is much diversified with its Spanish, African, French and Chinese roots. Many Cuban artists have greatly influenced, on an international level, the worlds of literature, Fine arts, cinema, dance and theatre.
A particular mention must be made for Cuban music, to which we owe universal rhythms such as the danzón, the son, the bolero, the mambo and the cha cha cha, to quote only but a few.
Several prestigious cultural events are organized regularly in all these disciplines, as for example the literary contest of Casa de las Américas, the international Ballet Festival and the New Latin-American Cinema Festival.
Geography Cuba is situated between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. This archipelago consists of two large islands, the Island of Cuba and the Island of Youth, and counts nearly 4195 tiny islands.
The Island of Cuba measures 1200km (from the Cape de San Antonio, western end, to the Point of Maisi, in the East) where close to 400 beaches natural are to be found.
The plains prevail but it has four important mountainous areas: the Cordillera of Guaniguanico, in the west, the Cordillera of Guamuhaya, in the center, the Sagua-Baracoa and the Maestra Sierra, in the east.
History Its history begins in 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed on its shores. Not long after the conquest and the colonization of Cuba followed. At the beginning of XVIe the first seven cities are founded: Baracoa, Bayamo, Santiago of Cuba, Santísima Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe (Camaguey) and its capital San Cristòbal de Habana.
After the exhaustion of the natives, African slaves were imported to work. The latter largely influenced the population and the culture of this island. With the end of the XIX century a series of battles for independence fail until the Triumph of the Revolution in 1959. Fidel Castro then installs a socialist republic. Cuba lives by modest means since the embargo of the United States in 1960.
Nature In Cuba, the flora and fauna are very rich and diverse, making it a paradise for ecotourism. One finds more than 300 protected areas, accounting for approximately 22% of the territory. Cuba counts six zones classified by UNESCO in the Biosphere Reserves: the Peninsula of Guanahacabibes, the Sierra del Rosario and Marshes of Zapata, to the west, the area of Buenavista, in the center, the Baconao Park and Cuchillas del Toa, to the east.
The lush tropical forests, the mountainous masses and the semi-desert regions shelter exotic orchids, cacti and mangroves. And then one finds the splendid Cayos. Defined by 5 archipelagos, one counts approximately 4195 tiny islands. These are favoured by diving and nature enthusiast for its corals.
Its fauna includes parrots, pelicans, turtles on the coast, iguanas, crocodiles of Guama, as well the smallest frog (12 mm long) in the world.
Cuba displays magnificent coral reefs, underwater caves, vertical walls, cliffs and channels. More then a thousand fish species are to be viewed, 200 types of sponges and 60 varieties of coral. Several sunken pirate ships and Spanish galleons can be found.
Sports Cuba has produced great medaled athletes in sports such as boxing, judo, athletics, volley ball, fencing, wrestling, chess and in weight lifting. But baseball remains the most popular sport.
Diving enthusiasts will adore the magnificent coral reefs, underwater caves, vertical walls, cliffs and channels that Cuba has to offer. More then a thousand fish species are to be viewed, 200 types of sponges and 60 varieties of coral. Several sunken pirate ships and Spanish galleons can be found. Those who prefer snorkelling should head for the coral reefs of Cayo Piedra, Cayo Coco and Guardalavaca.
Many Jeep safari tours are offered in the countryside of Cayo Coco or the Peninsula of Zapata where the largest marsh of the Caribbean is. Trekking in the area of the Sierra Gran Piedra has gained enormous popularity in recent years.
Banks & Money
Since November 2004, all purchases will have to be made only with the Cuban convertible Peso (which is par with the American dollar). Canadian dollars, Euros and British pounds can be exchanged for the Cuban convertible Peso without the premium of 10% being charged for American dollars.
Credit cards and the travellers' cheques are widely accepted unless they are issued by an American bank.
Usually hotels will exchange money but you will get a better rate at an exchange office.
Climate The Cuban climate is very pleasant because it is located in a moderate sub-tropical zone. One distinguishes two seasons: the rain season (May-October) and the dry season (November-April). The average air temperature is 25,5degrees C and that of coastal water 25degrees C. There are nearly 330 sunny days per year. The annual average of relative humidity is 78%
Communication Cuba is equipped with a network of telephone services which guarantees direct communication to any part of the world, and within the territory.
The country code for Cuba is 53.
Health Cuba has a system of primary care considered unique in Latin America. All medical services are free for all Cubans. In addition to specialized units, there is a vast network of centers for special care. Cuba leads most countries in the world in production of interferon, a protein that is naturally produced in our bodies to fight viruses by amplifying the immune system.
There are no required vaccines to enter Cuba however precautions do need to be enforced. The most common illness is the traveler's diarrhea (turista), usually showing up on the third day. Drink bottled water and wash your hands often. Make sure your food is thoroughly cooked and avoid open-air stands.
The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever.
Official Holidays January 1: Liberation Day. Anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution May 1: International Workers' Day July 25, 26 and 27: Festivities for the Day of National Rebellion October 10: Anniversary of the beginning of the Independence Wars December 25: Christmas Day
Safety It is important to remember that as you travel in Cuba you may witness very different life styles and attitudes, such as poverty, from what know in Canada or in Europe. With that in mind be aware of you actions and behaviour. Do not provoke by flashing expensive jewellery or accessories such watches and cameras.
One can photograph and film freely, except in zones subject to restrictions or signposted, particularly those of the army.
Shopping Cuban cigars and rum are the most popular souvenirs, followed by exotic juices, wood handicraft, congas (traditional drum), Cuban music, postcards and posters.
Taxes & Tips A departure tax of 25 Cuban convertible pesos, per person, is to be paid when leaving the country.
Tourism employees count on tips to make a living. People who deserve US$1 tip include tour guides, hotel guards, bus drivers, attentive restaurant staff or anyone in the service industry who goes beyond the call of duty. Tipping can quickly open doors or clear up situations, but one should never offer money to officials or give money to beggars. Taxi drivers will appreciate 10% of the price of the meter.
Paladares (small family run restaurants) may add 10-20% on your bill as a 'service tax'. If you suspect a scam (that the waiter will not get his tip), ask to keep the bill. Also do not agree to be lead or accompanied to a restaurant, such as by a taxi driver, because their 'fee' will be added to your bill.
Transportation The country has nine international airports, and eight regional airports. Cuba counts more than 50,000km of roads and lanes, 14,000km of which is asphalted, to be discovered with a rental car. Train travel is not advised.
Cuba has taxi, minibus and motor bikes services. The bus circuits in Havana and Varadero include the most interesting sites. Budget travels by bus, in the popular destinations of the country, are also proposed by the Viazul company.