Cuba is an exceptionally diverse island and offers a wealth of nostalgia, vibrant culture, abundant wildlife, sweeping white beaches and an intoxicating music scene that permeates the very soul.
2019 marks 60 years since Fidel swept into Havana to claim the island. The revolution has left an indelible impression on every walk of life in Cuba and it’s utterly fascinating to try and unpackage and understand this unique country that has existed in relative isolation for over half a century. Don’t listen to the curmudgeons who insist that Cuba should have been visited ten years ago. Revolution is being replaced by an evolutionary wave of private enterprise, self-expression and creativity. This is exactly what makes Cuba such an exciting place to visit right now.
WHY WE LIKE CUBA
Cuba remains in a socialist time warp. It is still a country locked in the last vestiges of socialism but now offers a greater level of accommodation, tours, and restaurants than ever before. It still remains a unique travel destination and we can help you avoid the crowds and the tired tourist trails. As Cuba’s restrictions on it’s citizens and private enterprise relax, we are seeing an explosion of creativity that is expressing itself in some remarkable modern art. Witness this revolution through private audiences with a new wave of artists. Visit their studios and galleries and the outstanding Fabrica de Arte Cubano in Havana. Steppes Travel can introduce you to knowledgeable and welcoming guides who are keen to share their experience of life in Cuba in increasingly imaginative ways as well as find the empty beaches, take you behind the scenes at exhibitions and unearth little-known clubs where you can dance the night away.
What to expect on your Cuban holiday
Cuba remains a complex destination with socialist revolutionary ideals, a struggling economy and a very different concept of service. And demand now entirely outstrips supply. Despite it not always being an easy place to visit, it is still well worth exploring. The Cuban people are warm, cultured and welcoming. The country is a true melting pot where colonial Spanish buildings stand side by side with the monolithic edifices of the communist revolution. The Caribbean beaches are in contrast to the mountainous rain-forested interior. Note that Cuba is not a classic beach holiday destination but we can recommend one or two properties that are definitely worth visiting. The state-run restaurants are indifferent but we will advise you where to find the private family run paladares often found in the ballroom or drawing room of a grand old family house.
Some ideas for Cuban holiday
- Stay in beautiful Casas (private homes run as B&Bs)
- Cruise the streets of Havana in a 1950s Cadillac
- Visit Che’s mausoleum in historic Santa Clara, site of the revolution’s critical battle
- Explore the town of Remedios, a colonial gem which dozes in an 18th century time warp
- For the aficionado, visit a cigar factory and buy from source
- Eat in paladares (family run restaurants) for an authentic taste of Cuba
- In the stunning limestone valley of Vinales hike through lush green tobacco plantations, or visit remote communities and horse ride or trek to watch the sunset
- Hike to Castro’s mountain headquarters through the impressive Sierra Maestra range
- Don’t forget the sleepy town of Baracoa, Cuba’s oldest Spanish settlement, and its first capital
Beyond the ordinary
Explore Cuba from your very own Harley Davidson. The first Harley Davidsons were sold in Cuba in 1917 and alongside the vintage cars so synonymous with Cuba, these iconic bikes became a common sight in the early 20th century. Ernesto Guevara, son of Che is one of a number of Cubans, known as Harlistas, with a passion for this classic motorbike. Travel as part of a group or on an individual basis and cruise the open roads of Cuba, experiencing the freedom and power of these bikes, exploring all that Cuba has to offer in a unique and truly memorable way.
Our Cuba expert John says "Once out of Havana, roads are relatively quiet and fun to drive. The thunder of a Harley is still a novel sound in Cuba, bound to pique curiosity and make you friends along the way"
Our Cuba expertise
John, our Cuba expert, first visited Cuba in 1998 and has seen first-hand the progress of this fascinating country. He will advise and create an itinerary to introduce you to the quirks and highlights of Cuba.
Cuba has a dual currency system: the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) - which is roughly equivalent in value to the US dollar - and the national peso (CUP). Transactions involving foreigners almost always take place in CUC as it is worth substantially more than the CUP. Visitors should, however, familiarise themselves with both currencies as it is a common scam for merchants to give change in CUP instead of CUC.
Now there are more wines than ever available, but you'll find they are mainly new-world and from Latin America. If you are partial to a good bottle, or if you will be celebrating while you are visiting Cuba, it is a good idea to take a bottle with you. Cuban wine is not particularly palatable.
Prices are similar to Europe or the USA. Cuba is not a 'developing country' in terms of prices.
You can export up to 20 cigars without documentation. If you would like to export 50 cigars or more, they must be in their original container, closed and sealed with the hologram. Do not buy cigars on the street or from unofficial sources - you will be scammed.
Salsa is hugely popular in Cuba and there is a Cuban variation of the dance - the Casino Rueda. Dance classes are available in Havana, and there are plenty of options to watch locals dancing too.
Yes, there are lots of classic American cars on the streets. You can take a tour in one and even have one drive you around the country (with a driver/guide, but not as a self-drive).
The average cost of a Cuba Libre or Mojito cocktail is 2-3 CUCs (around £2), and it is very cheap to buy a decent bottle of rum (older Havana Club or Santiago rum is around £4 a bottle).
Camilo Cienfuegos was part of Fidel's gang, a leading member of the Granma Expedition and famous for defeating Batista's troops at the battle of Yaguajay in December 1958, following which they took Santa Clara. Considered one of the heroes of the revolution, Cienfuegos was appointed head of the Cuban armed forces in 1959 after the success of the revolution. He was suspected to have died in a plane crash later the same year, although the wreckage has never been found. Che Guevara was so close to Camilo that he named his son after him.
Yes - however there are restrictions in place for US citizens visiting the country. Check with your embassy for full details.
Yes, there is basic street food, such as pork rolls, rice and beans, however we wouldn't recommend it. There are some incredible paladares for local culinary experiences.
Accommodation in Cuba ranges from beautiful and atmospheric old Spanish colonial buildings to 'Casa Particulares' (Cuban home stays). Some of these are very simple arrangements where you are sharing a house with a family, but also include top-end, fully serviced penthouse apartments.
IMPORTANT: Cuba is currently extremely busy. As we approach a time when the USA will finally end its long-standing embargo on its citizens visiting Cuba, Canadians and Europeans, in particular, are travelling here in large numbers. Over the peak season (Dec-Apr), hotels in Cuba are nearing capacity. Even the casas are struggling to cope with the demand. Consequently, you must be flexible regarding your choice of accommodation and be prepared to stay in casas where demand outstrips hotel beds. This is actually a much more interesting lodging option. While these rooms are often quite basic, they are usually air-conditioned and en-suite. Alternatively, we have a much better chance of securing your preferred accommodation choices over the lower season (May-Nov).