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Experience Cuba: Tips for first-time visitors

White sand beaches, classic American cars, and cities as colourful as the country’s history, Cuba is the ideal destination for travellers looking for a truly authentic experience. While travel to this island country for touristic purposes has been limited in the past, recent changes have made their borders easier to cross. With these changes, interest in Cuba as a destination has been renewed for travellers worldwide.

Depending on your country of residence, you may require a tourist visa or have proof that your trip meets specific criteria in order to enter Cuba. To avoid an unwanted surprise at the airport, it is highly suggested to contact your embassy site for more information on country-specific restrictions before booking your trip.

Cuba may be a small island, but there is no shortage of things to do. From delicious street eats and an enthralling basebal culture, to hiking mountains and exploring coral reef in remote corners of the country, Cuba has something for everyone.

Travel to Cuba has been limited for touristic purposes has been limited in the past, recent changes have made their borders easier to cross

Travel to Cuba has been limited for touristic purposes has been limited in the past, recent changes have made their borders easier to cross

When to travel to Cuba

With their sub-tropical climate, Cuba has a toasty year-round temperature of approximately 26 degrees (78 degrees). The country’s temperature may be stable, but it’s weather, on the other hand, is not. Cuba has two distinct seasons: A dry season that lasts from December to May and a wet season that takes place from June to November.

For travellers who want endless sun and blue skies as they lounge by the beach or explore the country’s iconic cities, December to May is the best time to travel to Cuba. However, as Cuba’s popularity as a travel destination continues to rise, some visitors are willing to risk the wet season’s unpredictable weather and make the trip between June and November.

Music lovers, in particular, may be more inclined to risk the weather in order to attend the annual Havana International Jazz festival that takes place mid-December. Jazz is heavily ingrained in Cuban culture and history, with its roots going back as far as the 1800s. After slavery was abolished in Cuba in 1886, a large number of freed Cubans made the decision to immigrate to New Orleans. As Cuban and American musicians travelled between the two countries, they were able to incorporate the rhythms and styles of the different countries into a brand new form of jazz, which eventually came known as “latin jazz”.

The great thing about this festival is that the majority of performances take place in indoor venues across the city. This means that rain or shine, great music will be playing!

Best of Cuba

Citizens in the capital city of Havana take their street food seriously

Citizens in the capital city of Havana take their street food seriously

Street Food

Foodies visiting Cuba will be happy to know that the citizens of Havana take their street food very seriously. While wandering the crowded streets, it’s impossible not to stop and sample the local fare sold by vendors from stands, windows, baskets and even wheelbarrows. If you’re not sure where to start, some local favourites are Pizza Hawaiana, an individual Hawaiian Pizza, and Fricasse de Carnero, a platter with stewed goat over a mixture of white rice and black beans and served with a side of starchy cassava root and small salad. If you’re interested in something a bit sweeter, look for a Batidos de Guayaba, a fresh guava milkshake, or Pie de Coco, an extraordinarily sweet coconut pie. Whether you go sweet or savory, you can have an authentic Cuban feast for less than $1.50 USD a dish.

Varadero is known for their picturesque white sand beaches and easily accessible cays

Varadero is known for their picturesque white sand beaches and easily accessible cays

Beaches

With more than 20km (12.4 miles) of picturesque white sand beaches, it’s no surprise that tourists have flocked to Varadero since the 1870s. Located on the Hicacos Peninsula, Varadero is Cuba’s most popular tourist destination for visitors looking to relax on the beach. Varadero also has a number of easily accessible cays, which are small sandy islands on the surface of a coral reef. These isolated beaches make great pit stops while snorkeling or scuba diving through the pristine turquoise waters.

Cuba's coastline is home to thousands of miles of coral reef

Cuba's coastline is home to thousands of miles of coral reef

Snorkelling

White sand beaches and turquoise water isn’t the only thing that makes Cuba’s coastline so alluring; it’s also home to thousands of miles of coral reef. What makes Cuba’s coral reef ecosystem so special, though, is that has been found to be in a much healthier state than other reefs in the Caribbean waters. For those looking to experience the best of Cuba’s coral reefs, grab your snorkeling or scuba diving gear and head to Jardines de la Reina National Park, located in the southern part of the island. Here, you can explore some of the world’s best kept coral reefs, teeming with kaleidoscopic fish and marine life.

The Sierra Maestra mountain range was stronghold of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s rebel army during the Cuban Revolution

The Sierra Maestra mountain range was stronghold of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s rebel army during the Cuban Revolution

Hiking

Beaches may be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture the Cuban landscape, but the country is actually quite mountainous. For adventurous travellers looking to see the country from a new perspective, hiking Pico Turquino is a must. The highest mountain in Cuba, Pico Turquino is nestled in the Sierra Maestra mountain range located in the southeast part the country. Aside from the numerous hiking trails, the Sierra Maestra mountain range has an interesting history, being the stronghold of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s rebel army during the Cuban Revolution.

In 2016, the Estadio Latinoamericano baseball stadium was home to the first major league game to the country since 1999

In 2016, the Estadio Latinoamericano baseball stadium was home to the first major league game to the country since 1999

Baseball

For Cubans, baseball is more than a game; it’s a way of life. To truly understand baseball culture in Cuba, attending a baseball game at the famous Estadio Latinoamericano is a must. Located in the capital city of Havana, the stadium is as big, if not bigger, than the major MLB stadiums in Canada and the United States and home to two different pro-league teams. In 2016, Estadio Latinoamericano was the location of a historic exhibition game between the Cuban national baseball team and the Tampa Bay Rays, which marked the first visit by a major league team to the country since 1999.