UK, Canada Travelers Offer Cuba Travel Tips
For advice, we tapped our colleagues in the Canada and UK offices -- after all, they've been visiting Cuba for years. (It's the No. 1 Caribbean search term for Travelzoo members in those countries).
Current regulations on the books still put restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba. In other words, you can't just book a flight and go -- yet. But with the climate warming to more open travel, here's the lowdown on visiting America's closest Caribbean neighbor.
Best times to goThe sunny tropical climate makes Cuba a winter favorite for snowbirds. Like the rest of the Caribbean, hurricane season runs from June to November, and it can be rainy May through October. Summer can be a popular time to visit; the annual Carnival in Santiago is held in late July.
Cuban pesos vs. convertible pesosIn Cuba, there are two currencies: Cuban pesos and Cuban convertible pesos. Most tourists will be using Cuban convertible pesos to pay for hotels, taxis and meals. Travelers can change money at a CADECA (exchange bureau); many hotels have one on site. Street foods and vendors typically only accept Cuban pesos, so it's good to convert to a few of those as well.
Visiting VaraderoCanadians and Brits flock to the all-inclusive resorts here: options range from upscale properties to more family-friendly or budget-friendly options. Resorts can vary widely and are best for people who really want to maximize their beach time. (For comparison, it's a bit like Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.) Daytrips to other spots can be planned, but most people visiting Varadero just want some much-needed R&R. Without traveling far off the resorts, visitors can find water sports marinas and boating spots, as well as natural landmarks, parks and gardens.
Must-make daytripDeal Expert Laura S. from London recommends visiting Trinidad, Cuba: "It's a bit of a trek off the Havana/Varadero track, but it was my favourite spot on the island and a UNESCO World Heritage site." She says, "There's Iguana Island (a small white-sand island filled with friendly iguana and big rat things), which is accessible via catamaran. You can also take a steam train to the Valley of the Sugar Mills."
The valley is actually three connected ones that were the center for sugar production in the 18th and 19th centuries. It's now a "living museum" of the sugar industry, with mills and facilities and summer mansions for touring.
According to Laura, "Most nights there's music and dancing on the steps outside Casa de la Musica (find yourself a spot and waiters from the surrounding bars will bring you mojitos). You can watch and soak in the atmosphere, or find a friendly Cuban to dance with (they will be better than you). Afterwards, you can head up the hill to Disco Ayala -- a nightclub in a cave."