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ArabiGuide: Cuba

Cuba is a vibrant, cosmopolitan destination and the Caribbean’s biggest island, located about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida. Tourism in Cuba was a massive industry until the 1959 revolution. The island has slowly opened back up and now attracts a wide range of tourists. The market has certainly started to show signs of development with many hotels available in typical tourist regions.

Regions of Cuba

There’s three main parts of Cuba:

  • Western Cuba – home to Havana, Pinar del Rio and Matanzas, this is Cuba’s most-visited area. City life, rolling hills and great scuba diving make this a favoured haunt of the island’s visitors. For ease, we’ll focus on this region predominantly in this guide.
  • Central Cuba – Villa Clara, Cienfeugos, Santi Spiritus
  • Eastern Cuba – Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma

Getting to/around Cuba

Not the easiest destination to reach from Dubai as it really is quite a long trip. You’ll be looking at a MINIMUM of one stop (e.g. Air France such as Dubai-Paris-Havana or Emirates such as Dubai-USA-Cuba) so it can be a little tricky to plan; of course, we’re more than happy to plan it for you! Havana’s main airport is called Jose Marti International Airport and an official taxi from the airport to Havana centre costs 25 CUC (approx. AED91). There’s a new bus service as well which only costs a few cents.

Once you arrive there’s a few different ways to get around the island. Viazul is Cuba’s official bus transport and is probably the best way to get around. The air-conditioned coaches have toilets and run to most popular tourist destinations. There’s train lines too but these are often less reliable than the bus system. Cars can be hired easily and will start at around 65 CUC (around AED240) per day. Finally, local airlines also fly between the cities and this will definitely be the quickest way to do things

When should I go?

The best time to visit Cuba is between December and April. The few months before December can often be home to hurricanes and storms and the humidity during the summer can be pretty tough (though, perhaps not as bad as Dubai!)

What should I do?

Firstly, Havana is a bustling and vibrant city. Stroll along the Malecon and take in the culture, walk around Havana Vieja or see some local music – this exists in every neighbourhood and is a great sight. Visit the music clubs, grab a mojito, hit the beaches and venture out in the the countryside!

Cuba is home to some fantastic beaches and national parks. Viñales National Park is exceptionally beautiful, home to amazing mountains and caves and has very well developed tourist facilities.

But wait, why are there two currencies?

This issue is a little bit complicated and catch people out when they visit Cuba for the first time. Cuba has two different currencies:

  • CUC is the Cuban Convertible Peso. This is the currency that most tourists will be used and should be used for hotels, official taxis, museum entrance, restaurant meals etc. Since March 2011, this has been set at par to the USD for ease of exchange for tourists.
  • CUP is the Cuban Peso. They’re also known as ‘local pesos’ and are used for market transactions and street vendors.

You’re far more likely to use the CUC on a day-to-day basis but it’s worth carrying around some CUP as well.

I’d like to learn things

Havana is home to some fantastic museums. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba (National Museum of Beautiful Arts of Cuba) is particularly highly-rated and is home to stunning displays of Cuban art. Love Hemingway? Make sure you take time to visit Museo Hemingway Finca Vigia – this was formerly the home of Finca Vigia, the colonial home where Ernest Hemingway penned some of his finest works.

Cuba is a great place to visit and is home to a truly diverse range of things to do. Whilst most of the activity lies in Havana, it’s a great experience to get out into the countryside and do some exploring. Do note, visas can be a little bit complicated for Cuba (especially for U.S. citizens) so take the time to properly research this aspect.