cuba sidestreet

Traveling to Cuba with kids? 6 things to know before you go. So you’re heading to Cuba for a family holiday and you aren’t going the all-inclusive vacation route. Good on you! Cuba is a fantastic place to travel independently with kids. We backpacked around Cuba with our three daughters (aged 5, 3 and 1) in March 2017. Here are our top tips to make your Cuba trip the best ever.

Traveling to Cuba with kids? 6 things to know before you go

Seriously Sparse Internet

Like there is actually almost no internet. This is a hard thing to wrap one’s mind around (I didn’t believe it myself) when coming from North America or Europe where we are connected to data and wifi 24/7. But Cuba is pretty much the opposite.

As of March 2017, data plans with a Cuban SIM card were not available. So, unless you have roaming data, you’ll need to access the internet via wifi hotspots run by the state’s telecommunications agency, ETECSA. Some high-end hotels and an increasing number of Casas Particulares are also offering these wifi spots. You will not be able to access the internet anywhere other than those places, so prepare accordingly.

To make your life a bit easier, get your prepaid wifi card before leaving the airport. They are available in the departures area (before security) of the Varadero airport. Or, head to the nearest ETECSA office and get your card there.  You’ll use the username and pin number on that card to access the internet from wifi hotspots. A full list of wifi hotspots by province is available on the ETECSA site and is worth jotting down the locations of places you’ll be visiting before you go.

Don’t expect a fast connection and prepare for apps to not function properly due to the slow speed.

Download Offline Google Maps

We did this before we left and we were very glad we did. Google offers a nice tutorial on how to download offline maps (both iOS and Android) here.

Book what you can before you leave

We made this mistake. Big time. We made a lot of assumptions that travelling around Cuba would be like travelling around everywhere else we’ve travelled and it just wasn’t. If you are used to Southeast Asia travel where there’s a travel agency on every corner ready to help you book anything you need, you may find the situation in Cuba challenging! Most travel-related services are government-run: restaurants, hotels and buses/trains. Private options are opening up, but aren’t nearly as easy to organize and are more expensive than you might expect.

We found ourselves in a bind several times because we hadn’t booked in advance and without the internet at our fingertips, getting information and making plans was tricky.

Booking Buses

The state-run bus, Viazul, plies Cuba’s highways and you’ll want to get familiar with it. Make a point of getting to the bus station when you land in Havana or Varadero, or wherever your launching point is, and book your onward journey as soon as possible. We had more situations than I would like to admit where we really scrambled to find transport because we waited too long.

Booking accommodation

The same goes for accommodation. Book as far in advance as you can! Thankfully, this can be done online through a growing number of websites like Cubacasas.net, the Cuba Junky app and even Airbnb which is now operational in Cuba. The earlier you book, the better. We travelled over spring break and it was definitely high season. I started looking at accommodation and sending emails 10 days in advance, and all the casas I contacted were already booked for our dates. We ended up finding one place for the first few nights outside of Varadero in Boca de Camarioca and then hoped for the best. This did work for us, but we could have avoided lots of stress and headaches.

We were never left homeless in Cuba, but we did run into a couple of situations where finding accommodation at the last minute was very stressful. The day we arrived in Havana, for instance, it was early evening, we had no casa booked and ended up roaming the streets with all of our bags looking for a room.

Not fun at all. Take my word for it and book ahead.

Learn some Spanish

Brush up on your Spanish before you go. I didn’t and deeply regretted it. While I hoped my four years of Spanish classes in high school and university would miraculously come back to me, as you can imagine, that did not happen (shocker!) Often I found myself remembering obscure Spanish verb conjugations, but could not for the life of me remember how to ask for a hotel room. We managed to communicate in very broken Spanish thanks to the Lonely Planet Latin American Spanish Phrasebook, and lots of hand gestures.

Know What To Pack

We read forum after forum in preparation for our trip to Cuba and I’m glad I did. Especially with kids in tow, we might have made some crucial packing errors.

You CAN find disposable diapers in Cuba. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find wet wipes, sunscreen, tampons, insect repellent and paediatric medications. We took all the sunscreen we would need for two weeks and used every single drop. We also got down to our last three wet wipes!

If you want more details, take a look at our Cuba packing list. 

cuba sidestreet
Our eldest and youngest daughters striking a post on a side street near Varadero, Cuba

Bring a smile and a sense of humour!

Things went wrong more than once on our Cuba trip. Some of our mistakes could have been avoided with more prior planning. But there were other things that just happened and no amount of planning and organization could have changed that. In many ways, Cuba is on the cusp of change: its relationship with the United States is thawing, the economic landscape is transforming and its ties to the rest of the world are growing.

But it is still Cuba, governed in its own unique way; a country in which time has stood still for decades.

Plenty of times, we had to roll with the punches and find the silver lining and chances are you will too! But that’s what travel is all about right? Expanding our worldview and experiences, finding hope and gratitude and joy in discomfort, and discovering new ways of doing things.

Our Cuba adventure was an excellent one. We have fresh new memories with our family and the experiences we had together will stay in our hearts and minds for a long time. Cuba 2017 was so good we’re already brainstorming what winter getaway we can plan for next year!

Looking for more information about travelling Cuba with kids? Check out our packing list and Why we loved Cuba and you will too.

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