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Factsheet - Cuba

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Quick facts

Official Name: Republic of Cuba
Population: 11 million
Capital City: Havana, population: 2.2 million
People: 66% Spanish, 12% African descent, 22% Mulatto
Language: Spanish
Religion: 85% Roman Catholic, 15% Protestant
Currency: Cuban Peso, US dollar, peso convertible
Time: GMT minus 5 hours, April to Sept is Daylight Saving time (minus 4 hours)
Electricity: 110V/230V or 60 Hz
Major Industries: Sugar, mineral ores, fishing, tourism, tobacco, medicine
Departure Tax: $15 USD
International Dialing Code: 53


These requirements can change regularly please see your trip notes for more up to date details.

Best time to go

Cuba's climate is considered subtropical, and due to its long tapered shape, few places are far from the Northeast trade winds that blow from the coastal regions, giving Cuba pleasant temperatures year round. The dry season runs from November to April and the wet season from May to October. Even in the rainy season, downpours are short and heavy and should not hinder travel plans. The only dicey months are September and October, when hurricanes can pummel the Northwest coast, but generally leave the eastern seaboard unscathed. While Cuba has had its share of these tropical storms over the past few years, they tend not to be life threatening.


There are two official currencies in Cuba. The Peso Convertible (CUC), and the Cuban Peso (CUP or Moneda Nacional M.N). The exchange rates of these currencies are fixed by the Cuban Government, however they are liable to change at any time. For the most up to date rates please refer to the following website: .
CADECA exchange houses: In Cuba there are official government exchange houses called CADECA. These exchange houses can exchange foreign cash, make cash advances on credit cards, and exchange travellers cheques. To do any of these operations you will need your passport. To exchange travellers cheques you will also need the receipt of the bank where you bought the travellers cheques.
In terms of cash, the only currencies that you are guaranteed to be able to exchange are CAD, EUR, and GBP, and sometimes Swiss Francs. You can also exchange USD, however, the Cuban Government charges a 10% fee for accepting USD. The same rules apply for travellers cheques. At this time AUD and NZD are not accepted in Cuba. Please also be advised that slightly torn notes, notes that have been heavily marked or are faded may be difficult to exchange. It is best to bring notes in fairly good condition, in denominations lower than 100USD (or equivalent).
Eurocheques are not accepted in Cuba. Visa and Thomas Cook traveler cheques issued in USD are not a problem, except that you will incur the 10% charge for exchanging from $US.
Credit cards (both Visa and MasterCard) should work in Cuba for cash advances and in the ATMs. Itis best to come to Cuba with a back up plan of obtaining cash if your credit card does not work.
There are ATMs in Cuba to make a cash advance. Currently the only cities with ATMs are Havana, Camaguey, and Santiago de Cuba. You will need a pin number on your credit card to be able to use the ATMs.

Public holidays

  • January 1st - Liberation Day
  • January 2nd - Victory of Armed Forces
  • May 1st - Labour Day
  • May 20th - Independence Day
  • July 25th-27th - Day of Rebelliousness
  • October 10th - Anniversary of the beginning of the war of Independence in 1868
  • December 25th - Christmas Day

Best buys

Note: Remember to get a receipt before purchasing any souvenirs in Cuba, as this allows you to export them duty free.

  • Cigars - Cohibas are said to be the best and hence they are the most expensive. Other notable brands are: Coronas, Montecristos, Partagas and Romeo and Julietas.
  • Guayabera - has become more or less the national dress. Its a mans pleated tropical shirt and can be purchased almost everywhere.
  • Rum - the best in the world
  • Cuban artwork - for sale at many of the galleries found in Havana
  • Coffee

Best eats/must tries

  • Ajicaco - a typical meat, garlic and vegetable stew
  • Fritura de maiz - these corn fritters are a great street snack
  • Natilla - vanilla pudding
  • Flan - a small Spanish caramel pudding
  • Tachinos or tostones - fried green banana chips
  • Platano frito - fried ripe banana, a great dessert!


  • Guarapo - made from the juice pressed from whole stalks of sugar cane
  • Pru - found in the west, is a non-alcoholic concoction made from various root vegetables and herbs left to ferment, interesting.
  • Rum, rum, rum - the favourite hometown brand is Havana Club, made in a variety of different types.
  • Cuba libre - although sold all over the world, you must try it in its country of origin.
  • Mojito - another national favourite and Ernest Hemingways drink of choice, made with rum, lemon juice, sugar, soda and mint leaves.
  • Aguardiente - the local firewater made from cane sugar.
  • Local beers - Mayabe and Hatuey are the best.


Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean and offers G.A.P travellers a wealth of activities. A visit to Havana is almost like stepping into a time machine and journeying back to the 1950s. Old American automobiles from that period crowd the streets and little modernization has altered the Spanish architecture. It's little wonder why Ernest Hemmingway fell in love with this capital and called it home for more than 20 years.

Old Havana Walking Tour - Old Havana is truly the cultural centre of the city. Spend one day doing the tour of all the many museums and churches, and go back a second day for a more in-depth look at the historical sites you find most appealing. Each site has unique opening hours so by extending your exploration to two days, you should be able to take them all in.

Plaza de la Catedral - start your walking tour here. Around this plaza you will see several famous buildings. First among these is the Catedral de San Cristobal de La Habana which was built around 1748 by Jesuits. Next is Centro Wilfredo Lam, which is home to Cubas leading modern painters. Palacio del Marques de Arcos is Cubas old post office, and Museo de Arte Colonial displays decorative arts and furniture. Finally, at the Taller Experimental de Grafica you can see original prints being made, except for Mondays and Fridays when the entire plaza becomes an open-air market.

Plaza de Armas - the centre of power in Cuba is found one block south of the Plaza de la Catedral on San Ignacio where an excellent book market takes shape on weekends. Around the Plaza de Armas you can visit the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (west side) which is probably the most impressive building in Cuba, and dates back to 1776. On the northeast side, the Castillo Real de las Fuerza, built in 1558, is the oldest colonial fortress extant in the Americas, and is home to the Museo de las Ceramica Artistica Cubana. Just off the Plaza de Armas is the Museo del Automovil which displays classic automobiles.

Casa de la Obra Pia at Obrapia No 158 - an example of 17th century aristocratic life.

Museo - Casa Natal de Jose Marti - on Leonor Perez No. 314, this is the birthplace of Jose Marti, Cuba hero of independence. You can see photos, books, manuscripts and other mementos of his life

Iglesia Paroquial del Espiritu Santo - at the corner of Cuba and Acosta is Havana's oldest surviving church

Mus eo Nacional de la Musica - at Capdevila No. 1, this museum houses a collection of Cuban instruments. You can purchase recordings of Cuban music at the gift shop.

Central Havana

Parque de la Fraternidad - this park was created back in 1892 when it became a Spanish military parade ground. Around it, you will find the Real Favrica de Tabacos Partagas at Industria No. 520, Havanas oldest cigar factory. When in Havana, you must take a cigar tour. Also see the Capitolio Nacional, Cubas answer to the White House, and the Gran Teatro de La Habana which is the oldest operating theatre in the Western Hemisphere

Parque Central - this has become the meeting point between old and new Havana. At its centre is a marble monument to Jose Marti. Be sure to visit one of Havanas most elegant hotels bordering the park, the Inglaterra. Many foreign dignitaries and visiting movie stars have spent time here

Hotel Sevilla - one block north of the Paseo de Marti, this is another notable hotel where Cubas own Mary Pickford cocktail was invented. It is composed of rum, pineapple juice and grenadine

Museo de la Revolucion - sits opposite the Corona Cigar factory at Refugio No 1 and depicts an accurate account of the Cuban revolution. In front of the building, you can see a SAU-100 tank used by Castro during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion Vedado

Hotel Nacional at Calles 21 and O - a colonial hotel that plays a significant part in US Cuban history. This hotel is definitely worth a visit

Plaza Ignaacio Agramonte - the University square where you can visit the Museo de Ciencias Naturales, Cubas oldest museum and Museo Antropologico Montane, which displays pre-Colombian Indian artifacts

Cristobal Colon - Cubas most important cemetery. While you may think that a cemetery is the last place you want to visit on a holiday, it is a significant part of Cuban history. Many pivotal moments in the country's history took place between these tombs

Malecon - also called the Avenida de Antonio Maceo - was constructed in 1902 after Cuban Independence, and follows the oceanfront. Many monuments and upscale hotels line the Malecon, so it's definitely worth a stroll

La Bodeguita del Medio - at Empedrado No. 207, this bar is a must visit. It was the favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway. Other notables such as Castro and Salvador Allende to name but a few have all left their autographs on the walls.

Outside of Havana

Marina Hemingway - at Avenida 5 and Calle 248, offers scuba diving and deep-sea fishing.

La Tropicana - probably the most famous of cabarets in all of Cuba, La Tropicana is located on Calle 72 No. 4504 at Avenida 43 in Marianao (closed Mondays). Admission including one drink is about $55 USD depending on your table, but it is well worth it. You should book in advance (tel 33-0110) to ensure seating.

Veradero - along the Via Blanca, 140km east of Havana is Veradero, easily one of the most popular beach destinations for mainstream tourists hailing from North America and Europe. Our tours have never included hanging about on a crowded beach, which is why Veradero is not part of our Cuba itinerary. Still, there is no question that the beaches of Veradero are some of the most beautiful in the world and so if you are so inclined, it is worth a visit, especially since there are no good beaches in Havana.
To get there you can either take the bus at the Terminal de Omnibus Interprovinciales at Avenida de la Independencia and Calle 19 de Mayo (near Plaza de la Revolucion), or rent a car. It is difficult to find inexpensive one-night accommodations in Veradero, particularly on the beach, so keep that in mind should you decide to stay.

Tourist Office

Oddly enough, there are no tourist offices in Havana. You can seek help at local travel agencies such as Rumbos and Havanatur who offer tourist services, at a price.