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Cuba with kids?

Oct 2014

We are an East Bay family living in Mexico for the year. We have to leave the country every six months for visa purposes, so we are trying to figure out where to go over Christmas vacation. My husband REALLY wants to go to Cuba. I am leaning mostly towards Nicaragua, or less so but maybe Guatemala (I visited Guatemala in my bohemian 20s). Our kids will be 14, almost 11 and almost 8. They are good travelers, and patient-all close to fluent in Spanish by now. We are not resort-type travelers, and not hard-core rugged either-but we're all good sports and up for anything. Not broke travelers, but not going to be throwing money around either-much closer to shoestring travelers than Club Med. I happen to be a Bay Area natural foodie (eating gluten makes me feel like crap, that kind of thing), so I'm embarrassed to admit that the thought of eating in Cuba for 2 weeks dismays me. I'm not a wimp (have sat up straight for 72 hours on the 3rd class train from Guangzhou-Yunnan, backpacked through India) and of course I'm willing to be flexible in return for seeing an amazing place like Cuba- but I would prefer beans and rice every meal over starch, pork and french fries for 2 weeks, that kind of thing. I'm less food-tolerant than I was in my 20's, I guess, and Nicaragua appeals more as a low- key holiday. Have you taken your children or teenagers to Nicaragua, or to Cuba, or both? I don't want to miss out on fabulous Cuba, but even if I can get over my food neuroses (I could bring beans and rice from Mexico in my suitcase), is Cuba a destination that kids appreciate? We would likely stay in family homes in Cuba-is that one of those wonderful cultural experiences that leaves the introverted mama completely exhausted? My kids don't expect us to cater to them with lots of kid- focused stuff, but they also may not appreciate the history of Cuba-which may be required to enjoy it (?) Mind you, we already live in a Latin country and have lots of dear Mexican friends, so our family is already fairly immersed in the amazing culture here. What do you think? When my husband fixates on an idea, he is hard to sway (and he would LOVE 2 weeks of french fries, ham pizza and ice cream-in fact, why don't you deep-fry that pizza while you're at it-dream come true for him). I realize how lucky we are with such a problem to figure out-I am utterly grateful for the opportunities before us. Thanks for your thoughts! Lucky Family-What do We Choose?

You do know that beans and rice are the national dish of Cuba, don't you? If you stay in Havana it's a little harder to find casas particulares that will cook for you but not impossible. Everywhere else they'll offer to cook you dinner for extra money. I don't know what you mean by whether staying in those places will be an 'exhausting' experience, but people who rent out their rooms are business-people - they don't want to spend their day hanging out with tourists. Lasly, Cuba is no less kid-friendly than any other place - 'history' is not the only thing to explore in Cuba. And it's probably the safest place in the western hemisphere in terms of violent crime - very few guns! Anyway, I'm sorry to be a bit snarky but you don't seem to have done much research on Cuba - you seem to be working off of some inaccurate assumptions. Anon
Cuba is an amazing country that is rapidly changing (especially Havana) and I say GO NOW. You will find beautiful, friendly, welcoming people (yes, Cubans actually LIKE Americans - and they especially appreciate that you are defying the BS that the American gov't feeds you and bothering to see for yourself what Cuba is really like). It is extremely safe and I love that people fill the streets - talking, eating, playing music, just hanging out and kids still play in the streets! It is very common to find four corner baseball games going on right in the neighborhoods. The fact that your kids speak Spanish will be such a huge asset - they will make friends right away, and I would not hesitate to let me kids go off with their new found friends. As far as food - I had to laugh. 'Christianos y Moros' is the standard fare of Cuba! Add some pork, green salad and plantains and you've got your plato typico. I've been to Cuba twice, in 2010 and 2013 and the changes in those few years has been astounding. One of the most positive changes is the abundance of fresh, organic produce that is now available EVERYWHERE due to the Cuban government's emphasis on small scale urban farming. Take some time to inquire about Cuba's healthcare system as well as the Cruz Roja - they are rightly very proud of both. Oh, and the BEST chinese meal I have ever had (lived in SE Asia for 3 years, SF for 5) was in Havana! I love Cuba and I'd move there in a heartbeat if they'd have me! Susan

Tour group to Cuba?

Feb 2009

I'm planning a two week trip to Cuba, hopefully this spring/summer. I'll most likely be going alone and, as my Spanish is rudimentary at best, thinking that a tour may be the best option. Small, adventurous group, home stays, lots of local interraction, etc. Any recommendations? Also, looks like I'll fly out of Cancun - any tips on lodging for a night coming and going? Thanks everyone! susan

Check out Global Exchange in San Francisco. They run their own tours but may be a source of information. anonymous
Check out They have programs based on Cuban music, dance, and culture. Charlie

Travelling to the Isle of Cuba

June 2007

I am planning to travel to that little elusive isle with my 19 yr old daughter this August. I could use lots of guidance on the hows and contacts there. If it is possible I would like to go through the front door and get the appropriate 'license'. We are hoping to do a week of Spanish language study in the capital and a week or more enjoying the Caribbean. I am a chiropractor, and would love to spend a few days sharing my expertise there, as well. All help greatly appreciated.

The only way I know of to travel to Cuba officially is as part of a cultural or educational tour. I had a wonderful time in Cuba in 2003 as part of a Food First Sustainable Agriculture Tour. Food First is a great organization, and the tour they prepared for us was thorough, fascinating, and allowed enough flexibility for fun time, too. I would highly recommend them. Global Exchange also runs programs - you can check out either organization online. Cuba Through the Front Door

Travel to Cuba - where to go, what to see?

April 2006

We are contemplating a trip to Cuba this year. How much does it cost to travel from Cancun to Havana? Any recommendations for places to stay once in Cuba or restaurants to try or other places to go? What are some good websites to check out before we go? How much money should we expect to spend? Thanks! jeanne

I'd start by reading this part of the State Department website and in particular, the following excerpt: The Regulations require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed to engage in any travel-related transactions related to travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada. U.S. law enforcement authorities have increased enforcement of these regulations at U.S. airports and pre-clearance facilities in third countries. Travelers who fail to comply with Department of Treasury regulations will face civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States. anon
I've been to Cuba dozens of times and have family there, and highly recommend that the first time you go, you find a group like PlazaCuba ( or Global Exchange to go with.

It's a fascinating place, but much of it is inaccessible without a group connection. Sure, you can go and stay in a big tourist hotel and be completely insulated from any kind of real Cuban people (the hotels are strictly segregated), but then what's the point of going to Cuba as opposed to any other Caribbean island?

To really experience the people, the culture, the music, the dance, and the food, consider taking a trip where you study music and dance, film, art, or another sort of cultural exchange. You'll find out more, have a better time, and have a better chance of avoiding the kind of scams that are alas, all more prevalent in Cuba as things grow more and more unequal there. Lauren

The flight from Havanna to Cuba routinely costs slightly over $300 round-trip. There are daily flights on two airlines, Aero Caribbe and Cubana.

Leisure travel to Cuba by Americans is not permitted under the current U.S. government. Americans may not spend money in Cuba over a minimal amount. That being said, many Americans disregard this restriction, and Cuba is set-up to deal with it.

The amount of money you spend will depend on your accomodations and life-style. There are the big tourist hotels where prices are akin to US dollars and the restaurants are the same. Or, you may choose to stay with a family in a home for $25 per day per person. Many families will cook your meals for you, charging around $6-10 for dinner and $3-5 for breakfast. If you just arrive in downtown Habana and walk the streets, folks will approach you with offers of rooms to rent from them. Or, gather addresses before you leave from folks who have been there, Lonely Planet, etc.

A couple years ago Fidel Castro implemented a tax on US dollars, so that if you pay for services or convert US currency, you pay a 10% surcharge. Thus, if a hotel room costs $100, you pay $110. No credit cards nor checks from the US are accepted as the US does not recognize or do business with Cuba, so you must carry all cash for the costs of your stay. If you want to avoid the 10% dollar surcharge, carry your currency in Canadian dollars.

Do remember that this is a Communist/Socialist society and since there is no capitalism, businesses such as supermarkets, fast- food restaurants, department stores do not exist outside Habana and a couple other tourist facilties, or they exist in a somewhat limited manner.

If all this makes you a bit nervous, you can book a tour to Habana or the lovley beach resort of Varadero at any travel agent in Cancun. In Cancun, you can pay for your tour with your American credit card, and thus can bring a lot less cash to Cuba.

You will probably do fine if you have a spirit of adventure and an open mind, and know what to expect beforehand. The people are the most friendly anywhere and are so kind to Americans...however there is street crime so watch your money carefully. There is no US embassy or bank to bail you out!

Re what to see and do, I suggest you read The Lonely Planet guide to Cuba, so you know what to expect. Habana and everywhere else in Cuba is so different that just walking down the street is a complete travel experience--you will not lack for things to do or see!!! kay

Cuba is a wonderful place to visit - we were there last March for 2 weeks and loved it! Because of the way the economy works, its also a really different place to visit...Here are some of the things we learned: Stay in a 'casa particular' - these are rooms in people's homes and they are much nicer and a better value than the (state run) hotels. Some of them are really amazing (in old, beautiful houses) and they are usually only $25-35/night. Plus you get to meet a cuban family. The neighborhood near the University is pretty and child-friendly (and not too far from downtown).

Food is the hardest thing about travelling in cuba. We found it really difficult to find even decent food. My recommendation would be to stay in a casa where they feed you dinner and where you can make your own breakfast and then you just have to worry about lunch each day. Some of the best food we had was food bought with cuban pesos. (Because of the dual economy, you have to use 2 different kinds of money...). People also run restaurants out of their homes which can be good too, but you have to know about them (and know the exact address) because there are no signs.

One of the funnest & child friendly things we did is to go to the big ice cream place. It's a little funny because you stand in line for a while and then they usher you in as a big group and there's only 2 flavors, but it's really fun and yummy. In answer to your questions, as far as I remember it was about $200 to get from Cancun to Havana. I got a lot of my info from the Thorn Tree on

Basically, I would say - get a good (and very recent since things are always changing!) guidebook and then be very laid back about your plans. If you want to email me, I can try to remember more specific names of places we went. Amy R

first suggestion: see Lonely Planet's website - look at the Thorn Tree section. You can get tons of specific advice there. Where to stay, how much, etc. There's tons to do and see, get out of Havana -- go to Trinidad, Pinar del Rio. Dont' go to Varadero - if you want beaches, just go to the beaches outside of Havana. It's not really cheap - transportation/tours can be unreliable. But it's a gorgeous, fascinatiing country. I've spent a lot of time there - you're welcome to email me if you want more details. Elena

Traveling to Cuba without permission

May 2005

Has anyone travel WITHOUT permission to Cuba the last two years? If yes, could you please tell me how did you do it and what's the story with the stamp on the passport? Thank you.

I traveled to Cuba from California 10 years ago. I went through Mexico City, where I had made arrangements to meet a travel agent at the airport who sold me a visa (20 bucks). Then we went to the Air Cubana counter and bought a ticket to Havana for that morning. I think I tipped the travel agent another 20 bucks.

Cubans are used to Americans coming - there are many, many American tourists. If you're nervous, you can ask them not to stamp your passport.

Legally, you can go to Cuba - the US government cannot restrict your movements. But you are not allowed to spend money there. Cuba has a thriving US dollar economy because many Cubans have relatives in the US. Bring lots of ones and fives.

By the way, I didn't speak Spanish when I went and had an amazing adventure. Have a great time. I'd love to go back. anon

We travelled to Cuba legally 2 years ago, but I do know the follwoing: Cuban customs NEVER stamps US passports, even when entering legally, bc of the embargo and to keep US citizens out of trouble. people on our delegation asked for stamps and they wouldn't do it. THey said it causes too much trouble for the traveller, even years later. To go illegally, go through Mexico, the Dominican Republic, or elsewhere. do NOT go through Canada as there as US customs agents there and you will get fined.

Do go, however, it's a wonderful country! anon

I go to Cuba often, most recently this March. It is simple to go. I fly to Cancun, and purchase a ticket from Cancun to Havana either at the airport, or in Cancun at a Travel Agent. I usually do the latter as I spend one might in Cancun prior to leaving as I arrive too late in Cancun to get out the same day.

When an American arrives in Havana, the Customs Official simply slips a piece of paper into your passport and stamps it. When you leave, they remove the paper. There is no official record of your visit. You used to have to ask for this service; but now it is routine.

My experience is that the Cuban people and officials love Americans and welcome our visits. As they often tell me, the disputes are just between our governments.

I would be happy to talk to you further about inexpensive ways to get around and stay in Cancun which is very expensive; and where to stay and eat in Havana and where else to go in Cuba if you are interested. Kay