The Republic of Cuba, comprising the island of Cuba, Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos, is found in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Its main island, Cuba, is the largest in the Caribbean and the second-most populous with over eleven million inhabitants.
Cuba has been inhabited for thousands of years, first by the Ciboney Taíno people until Spanish colonization in the 15th Century. It remained a colony of Spain until 1898 when it was occupied by the United States, gaining nominal independence as a de facto United States protectorate in 1902. Cuba’s 20th Century history includes political radicalisation, social strife, coups and times under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Corruption and oppression led to Batista’s ousting in 1959 and communist rule being established under Fidel Castro. Since 1965, the state has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba.
Due to its varied history, Cuba is a diverse country and its culture has been influenced by customs from across the globe. Its primary influences are of Spanish and African in origin. Cuba is considered part of Latin America.
Much of Cuba’s reputation is built on its kind, friendly people with warm, beaming smiles. It has unique flora and fauna, including the Cuban crocodile, over 350 species of bird and over 100 species of palm trees of which one, the Royal Palm, is a national symbol. The country’s natural beauty extends to its famous beaches. With over 3,500 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the beaches are known for varying in colours, from brilliant white to volcanic black, and for the pristine clear waters lapping gently over them.
For a relatively small country, Cuba is brimming with World Heritage Sites, fine architecture and world-renowned sights. From Old Havana and its fortifications to the stunning and graceful city centre of Cienfuegos, which features French-inspired architecture, Cuba is overflowing with staggering history and beauty. Classic American cars are a common and sought-after sight, while its music is known across the globe and a sound synonymous with the country.
Cuba’s fame is further boosted by its exports. Believed to be among the very best in the world, Cuban cigars are renowned worldwide for their quality. Rum has through history been a hugely important product of the country and continues to contribute significantly to the economy. Its reputation is built on it being lighter, smoother and crisper than other rums in the Caribbean and it is further enhanced by its use in cocktails. Mojitos, daiquiris, the Cuba Libre and the canchánchara have all made a name for themselves around the world in more recent years, though their popularity in Cuba stretches back centuries.
Health Concerns in Cuba
If you are travelling to Cuba, it is really important to be aware of the health risks and the relevant vaccinations that will protect you during your visit. Immunisation jabs or boosters may be required, so it is vital that you check any requirements and suggestions in advance.
A fantastic place to start looking when considering your trip and the requirements before you travel is the NHS-run Fit for Travel website. The site features a breakdown of different diseases, the risks associated with it and recommendations for how you should protect yourself.
Anyone travelling to Cuba should be up to date with the vaccines recommended in the UK. Included are vaccines for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and diptheria-tetanus-polio. Anyone with specific medical needs, or who may be at increased risk due to their work or lifestyle choices should consult their doctor for additional information.
Most travellers to the country should be vaccinated against tetanus, while hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid vaccines are recommended for some travellers, mainly where underlying health conditions, work, accessibility to treatment or lifestyle choices are more likely to pose a risk to an individual should an illness be contracted. It is of utmost importance that you seek advice on this from your doctor before travelling. A comprehensive list can also be found on the National Travel Health Network and Centre site.
Malaria is not normally present in Cuba, unless contracted abroad, but there is a threat of Zika virus and Dengue fever, both for which there is no vaccine. Therefore, precautions must be taken to avoid mosquito bites. The mosquitos that are responsible for Zika and Dengue are known to bite during the day and frequent urban areas, but it is good practice to be prepared at any time of day.
If you will be needing prescription medicine during your trip, you should check the legalities of the medicines you will be taking in Cuba and ensure you have a copy of a letter from your doctor explaining your condition. As many medicines are unavailable in Cuba, if you need over-the-counter medicines, you should first check the most up-to-date advice, then consider taking enough with you to last the duration of your trip.
Medical facilities in Havana are superior to other areas of the country, but specialist treatment may still require evacuation. Any treatment can quickly become very expensive, particularly if involving a stay in hospital, and often the cost may need to be covered prior to action being taken. Medical assistance can be sought through the emergency ambulance number 104. It is vital that you purchase comprehensive travel insurance prior to your trip to ensure you are covered even in worst-case scenarios.
Food and Water
Cuba is a culinary delight with delicious food and exquisite smells. As with many countries around the world, food is an integral part of getting to know the culture and adds to your experience immeasurably. Cuba is home to many unique, memorable dishes and following simple advice allows you to enjoy them safely.
Unfortunately, Cuba’s hot, rainy climate is not only an attraction for visiting tourists, but the ideal conditions for bacteria, viruses and pathogens to flourish. It is extremely important to avoid unwashed, unpeeled fruit and vegetables, raw eggs, undercooked foods and unpasteurised dairy products. While street vendors look appealing and may smell incredible, their standards for cleanliness will be far below those of reputable restaurants and should, therefore, be avoided.
Eating at well-known, respectable restaurants is likely to be a safer option, particularly if they are used to catering for tourists. If you are preparing meals yourself, ensure you thoroughly cook your food and use equipment that has been well cleaned prior to starting. It is also a good idea to carry products like hand-sanitiser with you at all times. Making sensible and careful choices about the foods you eat will help to ensure you have a healthy and happy visit.
Due to an ageing infrastructure, Cuba’s tap water is not safe for tourists to drink. Bottled water is commonly available in areas popular with tourists, and many hotels will have it available for sale. Even tap water that is perfectly safe for locals has been known to cause illness in tourists, so it is best to refrain from drinking tap water anywhere. If you are aware that you will be travelling to an area not frequently visited by tourists, or where bottled water may be hard to come by, it is important that you look at alternatives before travelling, such as a bottle with a built-in filter.
General hygiene measures, such as regularly washing your hands, will also help to reduce the likelihood of illness, and packing medicines that can help should you be unfortunate is always advisable.
Crime levels in Cuba are considered low and gun crime is virtually non-existent. The Cuban government does not release specific crime figures. Car-related crime and muggings have been known to take place from time to time and precautions should be made to reduce the risk of this. Travelling with a reputable tour operator and only using licensed taxis are measures that can be taken to increase your safety. Pickpockets and bag-snatchers may frequent areas popular with tourists, so be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Avoid wearing expensive jewellery and, where possible, leave expensive items in a safe place. Carry a copy of your passport rather than the original and be aware that hi-tech items, such as phones and computers, are highly sought-after by Cuban criminals.
Cuba is a one-party state and there is a high level of social control and strong police presence. Freedom of speech is restricted somewhat, and you should avoid demonstrations or large public gatherings.
Driving standards are variable and strict laws exist. If you are driving and involved in a serious accident, you could be subject to an investigation that may take months to complete. You may not be allowed to leave the country during this time.
There is no recent history of terrorist attacks in Cuba, although such attacks can never be ruled out. Travellers should be vigilant at all times.
Family Travel Safety (Cuba with Kids)
Cuba is an astonishing destination for anyone and this is particularly true for children. It is famous for its fascinating culture and has a deeply rich history, so it is an amazing experience for young travellers. Lacking in the advanced technology that they may be used to, it is an opportunity for them to reconnect with the world itself and delve deep into areas of life they may not be as exposed to at home.
Warm, welcoming and with activities to excite and entertain children, Cuba is a destination that should appeal to families. Its low crime level and relatively low threat from mosquitoes given its climate make the focus always turn to the people and their hearty smiles rather than anything problematic. Beaches, watersports and wildlife spotting are activities that can easily be enjoyed by all the family too.
Cuba’s care for children is evident in its education system, with an enviable system in place that has led to exceptional literacy rates among the country’s adults. This heartfelt approach extends to visitors, who are always appreciated and welcomed.
One thing to consider prior to travelling is what provisions you will need for your children. Specific items considered necessary in other countries may not be available for purchase, and the food may be very different from what your children are used to. If you know that this is likely to cause problems for your children, it is best to prepare in advance and consider what you can take with you rather than assuming that you will be able to purchase things once in the country.
Family Travel Safety (Cuba for Women)
From a safety perspective, Cuba is as good as it gets when travelling abroad, especially for women. Chivalrous machismo means that men will want to take care of women and will go out of their way to protect and help females. However, the excess of this, is that Cuban men can pursue women relentlessly. While local women may be used to this and give back as good as they get, this can be quite a shock to women not used to such forwardness. Ignoring such comments can be a start, but there is no substitute for learning some phrases in Spanish that can make your position crystal clear.
Typical tactics such as wearing plain and modest clothing will also help. If you are interacting with locals, such as through dancing or conversation, do not be afraid to make them aware of what is and what is not acceptable. However, Cuba is not a typical travel spot and is not a common spot for solo travellers. For this reason, there are few hostels and therefore fewer travellers in a similar position to keep you company.
Female sanitary products are not easily accessible in Cuba and some, such as tampons, are non-existent. It is, therefore, important that they feature on your ‘to pack’ list and are not forgotten.
Tips for Staying Safe in Cuba
• Buy the Right Insurance
It is obligatory for foreign travellers to Cuba to have medical insurance, so you must purchase a policy before travelling and ensure you have proof of this if it is requested upon arrival.
Furthermore, you should make sure that your policy covers you for any activities that you are planning on doing while in the country. Some policies may have exclusions, while you may find one that is better suited to your needs through more extensive research.
Remember to purchase a policy that covers you for medical evacuation should it be required. If you are travelling between June and November, Cuba’s hurricane season, ensure you are covered for any possibilities that may entail from being caught up in a natural disaster.
• Learn the Language and Customs
Cuba is quite a unique country and will in many great ways be so different from your homeland. However, this means it is vital that you learn some of the customs before travelling and that you ensure you will not accidentally involve yourself in something that could cause you bother.
Seeking up to date advice is always a good thing to do. More than this, it is a good introduction to what you can expect during your visit.
Cubans are renowned for being friendly people. Making the effort to speak to them in their language, even if you are limited, will always be well-received and appreciated. As well as this, learning particular phrases prior to your visit will help you in certain situations and will avoid ambiguity.
• Travelling Around
The roads in Cuba are not renowned for their safety. Laws can be strict around drivers, and while it is possible to drive on a UK Passport for six months, the conditions are likely to be very different from what you are used to. Rented cars have also been known to be targeted by criminals looking to take possessions off people.
Licensed taxis are generally a reliable method of getting around. You are advised against walking to and from places after dark.
A safe way to travel is with a reputable tour operator who will be able to inform you directly with good ideas, safety tips and things to avoid. It is important to remember that Cuba has a very good record of safety for travellers, but accidents and unfortunate events can happen, so you should guard against complacency, be vigilant and ensure that your trip is remembered for all of the incredible things that you will be doing!
If you’re travelling to Cuba, then stay safe and give yourself peace of mind with a comprehensive travel insurance policy with Navigator Travel Insurance.