As relations between the United States and Cuba continue to thaw, it’s becoming more and more of an option for Americans to visit the island nation’s fabled streets, clubs, and beaches. For the family with ties to the island country or a fascination with its history and unbelievably nostalgic vehiclescape, the possibility of taking a trip to Cuba is, arguably, an exciting nearby travel prospect. However, there is a lot about Cuba that’s unlike other close-by destinations, so proper preparation is essential, especially for a family traveling with children. Here are seven tips that will make traveling to Cuba with your family easier on all of you.
1. Book Reservations Waaaaay in Advance
Cuba is a major tourist destination with almost 2 million people visiting each year — and that was before the reestablishment of relations with the U.S.! However, its popularity hasn’t forced it to keep pace with the rest of the technological world. Credit cards are rarely accepted and cash is your best bet, and getting a reservation for a hotel can take up to a week In order to ensure you have lodging, you’ll need to put in the effort and the time. That’s particularly true if you want to stay in Old Havana where the time warp gets is most severe. During the off-season, your efforts to reserve an Old Havana room should start at last a month in advance, and during peak season, you’ll need to place a reservation at least two months ahead of time.
2. Learn Some Spanish
Unlike many popular tourist spots in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica, English is not commonly spoken throughout Cuba. For all the well-meaning Americans who assume they will run into enough English speakers to get around alright, it can make for a rude awakening. Set aside some time in the months leading up to your trip to learn some basic Spanish as a family. Not only will it make your vacation better, but it will also afford you a great opportunity to bond over a common goal.
3. Exit Fees and Entry Fees
While the requirement may shift in the coming months, for now, you’ll need to be prepared to pay a cash entry fee to enter Cuba and an exit fee to leave — per person. The entry fee is $20 USD, and the exit fee is $29 USD, although it’s a good idea to have more money than you think you’ll need on hand in case the prices rise. While you can undoubtedly run to an ATM in the airport if you need to, having set aside enough of your cash to cover these expenses for your entire family will save you plenty in fees, not to mention time lost and hassle gained.
4. Practice Patience
Cuba’s pace is a major part of its appeal, but if you’re a family that’s used to keeping a hectic schedule, the change can feel abrupt. Practice elements of patience and slower living before you ever arrive by changing up a few of your efficiency-driven habits now and again. Walk to the store or school instead of driving. Keep the television, Internet, and video games at bay one night a week and read or play board games instead. It’s easy to romanticize a simpler life and less-harried pace, but without some insight into how it feels, it just might drive you batty when you land in Cuba.
5. Bring Plenty of Non-USD Cash
Cash is the primary way you’ll be able to make purchases in Cuba, which means you’ll need to bring plenty of it with you to exchange. That being said, the exchange rate for U.S. dollars is much worse than for Canadian dollars, the Euro, or the British pound. See if your bank will supply you with these other forms of currency before you land on the island. You’ll end up saving as much as 10 percent on the exchange rate by doing so.
6. Get Ready to Play
Cuban kids are a lot like American kids. They have active imaginations, and they love to make new friends. The amount of time they spend actually “playing” physically outside, however, is much, much more. Get your children ready for the experience of playing with Cuban children by getting them up off the couch and out the door. From soccer to tag, play is a big deal in Cuba, and your children will have ample opportunity to engage in it if you and they want to do so.
7. Bring Any Kid Gear With You
Another way to properly prepare yourself for your family trip to Cuba is to make sure you bring any and all kid-related gear with you. From car seats and helmets to Pack ‘n Plays and pool noodles, kid gear is not easy to come by in Cuba. If you or your kids can’t live without it, don’t leave it behind.
A family vacation to Cuba is a great idea, so long as you prepare well enough in advance to have a good time.