In recent years, Cuba has become a popular spot for a winter getaway. Many Canadian cities offer direct flights and all-inclusive packages to the Caribbean hot-spot. The prices are attractive too; usually ringing in hundreds of dollars less than a comparable stay at any other sunny destination.
Vacationers are often swooning after looking at images of that bluer-than-blue water, white sand beaches and colonial-inspired architecture of all-inclusive resorts in Cuba. But after the holiday, some are left feeling like Cuba just wasn’t what they were expecting. Here’s why:
Most Canadian travelers visit Cuba between December and the end of April, when the threat of rain and hurricanes is very low. Days on the beach can be very warm (25C) or even hot (30C) from December to the end of February. But the coastline is prone to cold fronts that blow in, causing daytime temperatures to have a hard time reaching 20C. When this happens, the winds are strong and overnight temperatures can be as cool as 12C. March tends to bring warmer weather and April is downright hot (35C). Recommendation: Visit in March.
The major travel destinations in Cuba include Varadero, Havana, Cayo Coco, Cayo Santa Maria and Holguin. You’ll land at the airport, then be shuttled to the resort areas on the coastline. That can mean a bus ride of up to two hours depending on your final destination, which are all along the coast. You won’t be anywhere near a city or town while at your resort, so all-inclusive really is the only option. Older resorts tend to be smaller, and that means less walking distance between your room and the beach or pool. It also means rooms and amenities can be a little dated. New resorts are huge, but offer more options when it comes to pools, bars and restaurants. Recommendation: Varadero offers the shortest ride from the airport to your resort.
It’s basic. Meats are usually roasted. Fish, both fried and baked, is plentiful. Potatoes and rice are always available. But don’t expect the bright flavours of Mexico in Cuba. Seasonings are always scarce and that’s what leads to the complaint that the food is bland. It can be a bit of a challenge for the picky eaters in your family. But getting to know the buffet will help. Finicky eaters can always load up at the salad bar then head over to the pasta station for spaghetti and red sauce. Most resorts feature specialty restaurants with table service as a break from the buffet. You’ll need to make reservations for these eateries. Recommendation: Explore the entire buffet to find your favourites. Make reservations at specialty restaurants as soon as you arrive.
• Cuba and the Dominican Republic share top honors in my books for the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.
• Cubans are warm-hearted folks that especially adore children.
• The music is intoxicating. You’ll be humming the tune Guantanamero forever.
• Excursions offer a glimpse of everyday life outside the resort. Explore.
What’s Not So Great
• Sand fleas can be a problem on some beaches. Bring bug spray to avoid bites.
• The food at some resorts can be of poor quality. And it can get monotonous.
• Resorts are far away from airports, meaning a long bus ride.
The Adventurer Option
The vast majority of visitors to Cuba stay at all-inclusive resorts. But there is an alternative. You can book a flight only and choose to stay in a casa particular, the Cuban version of a bed and breakfast. Room rates hover around CDN$20 a night and usually include breakfast. It means you’ll have to find your own transportation from the airport to your destination (not difficult). Most casas tend to be in cities or town, not at the beach resort areas. Exploring a Cuban town lets you eat where the locals eat, watch the pattern of everyday life and see the real Cuba.
Shel writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she’s not playing outside, on the road or eating. Her recent adventures have included a trip to the tundra to serve as cook at a caribou hunting camp and making a long overdue journey to Ukraine with her dad Merv. She’s the founder of a group called the Manitoba Food Bloggers as well as an avid angler and hunter. She lives in Winnipeg with her husband Ivan and their son Clark. [email protected]