You open your calendar and see holidays approaching sometime soon; everyone in the house deserves a break. You need a pause from work, the kids are eager to have some time off school, and heaven knows Mom surely needs some rest and a bit of an escape from the daily routine. You start to do the math, and between hotels, food, and activities the numbers keep adding up to an unreachable budget. Bummer!
Do not get disappointed, as we have the perfect option for you: Cuba! Yes, with a bustling capital, beautiful beaches, and fabulous colonial architecture, the largest of the Caribbean islands is an ideal option; and Cuba has plenty to offer for a great, inexpensive family vacation.
With a full-flavored culture that includes an incredible dance heritage, the island is a spectacle by itself; beginning with the many 50’s American cars, you’ll be able to appreciate everywhere around. It is not difficult to picture Ernest Hemmingway overcoming a period of writer’s block in one of his many favorite spots at the Island.
People say the best things in life are free, and while that is true, taking a great vacation often becomes the opposite. There are, however, some tricks and hacks that can turn your holidays into the best of your life at Cuba, without hurting your wallet.
The first thing you need to know is that when you travel to Cuba with kids, there are plenty of things to see and do that are entirely free. While the island does have luxurious attractions and lodging, it also has many things quite fascinating that do not cost a penny. Here’s a list of a few of them:
• Varadero Street Market
located in the most famous and beautiful beach of the island “Varadero”; the market itself is worth a look even if you do not plan to buy anything. Head to the giant flea market in the heart of the town and surprise your kids with a lovely, inexpensive souvenir.
• The Malecon, Havana
No list of Cuban attractions will omit the Malecon. It is one of those attractions that both lure foreigners and locals; a real crowd-pleaser. When you think about it, how many New Yorkers actually go and visit the Statue of Liberty? An esplanade that begins in the Old Town and stretches for about five miles into the harbor of Vedado. A place to walk, sit and observe people, relax and unwind while watching the beautiful landscape. If you get hungry, some restaurants overlook the area.
• Take a look at the best view of the City in El Cristo
If you want to take the family to a spot with an unmatchable view of Havana, the Estatua of Cristo is your place to go. The 66ft tall sculpture was made using 67 pieces of white marble brought all the way back from Italy. A must-see.
• Museums in Calle Mercaderes
The Calle Mercaderes or Merchant’s Street provides a sight of Havana’s past life intersected with street vendors, trade shops and small, unusual museums set on colonial mansions. Among them are, Casa Museo de Simon Bolivar, which emphasizes on the life of the American Liberator; Casa de Asia is a small place that highlights the ties between Cuba and Asia; and the famous Museo del Tabaco that showcases a collection of Habanos-related relics. The best of all? They are all free (the entrance, not the cigars!)
• Memorial garden to Princess Diana
The deceased, beloved princess had a soft spot for the island and was actually planning to sponsor a home for disabled children, before her unexpected death. Cubans were reciprocating in admiring the princess’s humanitarian work and right after it, and before many other places, Old Havana opened a memorial site in her name. You can admire the sculpture with intricate geometrical shapes and endless colors; an authentic tribute by famous Cuban artist Alfredo Sosabravo.
• The Five Colonial Plazas
Each one of the colonial plazas around Old Havana seems to be a unique spirit. Plaza de la Catedral harbors the most impressive church of the Island, and the artsy Callejon del Chorro can be found nearby. Plaza de San Francisco de Assis –honoring the saint who adored animals- is closer to the bay. Plaza del Cristo is the trendiest nightspot for Cubans, and Plaza Vieja is renowned for its great offer of coffee shops and restaurants.
• Jardin Madre Teresa de Calcutta
Coincidentally, Cubans are also fond of Mother Teresa –who befriended Princess Diana for most of her life- and have an honoring location for her as well. Next to Plaza San Francisco de Assis, lies the Jardin Madre Teresa de Calcutta; which is a small garden that attracts Cuba’s intellectual elite. A tiny ancient cathedral sits in the middle of this hidden oasis.
• Santiago de Cuba
Yes, Havana by itself consists of endless fun possibilities, but once you are on the Island, you may want to explore its second largest city: Santiago. Avenida Victoria de Garzon is where a street food market takes place each weekend. If you happen to be there on a Saturday or Sunday, you and your family will have a hard time resisting the delectable flavors and appealing smells.
• Isla de la Juventud
If you want to take the word “relax” to another level; take a boat ride –it is quite short- to Isla de la Juventud. The tranquility offered by this untouched island is worth the cheap fare.
• The beach
One is never far from the ocean when in Cuba. As many attractions as the island may offer, nothing compares to the white sands, and the clear waters bathing them. So if you decide to go, be sure to set time apart entirely to enjoy the beaches.
Over 50,000 Americans visit Cuba every year, and like many other paradisiacal destinations, the flow of people determine how expensive it is to travel and stay there. Two factors affect these prices, and if played in your favor, you can get the best out of Cuba without putting your family’s savings at risk.
The first factor is the flow of tourists. From December to May, Cuba hits peak season due to the sunny, dry days that abound on those months. So, probably not the cheapest time to travel to Cuba.
The second factor, tied to the above is the weather. Your kids may even enjoy a few scattered showers here and there, but September and October are the months in which hurricanes are most likely to occur, especially if you are near the coast. Hurricanes can translate into disasters, endless frustrations, and canceled trips. Although hotel prices drop considerably during these months, it is not worth the risk.
While December, February, and Easter are the preferred times for foreign visitors, locals spend their vacations around the island in July and August.
What about April or May? Yes! You’ve hit the spot. April and May are still considered “Wet Season” therefore are avoided by tourists; since hurricanes are very unlikely to occur on these months this represents the perfect window to book your family vacation in Cuba.
A land of immense cultural heritage, gorgeous beaches and plenty of sightseeing; the island represents a unique opportunity to spend an inexpensive yet unforgettable holiday break.
Choose Cuba for your next family vacations and let Havana enamor you on her own tropical way