We love Cuba for kids and as a family destination – and so do millions of other Canadians, Brits, Europeans, and Aussies. Americans likely won’t be far behind. If you’re considering traveling to Cuba with your baby or toddler, here are some basics to help you decide...
Cuba for Kids – Health:
Michael Moore may have exaggerated a little, but Cuba’s health care IS good, and tourists are well looked after should they require medical attention. Most hotels and resorts have medical staff on site (or at least on call).
Aside from having your routine vaccination schedule up-to-date, no additional shots or vaccinations are required to visit Cuba. Some choose to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A & B.
The CDC reports no known risk for malaria in Cuba, but since it is a tropical Caribbean country, there is a very small risk of dengue. Protection from mosquito and insect bites is recommended.
The tap water is potable, and safe for bathing, toothbrushing, washing dishes, etc. Bottled water (readily available) may be preferred for drinking and preparing formula, mixing cereal, etc.
Cuba for Kids – Safety:
Tourists are definitely safeguarded in Cuba, almost to the point of being insulated. The biggest scams you are likely to encounter are sales of counterfeit cigars and being offered a “tourist menu” (at tourist rates) for meals and drinks. In Havana and other busy places, take your usual precautions against pickpocketing, purse snatching, etc. Use your hotel room safe or safety deposit box for valuables. (If it costs extra, it’s still worth it.)
Cuba for Kids – Accommodations:
In Cuba, you can stay in a hotel/resort (beach is usually all-inclusive) or at a Casa Particular, which is where someone is legally licenced to rent out rooms in their home to tourists (and often provide meals at reasonable prices). Unfortunately, there really isn’t a self-catering option in Cuba, as groceries and supermarkets as we know them aren’t as accessible there. There are no (or very few) beachfront Casas (I looked) but the resorts all vary in terms of size and amenities. Note that a 5 Star in Cuba would not pass for a 5 Star in most other Caribbean destinations, but we’ve stayed at 3 Stars and been perfectly comfortable. In keeping with the more recent demand for “boutique hotels”, there are a number of new resorts being built around the island, and others are being refurbished.
Cuba for Kids – Transportation:
If you booked your holiday as part of a package, you’ll likely be taken to your hotel in a modern, air-conditioned coach or mini-van. Taxis are all state-licensed, new and in good repair (the red ones at the airports are bigger) – and you should have no trouble installing your car seat or booster (although some are lacking the anchor bolt for the tether). In smaller resort areas, like Cayo Coco or Cayo Santa Maria, you may have difficulty finding taxis with rear seat belts. If you are planning on hiring a cab for a day tour, I recommend consulting with your hotel’s front desk and specifically requesting a taxi with rear seat belts. The Viazul bus service can get you around the island inexpensively in big, clean, air-conditioned (freezing!) buses – remember it’s a big island – and car rental is pretty expensive and should be booked in advance. Sometimes you’ll hear of ‘private taxis’ where you can be driven around in one of the cool ’50s cars, but this is illegal and, if caught, can get your driver in a lot of trouble.
Cuba for Kids – Availability of Baby/Toddler stuff:
Cuba is much better these days about the availability of baby and toddler items, but you’ll have better luck in Havana in terms of finding diapers and other baby goods. Keep in mine – selection is still limited and prices can still be high. If you’re fussy about the brands you use, you’re best to bring yours from home. A Casa owner or restaurant dining room would be only too happy to help prepare plain purees if your baby is on solids, but double-check to make sure they don’t add seasonings or salt. In terms of gear rentals like car seats and playpens – not available in Cuba. Most hotels have high chairs and/or boosters (the higher the Star the more likely they’ll have several) and can usually supply cribs or playpens with advance notice. *Note – our tiny 3 Star had a brand new crib & bedding. Our large 5 Star’s crib we needed to shore it up ourselves for safety. If in doubt (and if co-sleeping’s not for you), bring your own!
Even things like sand toys are best brought from home, if you want to avoid paying $20 for a bucket and shovel in the hotel gift shop. My packing list (which I get teased mercilessly about) is based on our first trip to Cuba – so you can start from there and edit as needed.
Cuba for Kids – Other Important Information:
Power: Cuba is 110 volts/60Hz, but most hotels and resorts have 220 volts or both. Double check with your hotel in advance.
Currency: Here is where traveling to Cuba can be a bit of a pain. Visitors use the Convertible Peso (CUC) – which is roughly par with the US dollar. However, don’t bring US dollars to spend there, you won’t be able to. In fact, you can’t use any credit cards that are issued with American banks, or American Express traveler’s cheques. Your best bet is to bring Canadian dollars or Pounds or Euros and exchange once you’re there. ATMs are starting to sprout up around Cuba, but again, your debit card can’t be with an American bank and you have to make sure you have an International PIN. Luckily, there’s not that much to spend money on – especially if you’re staying all-inclusive – so you likely won’t need more than a few hundred dollars for tips, cigars & rum! We’ve brought what cash we figured we’d need (try to bring new-ish bills if possible) and taken cash advances on our credit card at the hotel if necessary. If bringing cash makes you nervous, do bring traveler’s cheques (how retro!) but make sure that they are not Amex and that you have the receipt of purchase with you also.
Cuba for Kids – Viva Cuba!
We were truly amazed by how our daughter was welcomed in Cuba – she was treated like a rock star! Both times when we returned home she seemed disappointed that not everyone on the street would stop to fawn over her. Right now, Cuba is affordable, safe, and clean – highly recommended for a family vacation!
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