A practical guide to Cuba
National holidays and celebrations
There are seven national holidays in Cuba and almost all of them have some historical significance. The list of holiday dates officially observed nationwide is as follows:
- Triumph of the Revolution - 1st January
- International Workers' Day - 1st May
- Commemoration of the Assault of the Moncada Garrison - 25th to 27th July: three days of national celebration.
- Independence Day - 10th October
- Christmas - 25th December
Here are some other important dates and times in the Cuban calendar:
- Havana Canon Shot: takes place daily at 9PM.
- Santiago de Cuba Carnival: takes place in July and runs for seven days.
- Havana Carnival: takes place in August and lasts a full seven days.
- International Book Fair: in either February or March - a week-long festival.
Cuba currently has two usable currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). As a tourist you will use CUC to pay for any goods and services you purchase. Take British pounds to exchange on the island for the best rates.
Be aware that US dollars are no longer accepted in Cuba and those wishing to exchange them will be subject to a 10 per cent commission fee. Credit cards and ATMs are also subject to charges of between 11 and 13 per cent. Consult with your bank at home if in doubt before heading to Cuba.
Travellers' cheques are also highly recommended and easy to use, so long as they have not been issued by an American bank. Please note that American Express travellers' cheques are no longer accepted, as is the case with any credit cards issued by American banks.
The 50-year-long US blockade limits the kinds of ingredients to which Cubans have access, which has affected (sometimes unfairly) the reputation of this island's cuisine. These challenges, however, have led Cubans to become very resourceful and creative in their cooking, which means unique dishes and flavoursome creations. A mix of Spanish, African and Asian cuisines, Cuban food is rarely spicy but always full of flavour.
The best and most authentic food is often found outside hotels and resorts. Try one of the famous 'paladares', which are restaurants created inside locals' home, for an authentic taste of Cuban life. We recommend La Guarida (so respected that many politicians, celebrities like Jack Nicholson, and even the Queen of Spain have dined here) and La Cocina de Lillian, regarded as the most beautiful paladar in Havana, with a beautiful garden setting and some of the best food in the city. The capital is also home to some exceptional restaurants, like Cafe del Oriente and El Templete.
Enjoying a tropical climate with plenty of sunshine and warm weather all year round, Cuba has an enviable weather. Gentle north easterly breezes take the edge off higher temperatures making it perfect for a spot or sunbathing or lazing by the pool.
- July and August are the hottest, most humid months, with average temperatures being around the 31°C mark.
- The dry season runs from November to April, with May to October being the rainy period.
- Even in winter average temperatures in January are between 21 and 24°C making it one of the most pleasant times of year to visit, with plenty of sunshine, milder temperatures and little rain.
- Like virtually everywhere else in the Caribbean, due to its geographical location, Cuba can be stricken by hurricanes and tropical storms. The hurricane season runs from June to November and most storms are typically seen between August and November, with October being the most commonly hit month.
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