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mad May 20th, 2016 05:21 AM

Americans traveling to cuba with 9 year old
I'm at the beginning stages of planning a trip to Cuba next March. We will be traveling with a child who is well traveled, but will certainly be bored out of his mind traveling with a tour group to see the sites. We really need to travel independently, but don't speak spanish. Any suggestions on where to begin? Do we need a guide for the whole trip, or can we rent a car and be ok without speaking spanish? Are casas the way to go, or are the hotels a better bet with a child? Thanks for any advice!

Jeff_Costa_Rica May 20th, 2016 07:07 PM

What's drawing you to Cuba? Why do you want to go there? What types of things does your child like to do on vacation?

Leaving aside any question about what we are and are not supposed to do, an organized tour takes the hassle factor out of a trip to Cuba. And there's a lot of that. You don't have to worry about finding a place to stay or a place to eat or getting from place to place, all this in a country that's not well set up with a good tourism infrastructure. Having been to Cuba for work purposes and having to make my way independently around half the country, it was a hassle. I speak Spanish, which helped a lot, but still ... There are a lot of countries in Latin America I'd feel perfectly comfortable visiting without speaking the language, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru among them because their infrastructure is well developed. Cuba doesn't fit into that category.

Odin May 21st, 2016 01:15 AM

We did a trip to Cuba a few years ago (we're not from the US) and did it independently. Booking hotels in Havana & Varadero was the same process as booking a hotel anywhere else in the world. Booking flights was the same process. Regarding transfers and transportation, we prebooked some of them before we left home, so we had a transfer from the airport to hotel when we arrived and between Havana and Varadero. There are companies that can provide transfers, transportation etc. We did some excursions independently, basically we stood outside the hotel and asked a taxi to take us to various places, price having been agreed first. There is nothing to stop you taking a mix of some organised tours, a private guide and doing some tours by yourself.

You can rent a car, not sure if that's a good idea though. Lots of people do not have transportation and will try to flag you down for a lift, it's not a country I would want to get into trouble e.g car accident etc (Not that there are any countries I do want to be in trouble). There isn't much traffic, if I remember correctly, road sign posts are quite good.

We only went to Havana and Varadero (which we did not like), other posters might have different opinions on independent travel in more rural areas or places off the beaten track. Internal flights might be an interesting experience. Cuba has had tourism for a very long time, for Canadians, Brits & other Europeans, etc. You can hardly find flight availability from the UK to Havana and not everyone takes an organised tour. We speak just a little Spanish and had no languages issues, people are educated and speak other languages esp in hotels, restaurants etc. Some taxi drivers do not speak English. I would encourage anyone to go to Cuba - Havana is such an interesting city.

mad May 21st, 2016 04:14 AM

we're really interested in getting to Cuba before it becomes swamped with americans. Our son will most likely be interested in seeing all the old cars, exploring the caves, going to the beach, snorkeling, etc. I also read that it's possible to sail around the island, which we'd love for a few days, but I don't know how to organize that. working on it. Hoping we can connect with some families if we stay in the casas. I've reached out to Pototo, who seemed to pass me on to a reservation manager. I hope this is ok. Since we're traveling with a child, we need reservations and secure transportation, so I was thinking a private guide makes sense. If anyone has any suggestions on who else to contact, I'd appreciate it.
Odin, why didn't you like Varadero?
Thanks for any input.

blamona May 21st, 2016 07:44 AM

Are you US citizens?

mad May 21st, 2016 08:06 AM

yes we're U.S. citizens. My husband and son have canadian citizenship too, but I don't think that matters if we have american passports. travel restrictions seem much easier to deal with these days. We do not want to go on an organized group tour and will create our own people-to-people program- somehow!

Whathello May 23rd, 2016 12:29 AM

We did it ... 15 years ago. We don't speak Spanish but do speak French, so we could communicate. However, I'd say Cuba has developed his tourism and English was starting to be spoken whne we were there. We toured by ourselves, renting a car in La Habana and spending 2 - 3 weeks there. It xwas spectacular and people are extremely nice. They are especially kind to kids. Food was an issue - Cuban cooking didn't impress us and there were lots of shortage, so we always had food, but not often choice.
Enjoy, Cuba was one of our best trips.

HappyTrvlr May 24th, 2016 10:12 AM

Maybe the US rules have changed, but US citizens are only supposed to have daily cultural exchanges and are not supposed to/ allowed to go to beaches for that type of vacation.
Our guide ticked off the required cultural exchanges we had every day, artists, schools, farmers, musicians, dancers, etc.

blamona May 24th, 2016 01:51 PM

As an American you have to see sights, can't just go to the beach

My 9 year old has gone to remote nothing islands thru Atlantis. Loved them all

Maybe either underestimating your 9 year old or need a different destination?

My daughters all time favorite was Staniel Cay exumas-- now that's an adventure!

annhig May 28th, 2016 08:27 AM

Hi Mad,

Apart from the fact that you are US citizens you are in exactly the same position as an Aussie family we met in Cuba who were travelling with their 8 year old daughter, and who had virtually no spanish, and apart from their first few nights in Havana, they had made no reservations before they arrived. We met as guests in the same casa in Havana and our casa owner was outstanding in helping all her guests organise their accommodation for the rest of their trips. [She offered this for free but of course we left her an extra big tip when we left! ]

Alternatively there are a number of casa booking sites [eg Cuba junky] where you can book ahead, and Airbnb is quite big in Cuba too. You can also use the local hotel booking sites or when you are there, the tourist information offices will book hotels for you all round the island.

The biggest problem is transport - the roads are not good especially between Havana and Vinales - and finding out about buses and booking them is not always easy. If the worst comes to the worst you can always get a taxi and so far as we could tell, the modern air/con ones cost more or less the same as the wrecks. Really you don't need to worry about security - it's one of the safest places I've ever been to and so long as you are prepared to be flexible, you should have a great time.

As for restrictions on US citizens, so far as the Cubans are concerned they don't care - you are free to do what you like. of course you can work out your own people to people tour - and that sounds like something you'd be doing anyway, given your interests - but the likelihood of someone checking up to make sure that on a particular day you were in Santa Clara looking at the Che mausoleum rather than on a beach at Cayo Santa Maria - [where in any event you can visit a nature reserve which must surely count as part of a cultural trip] is remote in the extreme. Any day in Cuba can easily include musicians and dancers - you just need to go out in the evening and find a restaurant and the musicians and dancers will find you!

mad May 30th, 2016 02:11 PM

Sounds great- we are booking a driver/guide in Havana and heading to Trinidad. We only have one week, so I think two locations is about all we can do. Yanaika at Pototo Tours is helping us. It looks like you need to get to the U.S. flights 3-4 hours in advance, so we may just fly through Panama or Cancun to make it an easier trip. This is definitely a bigger leap of faith than any other trip we've planned!

annhig May 31st, 2016 02:13 PM

Good luck with it all, Mad. I think that booking a car /driver and just sticking to two places is really sensible. our aussie friends flew in and out through Mexico and it was very easy - I seem to remember that they got their tourist cards at the airport in Mexico too, whereas we had to get them by post in advance from the Cuban embassy in London.

You'll love Trinidad - there is music and dancing in every direction. I would advise staying pretty close to the centre - get too far away and there are some pretty dodgy casas.

I'm sure that once you will there you will feel fine - there is so much to see and enjoy about Cuba which is such a vibrant place!

mad Jun 1st, 2016 04:43 AM

Ok thanks, Annhig. I'm feeling pretty comfortable with our plan at this point. My only issue is booking a casa particular in Trinidad. I'm going to post separately and hope for recommendations.

wynterrose Jun 4th, 2016 11:06 PM

It's my understanding that there are quite a few restrictions imposed on tourists with a US passport.

annhig Jun 5th, 2016 02:35 AM

It's my understanding that there are quite a few restrictions imposed on tourists with a US passport.>>

where do you get that from, wynterose? What restrictions?

annhig Jun 6th, 2016 01:12 PM

Mad - I thought you might be interested in this magazine which we found quite useful before we went to Cuba- it has lots of interesting articles plus links to hotel and restaurant listings.

If you scroll down to the first article you'll see that they specifically deal with the relaxation of the rules applying to american visitors, the numbers of which have increased exponentially over the last year or so.

mad Jun 7th, 2016 02:10 PM

Thanks once again annhig! I think traveling as Americans we can either go completely by the book and spend an absolute fortune on a trip, or go on the honor system and plan something affordable and probably more suitable to our needs. Everyone needs to do what their comfortable with, but as far as I can tell, going independently with a private guide is really not a big deal at this point. Flying from the U.S. does seem like a major pain, as the airlines seem to require you check in many hours before the flight. It seems like a much shorter trip to fly from Mexico. Hopefully it all goes well!

annhig Jun 8th, 2016 12:43 PM

mad - that's my understanding as well. i think that your plan is a good one and you should be able to see a lot as well as having a great time.

I note that wynterrose hasn't returned to tell us what the basis of his/her claim is.

mad Jun 8th, 2016 03:45 PM

Annhig did you write a trip report that included your time in Trinidad? I just want to make sure this is a good place to go with a child. We only have three nights so just need a few activities. I'm not sure what there is besides strolling around town and going to the beach? The waterfall hikes look too challenging for a youngish kid.

janisj Jun 8th, 2016 03:49 PM

>>I note that wynterrose hasn't returned to tell us what the basis of his/her claim is.<<

Wynterrose no longer exists . . .

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