CUBA – with children!

Posted on August 27, 2013

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Not just Cuba with kids, but Cuba with a 5 year old, 3 year old and a 7 month old baby!! And why not? It’s so family friendly and when we left our 5 year old cried and asked if we could come back every year! I think it worked for us because we managed to successfully mix the beach / pool / resort part of the holiday with enough culture and city break in Havana for us.

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1. How to get around

We flew to Varadero from the UK with Thomas Cook and that made it super easy as they transferred us by coach to the beach resort. With that as our base we were then free to take our own excursions or mini breaks out.

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We knew we wanted to go to Havana and we didn’t want to hire a car so we negotiated a rate with a local taxi firm in Varadero and they drove us to Havana. We also negotiated locally in Havana for the return trip. We came prepared with a car seat for our 7 month old and the fabulous Trunki rucksack car seats for our 3 and 5 year olds.

Whilst in Havana we took a few horse and cart rides to get around which the children loved. And we also used a number of the old classic American car taxis which really felt like how we should be travelling around Havana – in style!

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2. Where to stay & eat

In Varadero we stayed at the Paradisus Varadero which was perfect for what we needed at this point – with a 7 month old baby we wanted to stay somewhere that was really nice and had all of the comforts we needed for our baby’s first trip away. We definitely made the right choice for us because it meant that we had a great base where we knew the food was varied and delicious and that they had a beautiful beach and really child friendly pools.

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In Havana we stayed 3 nights in the Hotel Ingleterra which is the oldest hotel in Havana. I loved this hotel – it was a little worn around the edges but the history spilled out of every nook and crannie.

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We also blew the budget for one night in the Hotel Nacional which was also slightly faded but spoke of so much history itself – the 1940s when the Mafia would congregate here and all of the amazing guests that have stayed there – Errol Flynn, Sir Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra…  We had two rooms – the children’s once hosted Stephen Spielberg which impressed me…but not them so much! It had great views over the Malecón – the waterfront where so many social interactions occur.

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Eating in La Guarida in Havana was probably the highlight of the whole trip and one of the most amazing meals I’ve had. It’s a paladar – a growing trend of restaurants being set up in people’s homes and this is probably the most successful, having been reviewed by the New York Times amongst others (and now Globalmouse of course!!). It’s also the setting for the film “Fresa y chocolate”. Set in a disintegrating, atmospheric, beautiful tenement – where real life is going on all around you – it was a glimpse into real Havana and the food was delicious. If you eat in just one place in Havana, eat here!

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3. Things to do

In Varadero there are all the typical beach type activities and it really is a great place to relax. We swam in the sea with fish darting around us, drank from coconuts cut down fresh from the tree and drank Mojitos (and Shirley Temples for the children!!) until our heart’s content.

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We called Havana the place of a thousand smiles because every few steps we would be stopped so that people could talk to our baby and smile at him. In the markets the women gathered him up in their arms and cooed over him, it was so sweet.

So some of our favourite times were just walking the streets of the Old Town. There is so much to see here with street performers and day to day life mingling.

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We stopped at the Museo del chocolate where you can see chocolate being made and have a hot chocolate or a big, cold chocolate milk. It was a perfect place to get out of the heat…and buy a few chocolates to munch along the way once we left!

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Coppelia ice cream bar was my other highlight of the trip. Another setting from the film “Fresa y Chocolate” and just the coolest kitsch place. Ice cream in Cuba is serious business and people queue for up to 2 hours to eat it here and socialise and it is the most amazing place to visit. It was just so atmospheric – a place to really soak up real life in Havana…and the children were just really happy to dig into some great ice cream!!

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I hesitate to put this as I know to some people taking your child to a graveyard wouldn’t be top of their travel list! But the Cemetario de Colon in Havana is wonderful. They’re used to tourists here – you even get a map to locate the most interesting graves! We visited just before a massive thunder storm so the sky is particularly atmospheric looking.

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4. Top Tips with children

Our children were very young and so for us the mix between lots of time to swim and build sandcastles with a smaller trip to Havana worked. There were many other towns in Cuba I was desperate to visit but I had to accept that there had to be a mix that worked for all of us.

Cuba is very family friendly and my children were welcomed everywhere – literally with open arms.

Take EVERYTHING you need! Nappies (diapers) and wipes are almost impossible to buy. We took baby food, all medicines, toys, crayons, toothpaste, shampoo…everything! Don’t panic about forgetting something because there’s always a way (it just might cost!) but try to be as prepared as possible – products just aren’t available in the way they are in other countries.

Also without sounding preachy if you can think of the children over there as well – we took one of our older strollers with us and our maid had a young baby and was so pleased to have our pushchair at the end of the trip. It meant less luggage for us to take home and it was really nice to think of it starting a new life and helping someone in Cuba!

Posted in: Cuba