Cuba is replete with fascinating attractions to keep both kids and adults enthralled for weeks. Forget Florida-style theme parks—if your children love the outdoors they’ll be fascinated by underground caverns, forested mountains, and even crocodile farms and delfinarios (dolphin aquariums). If they love history, then Cuba’s trove of cultural treasures—from creaky old American cars to cannon-firing ceremonies in ancient castles—will delight. And there’s no end of opportunities to interact with Cuban children: from kids' performance groups to impromptu baseball games in the streets.
However, traveling in Cuba has its challenges. Ongoing economic problems mean material items can be hard to find. Temperatures can be hot, and there may be mosquitoes. Moreover, journey times between some destinations can be long. But with the right preparation, these limitations can easily be overcome to ensure you have a terrific family vacation. The best part about bringing your children here: you’ll be treated like family by Cubans wherever you go. So let this guide provide all the essential information to help you plan your ultimate family vacation to the island.
Cuba is a large country and traveling around independently requires careful planning. Renting a family-sized vehicle is always a good option as it maximizes your flexibility, but note that if you’re traveling with very young children, Cuba’s state-run rental agencies do not supply child seats; you’ll need to bring your own.
Víazul operates regular air-conditioned bus service throughout the country, but getting between tourist destinations can involve long rides. Anything more than three or four hours is not easy for many children, so consider focusing your trip on adjacent geographical areas rather than, say, trying to journey between Havana and Santiago de Cuba.
In Havana, be sure to take the open-topped, double-decker HabanaBusTour, or an equivalent in other cities and beach resorts. Being pedaled around town on a bicitaxi (three-wheeled, rickshaw-like bicycle) is lots of fun, as is lumbering between far-flung sights in a funky old colectivo (shared) taxi or renting a convertible classic car. And almost every town and tourist resort offers leisurely horse-drawn carriage rides sure to put a smile on kids’ faces.
When to Go
The winter months (November to March) offer the best climate, with temperatures averaging 72°F - 74°F in Havana and 79°F - 85°F nationwide. This is also the driest period, often with weeks of gorgeous sunny weather; however, be prepared for sudden cold rainy spells. This is also the busy period, and the most popular venues can be crowded.
By April the temperatures begin to rise and in the summer months Cuba broils, with temperatures averaging 82°F - 84°F in Havana, and 86°F - 90°F nationwide. Temperatures rise the further east you go, so expect daily averages to exceed 90°F in Oriente Province. In these months humidity is extremely high. Most afternoons witness heavy downpours, and long-lasting storms are a distinct possibility, though hurricanes less so.
Before You Go
Cubans love babies and toddlers and will dote on yours. However, consider waiting until they’re older and can truly enjoy Cuba; the hot weather and humidity may be too much for them. And don’t expect to find diapers, baby milk, wipes, or other necessities readily available in Cuba. You'll need to bring them. For very young children it's wise to bring things like toys and crayons to keep them occupied. And if you're traveling with older children, you might want to download any games, books, or movies onto a tablet to bring with you. For more detailed info on planning your Cuban trip, see this article.
Many travelers come to Cuba specifically for the sun and sand. Havana even has its own group of lovely beaches—Playas del Este—just a 30-minute drive east of the city. The north coast has dozens of sugary beaches, from Cayo Levisa in the west to Varadero, the Cayos de Villas Clara, Cayo Coco, Playa Santa Lucía, and Guardalavaca. All are developed for tourism, with Hobie Cats, aqua-bikes, catamaran excursions, and more. Most beach hotels in Cuba operate as all-inclusive resorts; the larger ones have jungle gyms and entertainment for children, as well as kiddy pools. Some even offer day passes if you don't want to stay overnight. For a list of other great beaches in the country, check out this article.
Cuba has a rich culture, and music and dance literally spill onto the streets. For example, clowns on stilts roam the colonial thoroughfares of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) and in the city of Trinidad. Every city has venues, such as the Casa de la Cultura, in Havana, where your kids can express their artsy sides by joining in the kids’ activities.
It's almost inevitable for visitors to Cuba to become immersed in the street life. Kids can join their Cuban peers playing baseball in the open, while every provincial city has a baseball stadium where entire families gather to egg on their teams. And in the stadium stands, they warm to foreign visitors. Dominoes is another national sport—you can’t walk down any street, anytime, without coming across neighbors playing at tables set out on the sidewalk. Stop to watch and you’re sure to be invited.
Birding and wildlife
The nature experience is never far away once you leave any Cuban city. Many rural communities are tapping into ecotourism and have facilities where wildlife is easily viewed. Las Terrazas, a mountain community one-hour west of Havana, is famous for sightings of the tocororó, the national bird. On a visit to Parque Nacional Zapata with a local guide, you’re almost guaranteed to see crocodiles, flamingos, and the zunzunito—the world’s smallest bird. On Cayo Saetía, in Holguín province, you can even take a safari and spy African animals roaming wild.
Hiking and biking
Cuba’s four mountain chains are filled with trails, so if your kids like to go hiking be sure to pack appropriate footwear. In bucolic Viñales you’ll wind between fantastical mogotes (limestone formations) and kids will love exploring the underground labyrinth at Cavernas de Santo Tomás or, near Matanzas, the Cuevas de Bellamar. At the mountain resort of Soroa, and in the Sierra Escambray Mountains, refreshing waterfalls with cool pools for swimming await.
In the Cuban countryside horses are still the default mode of transport, and savvy entrepreneurs all over the country now offer horseback riding excursions. Horses and guides can easily be arranged through local tour operators or from the owners themselves, such as those who solicit customers on the streets of Baracoa, Trinidad, and Viñales.
Much of Cuba’s coastline is rimmed by exquisite coral reefs close to shore, perfect for snorkeling. If you have your own fins and snorkel gear, bring them. But you’ll also find outlets renting such equipment at Cayo Levisa and María La Gorda, both in Pinar del Río Province; as well as Playa Ancón, near Trinidad; plus almost all the main beach resorts such as Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo. At many of these venues, you can take the kids on catamaran excursions that deposit you at Robinson Crusoe-like islands where they can live out their fantasies.
Where to Go: Family-Friendly Destinations
Cuba’s capital is a family-friendly place. Although many of the key attractions are historical, children will find much to explore in the city's colorful street life. Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate the Museo de Chocolate, an artisanal chocolate factory and museum, in Habana Vieja. There's also Parque Coppelia, where you can enjoy ice cream communally with Cuban families. On weekends, dolphin and sea-lion shows are usually hosted at the Acuario Nacional, in the Miramar district. Nearby, the Circo Nacional offers a circus performance under a big tent. Combine it with a visit to Fusterlandia, where kids can trip out on the funky community art like something from Dr. Seuss. For options on where to stay in Havana, check out our list of the city's best boutique hotels.
Viñales and tobacco country
Cuba's tobacco country surrounds the village of Viñales. There’s enough here to keep children and parents happy for a week or longer, with everything from ATV tours and a boat trip through Cuevo del Indio to horseback options and even a zip-line ride between limestone mogotes. A visit to a tobacco farm and the cigar factory in the city of Pinar del Río is educational and fascinating. And nearby beaches at Cayo Levisa and María La Gorda offer a relaxing add-on.
Varadero and the north coast
If you’re seeking a sun and sand, Varadero is a great place to start. Located just a two-hour drive east of Havana, it is easily accessible capital. There’s a wide choice of all-inclusive resorts, most with kid’s facilities, and bicycle excursions and swims with dolphins are among many activities to keep children entertained. Nearby Matanzas has a castle plus the Cuevas de Bellamar to explore, and Cárdenas has two intriguing museums, including one dedicated to the story of Elián González, the young Cuban boy plucked from the sea in 2001.
Trinidad and around
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trinidad is a favorite destination for families. Kids love exploring the cobbled streets of this ancient hill town, which still sees a lot of horse traffic. They can poke around in artists’ workshops, or even a blacksmith’s and a santería (the dominant Afro-Cuban religion) temple.
Day excursions by open-air ex-Soviet army truck into the Sierra Escambray Mountains precede hikes to waterfalls and coffee farms. East of Trinidad, kids can climb the Hacienda Iznaga-Manacas tower and explore the ruins of other 18th-century haciendas. There's also fishing in Lake Zaza, near the city of Sancti Spíritus. And your children can make friends with local kids at Playa Ancón, where catamaran excursions to Cayo Blanco are a great opportunity for snorkeling.
This is one destination where you’ll want to shun the few hotels and stay with families—there are literally hundreds to choose from, and many host families have young children themselves.
Cayo Coco and Central Cuba
Some of Cuba’s most tantalizing beaches are found on Cayo Coco and its smaller sibling Cayo Guillermo, which are twin offshore cays. Most of the all-inclusive resorts have kiddy centers and special entertainment. Cayo Guillermo has a delfinario where children can swim with dolphins, and catamaran rides and excursions to see flamingos are popular excursions. For a break from the beach, head to the city of Morón, where kids can see crocodiles up close and personal at a breeding center, plus ride an antique steam train at the Museo de la Industria Azucarera (Sugar Industry Museum).
Further east, Playa Santa Lucía has a less appealing beach and services, but adolescents can partake of some of Cuba’s most spectacular diving, but children of all ages will love the rodeo shows at nearby Rancho King. The provincial capital of Camagüey has magnificent colonial plazas that can be explored by horse-drawn carriage, while Finca Belén—a 45-minute drive to the southeast—has trails good for hiking, birding, and horseback rides.
Santiago de Cuba and Oriente
Santiago de Cuba is in the center of the easternmost provinces, and it's ground zero for history buffs—from San Juan Hill and the Moncada barracks to half a dozen excellent museums. You can explore El Morro Castle, with its piracy museum, where kids can pretend to be Henry Morgan. Time your visit for sunset, when soldiers dressed as independence fighters fire a live cannon. Scrambling up Gran Piedra, a mountaintop boulder outside town is popular on a day trip to Siboney. Here kids can swim and play on the beach with local families. If you’re into learning vacations, maybe visit the Casa de la Cerámica, where kids can try making pottery.
The Zoológico de Piedra—the stone zoo—outside the city of Guantánamo features limestone animals carved into stone in the mountainside. And in Baracoa, Cuba’s oldest city, there's colonial-era forts, lovely beaches, and forested mountain trails where kids can look for rare birds and polymites (colored snails). Other fun sights and excursions include boat trips to see manatees, caves containing pre-Columbian skeletons, and Cacao farms where visitors learn how to make chocolate. There’s even a zoo with endangered endemic species.
Food and Drink
Dining in Cuba is a lot safer than, say, Mexico or Peru, where the chances of suffering Montezuma’s revenge are acute. Still, Cuba does have sanitation issues and stomach bugs are a possibility, particularly for children. Stick to bottled water rather than tap water. Yogurt is widely available, and eating it daily is a good way of guarding against getting ill.
Common culprits of stomach ills are lobster, pork, unwashed salads, unpeeled fruits, and ice from street stalls; it’s prudent to avoid these. Hotels, restaurants, and bars typically use filtered water for ice and are usually safe. We recommend against buying cheap street food, such as pizza and shaved ice.
Bacteria thrive in a tropical climate and many facilities—from door handles to handrails—rarely get cleaned. It’s easy to pick up bacteria that you then pass into your mouth. Take plenty of hand sanitizer and use it to clean your hands at regular intervals.
Health and Safety
Cuba isn’t a crime-free society, but risks are extremely low and crimes against children are unheard of. That’s one reason kids run around the streets and neighborhoods freely. Nonetheless, petty theft is common and given the material shortages in Cuba, you should make your children aware that it’s not wise to leave their possessions unattended.
Vaccinations and disease
Check with your doctor before traveling. It’s advisable to ensure your children are at least vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus. Rabies exists but is extremely rare: nonetheless, ensure your children avoid contact with street dogs and other animals.
Dehydration and sun
For both your children and yourself, come prepared with sunscreen and packets of rehydration salts. Cuba is in the tropics and the sun is fierce, so apply sunscreen liberally and consider having your children wear hats plus sunglasses. Make sure they drink lots of bottled water or refrescos (soft drinks).
Mosquitoes and other insects
Malaria is absent in Cuba but mosquitoes are present, especially in coastal areas, and they can transmit dengue fever. Bring insect repellent and wear long sleeves and long pants wherever mosquitoes congregate. The Cuban government has an ongoing fumigation campaign nationwide; it’s wise to avoid breathing the fumes.
Tiny sand-flies (called jejenes by Cubans) infest beaches and appear around dawn and dusk. Their bites itch like crazy and can easily become infected. Bring some calamine lotion to ease any discomfort. And the oceans around Cuba occasionally have brief flourishes of tiny, almost microscopic, jellyfish (called agua mala by Cubans) that can cause itchy stings.
You might come across snakes in the countryside, but none are venomous and most are quite small and harmless. Tarantulas and scorpions are also present, although rarely seen. If you plan on hiking or spending time in nature, be sure to shake out your clothes and shoes before putting them on.