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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Cuba with a 4-month old Baby & 3 year old

It has been a while since we have traveled, but after some time at home and a new family member – our baby boy, Connor, who arrived in October 2016 – we ventured off on our first trip as a family of four at the end of February. We had been planning to travel to Cuba in February 2016, but after finding out I was pregnant at the beginning of February and with the Zika virus happening in the Caribbean, we decided to postpone our trip to Cuba until post-pregnancy.


Our motive was to go to Cuba before it completely opened up to the U.S. after the embargo/travel restrictions were lifted. Since flights from the U.S. to Cuba started up last summer, it was definitely at the top of our list of travel destinations. We really wanted to see Cuba before the big hotel chains and other big chain restaurants made their appearance there. Cuba was a completely unique travel destination and it is true that you do feel like you step back a little bit in time. We’ve been to some developing travel destinations like Southeast Asia and India, but Cuba definitely was unique in its own regard!


Going into the trip we had been told that things like the food and wifi weren’t good. There were certain things we were unsure about, so since we were traveling with a picky 3-year old, we prepared by bringing a bottle of Ketchup and a sense of adventure knowing that there may be some things that pop up unexpectedly. However, we were pleasantly surprised with how good the food was and how well it went with traveling with two kids under 3 years old. When we arrived in Cuba we spent 2 nights at a resort in Cayo Coco, 3 nights at a casa particular (which is basically the Cuban version of AirBnB) in Trinidad and 3 nights at a casa particular in Havana.


FOOD & PRICES:

I think one of the biggest comments we consistently heard about Cuba prior to going was that the food wasn’t good. However, we found it quite the opposite. In the past 5-10 years the Cuban government ‘relaxed’ and allowed for some private enterprises, at least in this aspect, which many people took advantage of to open their own restaurants – or Paladars. If you would go to a government restaurant, then yes, the food wouldn’t be good, but the Paladars had great food. In fact, one of the best meals we had was in a place you least expected it – on a farm!


The food was flavor-able. It wasn’t spicy, but was very tasty. In fact, we didn’t use the Ketchup at all – even our daughter, who is a Ketchup connoisseur! The Paladars had meals catered toward tourists, and their prices reflected that – most of the meals were around 8.50-15 CUC, which converted to about $8.50-15 per plate. For the average Cuban this wouldn’t be affordable, as the average monthly income is only about $25 per month. But even the local Cuban food was pretty good, and it cost any where from about 5-10 Local Pesos, which is about 25-50 cents. We found sandwiches/pizza for about 40 cents each and treats like ice cream cones were about 5 cents each. When traveling to 2nd & 3rd World Countries we have discovered that there is often a local price and a tourist price, so we weren’t surprised that Cuba was the same. However, the price disparity between what the locals paid for things as to what tourists were charged was one of the biggest we have seen; sometimes even right next to each other.


Normally when we travel we always hit up the grocery store for some small snacks and food. However, we went into a couple of grocery stores throughout our trip and left with very little. One of the small grocery stores we went to in Trinidad had many empty shelves and the largest selection was the liquor selection with Cuban rum making up the majority of it; as well as other beverages and packaged pasta. In Havana, it was a larger grocery store, but still the same type of situation with the lack of selection. We purchased some milk for Clara at the grocery store, but it was the full fat version and she didn’t like it. Our Havana casa host said that you can’t find the skimmed milk version in the grocery stores, you have to go to other vendors to get specialty products like that. It seemed like that was the case for many of the other items, like fruit and veggies, as well.


TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN:

The other thing we were unsure about was how it would be traveling with kids there – mostly because of the lack of conveniences. However, if you’re flexible and plan ahead, it’s completely do-able! We knew that the resort would be good with kids, but even when we ventured off the resort, we found Cuba to be a very kid-friendly destination. In fact, I would say that it quite possibly is one of the MOST kid appreciative places we have been – even more than places in Canada or the United States. The Cubans really respected and appreciated kids, and showed respect for parents. My first encounter was when we arrived at the airport in Cayo Coco. Right off our flight, I took Clara to the bathroom while Connor was in his carrier on my front. After helping her to the bathroom, we were trying to wash her hands at the sink, which was a little hard holding her up to the sink with my son on my front. However, the bathroom attendant came over and helped finish washing my daughter’s hands!!


Each and every single day there was some type of interaction with Cubans who helped us with the kids or showed their admiration for them. I dropped my son’s burp rag in Havana and someone chased me down to give it back to me; my baby got a free keychain that rattled from a souvenir shop; and at another bathroom in Havana, the bathroom attendant came to help me hold my daughter on the toilet as I had my son on the front again!


There were a couple of truly unique and memorable experiences that I will always treasure. The first was that in Trinidad, we went to one of the paladars and the waitress carried Clara around the first night and befriended her, as well as the lady who sang later. When we left to go home that night, they both came to the entry way of the restaurant to say ‘goodnight’ and give her a kiss. Because of such a great experience that night, we went back the next night; that time she held our son while we enjoyed our dinner. The second was our owner at our casa particular in Havana was extremely helpful as well. She went out of her way to give Clara some special milk that we couldn’t find in the grocery store each morning at breakfast and then cuddled with Connor so we could enjoy our breakfast a bit more.


The only negative, or at least confusing, experience was in Havana. I was trying to put the carrier back on and a local Cuban woman came over to help me, but after helping she started talking to me and pointing to her baby who was in a stroller a few feet away and seemed to be asking for a tip for her helping me. I can’t say with 100% certainty that is what she was saying, but that is what it seemed she was implying. However, I was in complete awe with how kind many Cubans were and how much they loved kids! They would be walking away and if Connor caught their gaze they would stop and make baby noises to him. I felt super safe and comfortable with our kids because of how they treated us.


We brought along our own children’s and infant Tylenol and other possible medications; although, I’m glad we did because it was impossible to find even basic things in Cuba. Things are different there, but overall I think kids are pretty versatile and can adjust. Because the food isn’t super spicy, Clara actually ate the food without any issue, and she liked doing these fun new things. There were days where she got tired or crabby, especially on some of our long travel days between cities where we took taxis, but I couldn’t blame her for that. The issues that we did have with her, would have been the same type of issues we would have had with her at home.


Our 4-month old son, Connor, was a great traveler! It helped that he was still 100% breastfed so we didn’t have to worry about food for him. He loved to watch all the activity from his carrier and he would basically sleep when he got tired. Although it probably wasn't as much as he should have, but he’s always been a cat-napper any way. Instead of bringing a pack 'n play for him to sleep in, we found one of those floor cribs that folded up into a disc, which was much more convenient to travel with.


In our non-kid travel days we would have taken the local bus or something cheap to get between places. But with kids, this was one area that we decided to spend the extra money on, which was well worth it. We decided to take a taxi from Cayo Coco to Trinidad and Trinidad to Havana (both trips were about 3-3.5 hours long) and then from Havana to Veradero to catch our flight home (about 2.5 hours). The taxis were more expensive, about 120 CUC (or equivalent to $120 USD), but offered the flexibility for us to stop whenever we needed. The hardest part about the taxi was you couldn’t take whatever taxi showed up. We had to try to pre-arrange a taxi for all 3 trips because we needed to make sure that the taxi had seat belts and air conditioning, which does take a little bit of effort in a country known for its classic cars. [We did bring along our own car seat, as there aren’t many regulations in Cuba regarding this.]


ACCOMMODATIONS:

Cayo Coco Resort

The resort we stayed at in Cayo Coco was nice; although it doesn’t really measure up to some of the same standards of resorts in Mexico. However, this is one of the main things you’ll read about prior to traveling to Cuba is that their 5-stars are actually more like a 3-star in other places. The resort provided us with everything that we needed though – the beach was absolutely gorgeous and we enjoyed the food they had. One night they even served lobster at the buffet! The swimming pools were good, and our daughter loved the ice cream hut!


The rooms were pretty basic and because there seemed to be some marshland near the resort we had some issues with mosquitoes in room at night. I swear there wouldn’t be any during the day, but at night they would appear out of nowhere, which made us think that they were coming in from vents or plumbing. Luckily, we had brought along an outdoor playpen piece for our baby so we used the bug net at night to protect him and then sprayed the rest of us with some natural bug spray prior to bed, as well as did a mosquito ‘search and attack’ prior to bed both nights. However, in Trinidad and Havana we didn’t even see one mosquito because it was the dry season.


Casa Particulars

In both Trinidad and Havana, we stayed in casa particulars. Like I mentioned above, these are like the Cuban version of Airbnb. The Cuban people are able to open their homes and host people in them to supplement their income. In fact, this is probably their main source of income as they get about 35 CUC per NIGHT for a room, which is more than the average Cuban salary of 25 CUC per MONTH.


Trinidad - Casa Barcelo

At our casa in Trinidad, Casa Barcelo, was basically a full family operation, including the grandfather and grandmother getting involved by offering clothes washing services for a price. They had three different rooms within their house that they rented out nightly. Two of their rooms were on the upper level, which had an outdoor patio where they offered an optional breakfast daily for a minimal price of 5 CUC. [We decided to do breakfast each morning at each of the casas we stayed at, and we’re glad we did. I think it would have taken some effort to find some decent breakfast food otherwise.]


Our room was on the lower level of their house and was more immersed in their living area. We did have to walk through their living area each time, we came and went, but it did provide a cool opportunity to get an idea of what local life was like – like a home stay. It was a great experience especially for us though because they had a daughter who was 5 years old and a 1 month old son. So Clara quickly befriended the other little girl – despite the language barrier – and each day she would look forward to when we would go ‘back home’ to see ‘her friend.’ They bonded by playing games together and over their love for Frozen.

They would play in the morning together before breakfast and when we would come home. It was so refreshing to see how little kids don’t care that they can’t understand each other – they just want to be friends!


Havana - Casita Longina

In Havana, we stayed at Casita Longina, which was about a 10-15 minute walk away from the Old Town. This casa had 2 rooms and then a main room area where you could hang out if you wanted as well. Both casas had their own private bathrooms within each of the rooms. We had breakfast at this casa as well, and it was some of the best food we had in Cuba – eggs, fried plantains, bread, fruit, coffee and juice were on the menu and fueled us well for the days of exploring we had in Havana. The casa owner Paula here spoke English well and we would have several conversations with her while having breakfast in the morning. She provided a lot of unique perspective to Cuba. One of the things I found most interesting is that she was a doctor by profession, but she owned two different casas in Havana. I’m assuming this is because she got better money doing this than she did as a doctor, that is just my assumption though. However, she was quite talented in that she spoke Spanish, French, Italian and English. She shared that she has a son in Italy, and she was going to be going to visit him and her new grandson in the next little while. However, she can't stay longer for 3 months because of Cuban government restrictions on how long you can be out of the country. I found our conversations with her very interesting and insightful.

In both casas, they went above and beyond to make sure that we were comfortable and taken care of! They were an affordable option (where as some of the hotels in the main tourist areas would cost you about $150-$500 per a night) and were simultaneously a great cultural experience.


TRANSPORTATION:



It is true that you feel like you’re transported back in time when you get to Cuba. Originally I thought it might just be a few cars here and there that are Classics, but there are tons! It’s amazing to see so many classic cars still functioning in good working order. On the roads you would probably see about 80% older cars, which is quite large! However, I would say that in most tourist areas, the really classic cars are mostly taxis. Although they may not be identified as taxis and they sure don’t use meters.


Gasoline isn’t cheap though. We asked one of our taxi drivers what the cost of gasoline was (because it wasn’t posted on large signs at gas stations like it is here) and he said it was about 1.65 CUC per litre (or $1.65 USD). That would be pretty costly to fill up some of those gas guzzling classic cars I’m sure!

But the other amazing part is that horse and wagon are still used quite a bit for local Cuban transportation. The cars and the horses and carts share the roads together! We would be driving along in our taxi and pass a horse and cart with several people on their National highway. WIFI: It really is true that Wifi is not good. We have traveled in Southeast Asia and India in some places that were more behind in times than Cuba in general, but they had much better wifi access than we had in Cuba. Alex bought a wifi access card in Trinidad and was able to hook up to the wifi at our casa there; however, the connection was still spotty and unreliable. There were supposedly some hotspots throughout Havana, and our casa owner said that if you saw a bunch of people in one particular area of a park that likely it was a hotspot. Alex had to use the Internet for some things while we were in Havana and even at a top-end hotel the internet connection was spotty. He was on one particular computer and he said that it took about 20 minutes for one webpage to load!! MONEY: One of the biggest stresses we had of the trip was getting money toward the end of the trip. The more expensive meals put us a little over our daily budget, so we needed to withdraw some money. However, when we tried to use the ATM with our bank card, it was denied. We tried several more and it was denied too. Eventually we got a cash advance on our credit card, but when we tried to call our bank to find out what was going on, we struggled to get a phone. A call on the phone at one of the hotels was about $2 per minute or you could stand in line for probably an hour (there was always a huge line-up) at the communications company. Luckily our casa host let us make a collect call on her phone and we were quickly able to resolve the money issue. [A couple years ago we had called to let them know we would be traveling in Croatia and they said they didn’t need to know ahead of time. But I guess Cuba is one of the countries that they do need to know or they freeze your account.] However, we would highly recommend bringing all the money you need to Cuba ahead of time, as it is a bit of a headache. And to be honest, other than in Havana we didn’t really see many ATMs. You can only get Cuban currency in Cuba, so you have to bring your own currency and exchange it there. There are two different types of currency in Cuba as well – The Convertible Currency (CUC) which is basically just for tourist areas and tourists and then the local Cuban peso, which is what all the locals use. The conversion rate is 1 CUC=1 USD and 1 Local Cuban Peso = $.05. Some places wouldn’t accept the CUC at all, so we had to convert some of our money to the local currency once we got to Havana.


These are just some of our main tips & highlights of the trip – also make sure to check out the 8-day Itinerary Post.

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