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6 Tips For A Havana Vacation With Kids


Cuba is not the most likely place for an American child’s first passport stamp. But this Caribbean island offers a short flight from the U.S. and travel services are improving thanks to easier travel restrictions (recently retightened, of course). So we took a chance and decided to be among the first American families to explore this newly opened nation and took a family vacation with our 2YO son.

New tourist investment dollars have not caused a sizable culture shift—yet. You won’t find a Starbucks or McDonalds on the island. The downside of this authenticity is that seeing Cuba can still be tricky without the comfortable, well-organized logistics offered by tour companies, which we took advantage of to book our flights and part of our trip.

Admittedly, we spent much of our time in Cuba relaxing on the beautiful beaches of an all-inclusive resort on Cayo Coco, a small island off of mainland Cuba, socializing with Canadians and Russians. But we did spend one night in iconic Havana on the way home, which was enough for us given the logistic challenges of sightseeing in this city and the limits of a toddler. Given how hot and hectic Havana is, families might consider starting there and having their beach R&R afterward.

Planning for your Cuba family vacation

If you’re feeling adventurous, here are our tips for visiting Cuba, and particularly Havana, with kids.

Cubans like children and will welcome yours on a vacation to their islandPack snacks

You won’t easily find well-stocked grocery stores, even in the cities, so pack a trip’s worth of your child’s must-have snacks. For our night in Havana we also packed nonperishable meals we could heat for all of us in the kitchen of our AirBnB rental. Many rentals offer a cooked breakfast for a nominal additional fee. If you’re traveling with child still in diapers, bring enough diapering essentials for the trip, too.

Note: Recently retightened travel restrictions limit Americans to travel on group tours, which means private rentals might no longer be an option coming from the U.S.

Plan to go old-school for information

Mobile phone service is evolving in Cuba. Some U.S. carriers are introducing service but expect it to be spotty and to come with roaming fees attached. Cuban SIM cards have recently become available and if you can, buy one before you go. They weren’t readily available at the airport when we arrived. Outside of public parks, you won’t find wi-fi beyond western hotels and they will charge a fee for it.  So we planned in advance in ways we weren’t used to. We downloaded or printed all of our reservation confirmations. And we made sure to download a translation app, plus games, movies ebooks for our toddler. Consider bringing a physical guidebook.

the seawall along Havana's coastGet out to the beaches

While Havana is a coastal city, the waterfront is mostly seawall. We found many places that were ideal for having a cocktail and watching the sunset (not that we were able to do that). But if you want a place where a toddler can dig in the sand, head to the local beaches of Playa del Esta, a 30-minute taxi ride from town. If you aren’t taking time at the beach resorts this is an excellent way to get a break from the city during your visit.

Brush up on your Spanish

It’s essential to learn a few survival phrases in Spanish and have a translation app that doesn’t need Internet access. But if you want to converse with locals learn some family related words. Cubans love to talk about their children and will also ask you about your cuties.

a toddler takes a play break from sightseeing in Havana

Plan to pay for playgrounds

Well-maintained, free public playgrounds are rare in Havan. The best known for-fee park is Parque la Maestranza, right on the waterfront in old Havana. General entrance is 1 CUC but once inside, there are separate fees for the attractions, which include small carousels and inflatables. Jalisco Park is a small amusement park squeezed into a corner 23rd Street in the popular Vedado neighborhood. Both of these parks will probably seem run down by U.S. standards but our toddler didn’t notice the faded structures and they gave him a much needed break from the museums and churches we were dragging him around to.

Bring your own carseat… maybe

Don’t even think of renting or borrowing a child car seat in Cuba. and before you make plans to bring your own, consider that we rode to the Havana airport in a 1978 Russian Lada with a broken door handle and no seatbelts. If you are uncomfortable taking even short rides without a seatbelt, stay at a western hotel and ask them to help you find a newer taxi (the tour company booked our airport-resort transfers, but we were on our own in Havana). But know in advance that there are no guarantees. Private vehicle ownership is not common, taxis make up the majority of traffic and most of these are old. On the reassuring side, since there aren’t a lot of card roadways are very mellow (we actually saw a couple of horse-pulled carts on the roads) and these old cars are stylish but slow. We didn’t want to miss the experience of touring Havana in a classic car, and we felt OK despite the lack of seat belts.

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Havana is a challenging place to sightsee with a small child or toddler, but a family vacation to Cuba is definitely doable. Here are 6 tips for visiting the Caribbean island with kids.

Aminda Parafinik and her husband Josh own a corporate team building business in Phoenix and are the authors of The Couple’s Road Trip Guide: Relationship Lessons Learned from Life on the Road. They have 2YO son and Cuba was his first international trip. Follow their travel at Josh & Minda’s Couple Guide.

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5 Comments

  1. July 8, 2017 at 8:41 pm — Reply

    Very good tips! I would have not thought about the car seats or the playgrounds (that one surprised me). But, interesting how everything has to be done old school in terms of reservations and guide books. #wkendtravelinspiration

  2. July 8, 2017 at 2:58 pm — Reply

    Cuba is high on our list and it was looking like it might be possible but now I don’t know. Hopefully the restrictions will be loosened again in the next few years. #wkendtravelinspiration

  3. July 8, 2017 at 7:06 am — Reply

    Cuba sounds like an amazing travel opportunity (being so close to the USA). I hope restrictions are lifted again soon.

  4. July 6, 2017 at 1:23 am — Reply

    I spent yesterday chatting with my husband’s cousin who had just returned from Cuba the night before. Their family trip (with teens) sounded incredible, and their photos are fantastic. They were so lucky to have been able to travel the country independently, and I hope that the travel restrictions will once again be lifted. They especially liked that many people had set up restaurants inside their homes. Tips from them include: Have Euros or the local currency on hand since most places cannot accept American credit cards, and book a van if your family is big since taxis can only hold 4 passengers.

  5. July 3, 2017 at 8:24 pm — Reply

    Havana has long been on my wish list.
    Great tips on the lack of seatbelts.

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