Travelling with children
Beach and placid waters aside, Cuba is not a country with an ample stock of entertainment for children. But what the country lacks in amenities, it makes up for in enthusiasm. By and large Cubans love children and welcome them everywhere, and having a kid or two in tow is often a passport to seeing a hidden side of Cuban social life. Practically speaking you’ll be able to find things like nappies in the department stores of bigger towns and some of the hotel shops, though the quality might not be what you’re used to. Baby wipes and nappy bags are less common so it’s wise to bring your own. To get hold of baby food you may need to visit the larger supermarkets. The only milk widely available is UHT.
What to bring
Make sure your first-aid kit has child-strength fever reducers, diarrhoea medicine, cold remedies, plasters, antihistamines and other medicines. These are available throughout the country but not always readily so and tend to be more expensive than at home. Plenty of child-friendly sunscreen is essential; the Caribbean sun is very hot, particularly during the rainy season (May-Oct). Remember also to bring lots of loose cotton clothing, plus a few long-sleeved tops and trousers to combat the brutal air conditioning in restaurants and buses. It’s also a good idea to pack a raincoat and appropriate footwear, as sudden downpours are common even outside the rainy season. Bear in mind that with limited laundry facilities you may be hand-washing many garments, so take items that are easy to launder and dry.
What to expect
Public toilets are scarce in Cuba, and there are few places with dedicated baby-changing facilities – hand-washing facilities can be patchy so antibacterial hand wipes are useful.
In terms of accommodation, children under 12 can stay for half price in many hotel rooms and if no extra bed is required they may stay for free. Staying in a casa particular is a great way to give children a taste of Cuba beyond the tourist belt. Rooms often have extra beds for children and many households have pets and courtyards where children can play. However, be aware that most houses, even those with steep narrow stairs and high balconies, do not have child gates or safety restraints.
Eating out, children are made very welcome pretty much everywhere. Children’s menus are on the rise but generally still scarce. Places with high chairs are similarly rare – most children sit on their parents’ laps. Discreet breastfeeding in public is fine.
When travelling around Cuba with children, it’s important to remember you’ll often be dealing with long queues and sporadic schedules. Long bus journeys can be particularly exhausting and uncomfortable. If you plan on renting a car, bring your own child or baby seat, as rental companies never supply them and there are none in Cuba. Newer cars are fitted with three-point seat belts in the front and seat belts in the back. Poor-quality pavements make using a buggy or pram difficult, so it’s a good idea to consider an alternative like a baby sling or backpack.
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