When the four-man orchestra sets up in the leafy porch, the dark wood of the cello shines in the sun and so do the white shirts of the elderly musicians, busy straightening their borsalino -style hats before the show.
Sitting at a cafe, admiring a crumbling colonial church, I take a sip of my cold Bucanero beer: we are in Havana and when the Buena Vista Social Club songs start to play, our picture-perfect moment is complete.
We were in Havana years ago, before we had children, and of all the places we have visited during those travel intensive years, Cuba is maybe the one we would most dearly want to show our kids.
We experienced Cuba as independent travellers, away from resorts and all inclusive holiday packages, and we found a country of amazing natural beauty and friendly people, shaped by its history to such an extent every corner becomes an opportunity for cultural immersion and understanding.
This is what we loved the most about Cuba and why I believe travelling with our kids to Cuba will make for a wonderful holiday.
Cuba with kids: family friendly beaches
The main natural feature in Cuba is of course the sea and the stunning sandy white beaches that frame the island.
Some of them are surfers paradise, windy and wild, but many are flat and family friendly, with soft white sand and clear water.
We went to the beaches near Havana and around Trinidad – in both cases we avoided the big touristy resorts and followed the locals.
They made us discover beaches teeming with kids, couples, families, pic-nic rugs and boom boxes!
The level of facilities and equipment varies from beach to beach, but overall we found Cuban beaches to be clean and well served, even when free.
I was surprised to see how beautiful Havana city centre truly is.
From the most official buildings to the small streets of its colonial quarter it’s a real pleasure to stroll along its alleys and street performers, musicians and kids playing on the streets make the place full of entertaining moments that I am sure would be great also for the little ones.
Cuba vintage cars
Cuba is famous for its American vintage cars and I know my son too well not to think this would be the main feature of the island he would notice!
The best way to spot them is to take a stroll around Havana city centre – some are there for the tourists but some are actually in use and they really have great old style charm.
Cuba is filled with murales and slogans about the revolutions and its ideals: they are colorful, sometimes elaborate and can be found everywhere.
Even as adults we loved to spot them and I can just imagine my kids using them during their ‘I spy’ games.
Our children can’t read yet so the main attraction for them would be the bright colours of which Cuba is generous
Cuba is an incredibly pleasant holiday destination with a history that strongly shaped the life of its citizens.
I don’t expect our children to understand the complexities of this history but I think it would be a great opportunity to show how different the life of kids around the world can be from the life we know.
I believe a trip to Cuba with kids is one of the best educational family trips you can ever take!
Accommodation with the locals: casas particulares
When we went to Cuba one of the prerequisites for entry was to have our first night booked with a government recognized hotel, but for the rest of your stay you were free to organise our own accommodation.
We chose to be in casas particulares (private homes, the equivalent of an English b&B) and this was a great way to get a peek inside a local home.
The private homes are run like businesses, but they maintain a charm and authenticity that you would not have in a hotel.
Travelling with kids we would most definitely choose to stay in a casa particular again – the families we found had often children of their own and they made us family meals always following our request and taste.
Music is ubiquitous in Cuba and every street and cafe has its little orchestra. Buskers are not unique to Cuba but here you don’t have lone players strumming a guitar but ensembles with cellos, percussion and violins.
Also, you don’t really see students playing to pay their school fees: the musicians are usually in their seventies or eighties!
The short distances
Cuba is also very easy to negotiate in terms of distance.
We travelled by bus (good buses are available for tourists) and there are so many interesting stops it is possible to see a lot of Cuba without having to spend too many hours on the road.
Last but not least, we found Cuba very safe. The standards of food and hygiene are high, medical care is excellent and we found a very low level of petty crime, which made the holiday easy and relaxing.
Have you been to Cuba with your kids or would you consider going?
Did Cuba make your bucket list? Then, you might want to pin this!