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Destination Basics

Cubans say they have only two seasons in Holguin – summer and winter. Most visitors come in winter, which runs from November until March. In December, January and February, daytime highs hover around 25 C. If you’re a heat-seeker, wait until April to make your visit to Holguin. In the summer, daytime highs regularly push toward 34 C and don’t drop much below 25 C at night. Occasionally, night temperatures do dip down to 10 C, but that’s rare. Usually they stay in the high teens.

Mix these temperatures with an average humidity around 80 per cent and a steady breeze from the northeast trade winds, and Holguin feels tropical. Pack some good walking shoes for exploring, a sweater for winter evenings and breezy tops for the summer season.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Holguin

Holguin offers the ultimate in relaxation, despite being a bustling city that offers many cultural sights and sounds. Within an hour of landing on the tarmac, you can be at the beach, enjoying a mojito in a seaside lounger at your resort. At the three resort enclaves of Playa Pesquero, Playa Esmeralda and Guardalavaca, you'll find low-sloping, white sand beaches that roll into either clear, sandy-bottomed lagoons or craggy reefs, all with incredibly blue water.

Swimmers love Playa Pesquero for a quick cool-off, while Guardalavaca offers the more adventurous types a chance to snorkel. Either way, the sun is always shining and the northeast trade winds bring a breeze perfect for beach days.

A quick ride off the resort delivers you to the destination of your choosing in Holguin. You can see where Christopher Columbus first landed; visit Gibrara, a small seaside town that hosts an international film festival; or, check out Holguin city where flower vendors and ice cream shops line the central squares.

Travellers are still few and far between in this part of the country, so you can easily get a glimpse of how Cubans really live by visiting Holguin's smaller towns. See locals shopping, hanging out on their front porches with friends or waiting roadside for transportation (which could be a state-run bus, delivery truck or horse-drawn carriage).

Hop in a turquoise 1955 Ford Fairlane and get ready for the unmistakable melody of the popular Cuban song, Guantanamera. Make sure to keep your eye out for the mangos, papayas and bananas in the plantations alongside the roads.

The island of Cuba, the Caribbean's largest island, lies 140 km off the southern tip of Florida. It's a long and narrow strip, not more than 200 km wide from north to south. To the east is the island of Hispaniola containing Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Jamaica is directly south and Mexico's Mayan Riviera is farther west.

The province of Holguin, one of 15 on the island, was one of the first places in the New World that Christopher Columbus visited in 1492. If you visit Holguin's resorts nestled in its three distinct beach areas of Guardalavaca, Playa Esmeralda and Playa Pesquero, you will see an authentic Cuban landscape. Haystack-shaped hills, forests full of wildlife and caves dot the coastline of this eastern province. In the water, coral reefs lie below the surface while azure blue waves lap at white beaches.

Heading south toward Holguin (population 300,000), you'll catch a glimpse of the countryside with cattle, goats and horses grazing on rolling pastures and papaya and banana plantations. The view from Loma de la Cruz (The Hill of the Cross) is high above the city and well worth the 465 steps it takes to get to the top. If you don’t want to walk, drive up the winding road around back.

From the moment you land in Holguin, there's music in the air. Without even realizing it, you may soon be mumbling Spanish words to songs you don't know and swaying to the beat. It could be mambo, the cha-cha-cha, rumba, conga or anything else that falls into the salsa category. Go ahead and step, step, sway your way to dinner.

Cuban music has Spanish and West African roots. The African influence shows up in the percussion, instrumentation and rhythm, while the Spanish influence can be heard in the guitars. Travelling musicians often serenade you at dinner and you may even find a four-piece band on board an old train as it rattles through a small town. If you happen to stop for an afternoon cocktail, chances are you'll see someone with a guitar.

An afternoon at La Rueda at Guardalavaca Beach can quickly turn into a sing-a-long involving the entire bar if a karaoke machine and musicians from a nearby resort find their way into this open-air spot next to the markets.

All this Cuban music will stay with you long after you return home, especially the popular song Guantanamera. It was written in 1929 by José Fernández Diaz and tells the story of a young man's affection for a young lady. Everyone from José Feliciano to Jimmy Buffett has covered the tune.

Spanish and African influences can also be found in other aspects of Cuba's rich culture. Don't pass up a chance for an authentic – and seriously delicious – coffee break, whether at a Holguin coffeehouse or the little cafe at your resort. Almost all restaurants here also serve up a simple but delectable plate of roast pork with a side of rice and red beans. And don't forget to try the popular salty, fried plantains.

If you're staying in the Guardalavaca region of Holguin, getting around is easy. Although a small village, Guardalavaca has a number of shops, restaurants and bars, conveniently all within walking distance of the hotels in town.

If you're staying outside Guardalavaca, for instance in Playa Esmeralda or Playa Pesquero, you will need to take a taxi or rent a vehicle to get into town. Cabs to Guardalavaca are reasonably priced and car & scooter rentals are available right from most hotel lobbies.

Once in Cuba, you can easily exchange your Canadian dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) at the airport or at your hotel. Smaller bills are preferred and exchange rates fluctuate daily. Please note that debit (Interac) machines are not available in Cuba and ATM machines only accept credit card.

Most tourist spots, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa, MasterCard and travellers cheques from Canadian financial institutions. Please do be aware that travellers cheques are subject to a surcharge so it is usually wise to convert them to pesos at your hotel.

US dollars, American Express and any other credit cards issued by American banks will not be accepted in Cuba. Upon departure from Holguin, CUCs can be exchanged back to Canadian dollars at the airport. There is a surcharge of approximately 10 per cent, but you will only be able to change pesos back to Canadian dollars while in Cuba. Once outside of Cuba, the CUC has no value. That said, you can always save your leftover pesos for your next visit!

Airport Information

Holguín's Aeropuerto Internacional Frank País is located just south of the city, with hotels and resorts only a short distance away – about a $10 taxi fare.

Passport and Tourist Card

All guests travelling to Cuba must have passports valid at least one month beyond their expected date of departure. Cuban immigration officials will not stamp your passport. They'll instead stamp your tourist card. These cards are given out while onboard your flight to Cuba with WestJet. The cost of the card is collected in advance for you by WestJet Vacations.

Throughout your stay, keep the portion of the card given to you at customs. Upon departure from Cuba, you will need to return the card to the check-in agent. Should you misplace your card, a new one can be purchased for CUC$16.


As of May 1, 2010, all guests must have proof of health insurance to enter Cuba. When entering, guests may be required to present this proof of insurance.

Although your Canadian provincial health insurance card is accepted as sufficient documentation, your provincial health plan may only cover part of the costs—and as with health services to foreigners in many other parts of the world, you’ll need to pay upfront.

To ensure you're covered in case of sickness or emergency, it's recommended that you purchase supplemental health insurance. While you can purchase insurance from your insurer of choice, it's worth noting that policies issued by American insurance companies will not be recognized in Cuba.


Be sure your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Malaria, typhoid and Tetanus are commonly recommended. Visit your local health clinic for additional information. It is also recommended to use mosquito repellant to protect yourself from mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Electricity in Cuba is 220 volts, however most hotels are equipped with both 110 volt and 220 volt outlets. If you are bringing an electrical appliance, it is recommended that you verify prior to departure if a converter and/or adaptor is required.

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