Where are you going winter?
To Cuba, nosy one
What are you taking with you?
My wide brim hat
Wide brim hat in winter?
Wherever you go there´s no sun!
To Cuba you have to take it
As wide as you can, nosy one
Roughly translated into English, this popular little verse tells the tale of winter going to Cuba and having to pack a wide brim hat despite the fact that winter should remain cold wherever it goes. Not in Cuba, winter says to the curious asker. The reality is just like the versed tale, whilst Cuba sees somewhat cooler temperatures during the winter months (October to February), because of the humidity the sensation of heat always makes foreigners drop a few more sweat drops then they envisaged; even when temperatures are a few degrees lower. Having said that, even in the harshest of Cuban winters, temperatures hardly ever dip below the 20-Degree-Celsius mark, with the only exception of cold fronts, which see temperatures in the island typically oscillate between 15 and 18 degrees during the day, and while those temperatures may equate to spring for many European countries, in Cuba people are freezing over – you´ll see them digging out their coats, scarves and even woolly hats!
Cuba´s warm year-long climate is no doubt one of its most coveted assets and one of the main factors drawing people to the Caribbean isles, but tourists coming from much cooler latitudes are not always ready to face Cuba´s relentless sun. Protection measures must be taken very seriously, especially when it comes to the younger ones in the family.
Every now and then, while walking on the street I spot a “camaron” (the word for “prawn” in Spanish) - a term we Cubans use to refer to those tourists whose skin has been badly burnt by the sun acquiring an intense pink shade. It was this frequent sight which motivated to write this blog, to help visitors enjoy our sun responsibly and safely.
In Cubans' own skin
Taking a leaf out of our book I can tell you that every year us Cubans complain, in quite a desperate and loud manner, of suffering the burden of the hottest heat in history. We shout about it at bus stops, in taxis, at home…pretty much everywhere the heat sneaks into, and in Cuba that´s, well, everywhere (with the exception of air-conditioned places, of course, but when you come out of those, the heat is like a slap in the face). Even when this general voiced complaint has much to do with our exaggerated nature and extrovert way of expressing ourselves, figures indicate our cries are well justified and this collective heat sensation is not just moaning.
Last 2015, for example, some regions in Cuba´s western side reached record-breaking temperatures in April, well above the 38 degrees Celsius in the midst of spring.
Every year it gets hotter and we must take stronger measures to protect ourselves from the damaging effects of sun exposure and high temperatures. No reason for ringing alarm bells though. Despite the high temperatures, thankfully we´ve never had heat waves affecting our country, as these are typical of continental regions and don´t affect islands. Our heat can still be said to be friendly, it´s just a case of not getting overly friendly with it or underestimating its strength. It´s more a case of learning to enjoy it and deal with it safely.
But it must be a sad sun
What are you saying, nosy one?
Cuba´s sun smiles broadly,
It’s mischievous and playful
Even when Cuban children are used to this climate, when summer comes, parents become experts at protecting them from the strong sun rays. I can assure you this is one of my biggest missions as a mum of one, because my son Martin loves the beach and long outdoor walks.
This is why I want to give you some tips if you come and visit us, especially if you’re bringing children along:
- If you visit one of the main theme parks and fair grounds in Havana (Isla del Coco or La Maestranza) do it close to its opening time of 9 a.m. or closing time of 5 p.m., since both parks lack good shade areas. There are a few trees but they’re not leafy enough.
- If you opt to take a tour in a classic car, most of which are roofless convertibles, do it during the safest hours (outside the window of 12.p.m to 3.p.m.) or ask the driver to unfold the roof. If going roofless wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes and face.
- If you’re in Havana my suggestion is to visit the breeziest and shadiest places during the hottest hours of the day. These places boast lush vegetation giving a soothing breeze and children love them: La Quinta de Los Molinos, Gran Parque Metropolitano de La Habana, Parque Ecologico Monte Barreto or Zoologico Nacional (the National Zoo).
- Wear light fabrics (cotton preferably) in light colours to reflect off the heat. Also wear hats or caps to protect your hair and scalp. Don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes and avoid squinting all the time (you’ll thank me for avoiding premature eye wrinkling later!) Umbrellas can also come very handy and you can buy them cheaply at local shops. My recommendation is to find one at any of the ARTEX shops – these often have prints featuring local artists’ paintings and make for a nice and practical souvenir.
- Don’t fall asleep under the sun, even under the shade you can get a sun tan (or worse, a sun burn!)
- Pack the right sun cream according to you and your family’s skin tone, age, etc. Don’t wait to buy sun products in Cuban shops as they are usually lacking in variety and quantity. When you do find some it may be of an inferior factor to the one you normally use or need. If you or your children have very fair skin, I’d recommend 50 SPF sun cream to face the Cuban sun. Apply before sun exposure and don’t forget to reapply frequently.
- Avoid sunbathing on the beach in the peak sunlight hours which are considered high risk for sun exposure (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) and if you can, try and get your kids to put on a light-coloured T-shirt covering their torso, shoulders and back.
- Always carry bottled water with you, don’t wait to buy it when you’re out and about as you may not always find some in the nearest establishment by the time you’re thirsty, especially during the summer months and surrounding beach areas.
- Pack some non-prescription medicines that you can turn to in case of bouts of diarrhoea or vomit, since heat can sometimes upset the digestive tract, especially in children.
- When choosing which tourist destinations to visit during your holiday in Cuba, take into account that the eastern side of the island registers the highest temperatures all-year-round, but especially during July and August the heat can be overwhelming in the following provinces: Camaguey, Holguin, Last Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo.
- Use air-conditioned transport, especially the yellow taxis that charge in CUCs and which offer a door-to-door service.
Winter don’t go
To Cuba, please;
Wait, let me fetch
My wide brim hat
If you follow the above recommendations, the sun and heat in Cuba won’t be a problem for you. Instead they can account for a nice memory in your mind and in your skin. Doubtlessly, they can constitute yet another motivation to make Cuba your next holiday destination, as you head, once again, to this beautiful island of eternal summers.