A Family Holiday Guide to Cuba

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, famed for its beautiful beaches, rich culture and vibrant capital. With plenty of attractions, there’s something for the whole family to enjoy. Here’s our guide on what to expect and what not to miss out on.

Beaches

With more than 300 beautiful beaches to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice. This diverse ecological landscape is home to some of the finest beaches in the Caribbean. You’ll find beaches of all shapes and colors, from ones lined with swaying palm trees, to ones with dramatic limestone cliffs. The golden sands of Varadero Beach is one of the most popular, stretching over 20km. With calm waters and a gentle sloping shore, it’s the perfect spot for small children to build sandcastles. For adults, the year round climate ensures the sea remains crystal clear, making it perfect for exploring the reef on a diving excursion or snorkeling from the shore. 

Natural Wonders

Once you’ve relaxed under the Caribbean sun, it’s time to enjoy one of the many adventurous activities on offer. The Varahicacos Ecological Reserve in Varadero is excellent for a family hike. There’s plenty of trails to choose from and you can explore hidden caves, which come complete with ancient paintings. The Bahía de Naranjo Nature Park is also great for long walks and is home to a tourist favorite; a dolphinarium. This is sits within the sea and the dolphins are free to leave at any time. You’ll also spot sea lions and can watch as the animals leap into the air and do tricks.

Culture

Cuba has no shortage of historical sights, or traditional events which visitors will find to be both fascinating and enjoyable. In the capital, Havana be sure to visit the largest square, known as Revolutions Square. At its center you’ll find an impressive monument dedicated to national hero, Jose Marti. Visitors can take a lift to the top for a stunning, panoramic view of bustling capital. There’s also a museum where you can learn more about the country’s history. A visit to the Old Havana is also a fascinating day out. Take a stroll through the winding streets and you’ll fall in love with its old world charm. There’s also plenty of nice cafés to enjoy a traditional Cuban feast. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the Catedral de San Cristobal – one of the oldest of its kind in the Americas.

With an endless amount of activities to be enjoyed, we’ve barely scratched the surface. From its lively annual carnival to the friendly locals and delicious cuisine, it’s all waiting to be explored on your next family holiday.

Images by neiljsBud Ellison and Jaume Escofet used under the Creative Commons license. 

This is a guest post.

Tom Haleforth is a life-long travel addict, and has spent the last 10 years travelling in and around Central and South America and the Caribbean. When he’s not travelling, he is writing about it. He lives and works in London.

These four walls and itchy feet

I’ve never had such contradictory thoughts running through my head as the ones I’ve been having just lately. I am so desperately seeking adventure. I want to explore new places and re-visit old ones. I have incredibly itchy feet. I’ve been staring at photos from some of my old photo albums, the pictures I took when I used to live in France. A dusty collection of photographs that are full of mountains, rivers and beautiful quaint French towns. During that time, I never knew what I was doing or where I was going from one day to the next. I loved that. Every day was an adventure.

Recently, I’ve found myself wishing to be anywhere else other than where I am right now.

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Please don’t for one second take this mean that I am unhappy or that I want to runaway from my little family. I am happy and I want to runway with them. I’ve always been an ‘on the move’ kinda girl, never stayed in one place for too long. I get bored easily and crave new places and new faces. Obviously this desire was much easier to fulfill in my teens and early twenties, pre-motherhood – I could go where I wanted, do what I wanted and had no one to answer to. I’m estranged from my father and my mother lived on the other side of the world. I got used to fending for myself.

So what is contradictory about all of this? Well, despite my wanderlust. Most days? I dread leaving the house. I feel an ache in the pit of my stomach every time I think about leaving the front door, even if it’s just to pop down to the shop for milk and bread. I’ve gone from being somebody who was more than happy to travel to New Zealand all by herself to a quivering wreck at the thought of nipping down to Tesco.

It doesn’t really help that whenever we go out, Jasmine is like a ticking time bomb, ready to explode into an angry pile of flailing limbs at any given second. She has tantrums several times a day and as much as I’d like to be the mum who just smiles knowingly at other parents who pass me by, a quick roll of the eyes as I say “Kids, eh?”. I’m not that mum, not yet. Instead my cheeks burn a bright red and I stare at the ground because I’m convinced everyone thinks I suck at this parenting gig, even though I know that’s not the case. Nobody’s thinking that. Except me.

Deep down I know it’s nothing do with Jasmine’s mood swings, she’s not the reason I don’t want to leave the house. It’s an excuse perhaps, but not the reason. I still haven’t really identified what the reason is. I’m completely and utterly confused by all of this. It’s like two parts of my brain are fighting against each other – one part craves adventure and the other seeks comfort and safety and it’s clear which one is currently winning the battle. It forces me to stay here, in these four walls. Protected, in my castle.

Most days it’s OK, we keep busy – Jasmine and I will play outside in the garden or we spend time dancing in the kitchen. But it gets to the end of the week and I realise I’ve not had a single face-to-face conversation with another adult (aside from my husband) all week. And I can only pretend to myself for so long, that I’m OK with that. I’m bored of routine, I’m tired of being lonely (you know what I mean by that, and if you don’t, I’m really glad you’ve never experienced this feeling). I’m fed up of this self-imprisonment.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what I need to do. I just know I needed to write this down to feel a little better about it all.

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The Twinkle Diaries

Tips for holidaying with your dog

“You must be mad!” – That is the kind of reaction I got from some of my family and friends when I told them that we were planning on taking our dog, Heidi, on holiday with us.

If you’ve read any of my posts about what a handful my pooch can be, you’d be forgiven for thinking the same. Alas, our ‘pet lady’ who would normally take care of Heidi and our guinea pigs whilst we are away on hols was already fully booked for the summer. We decided to brave it and go ahead and book a family holiday in South Devon, dog and all.

I can honestly say it was a fantastic break away and having our beloved furbaby with us only enhanced the trip. If you’ve ever thought about taking your dog on holiday with you but have been put off by the hassle of it, here’s some tips for holidaying with your dog, that might make you change your mind…

NB. Whilst some of this may apply to taking your dog abroad with you, I am talking specifically about holidaying in the UK as that is what we did on this occasion.

Tips for holidaying with your dog in the UK

Accommodation, planning and packing:

 Finding somewhere to stay

Your first task will be to find suitable dog-friendly accommodation in your chosen location. We wanted self-catering accommodation in Torquay and after a quick search I managed to find something that was perfect for us. A self-catering apartment just a few minutes walk away from the seafront and town centre, dog friendly and plenty of room for Jasmine’s cot. After a few e-mails back and fourth with the apartment owner we had booked our accommodation, a week’s stay for £235 (in the height of the summer holidays too) – absolute bargain!

weacceptpets and dogsinvited are both useful websites for finding dog-friendly accommodation in the UK.

Make a list

Before packing for our holiday I wrote a list for each member of the family including Heidi (because who doesn’t love writing lists?) This just made it easier for me to remember everything I needed to take for her, such as her bowls, bedding and leads etc. It also ensured I didn’t leave anything behind when it was time to pack up and come home.

Research, research, research!

Soon after booking our holiday, I set about putting together an information pack about the local area. The last thing I wanted was for us to get there and have nothing to do or nowhere to go. I found out which local attractions allowed dogs, which of the beaches were dog friendly all year-round, places to eat and also emergency contact details for the local vets. Armed with this information you will hopefully get a lot more out of your holiday rather than wasting precious time looking for things to do whilst you’re there.

Having said all that, we found Devon to be extremely dog-friendly and never had to go very far to find a pub, bar, chip shop, tea room or restaurant that welcomed our furry family member!

Travelling:

Car safety

Invest in a good well-fitting harness so that your dog is secure whilst you’re on the road. Also, be sure to keep an eye on the temperature inside the car, dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as well as humans and will easily overheat. 

 Take breaks

Stop regularly to allow your dog the opportunity to have a drink of water and a toilet break. Some of the bigger service stations even have large grassy areas specifically for walking dogs. Don’t forget your poop bags!

Getting around

Whilst we were on holiday I was surprised how easy it was to get around with a dog in toe. Pretty much anything goes and Heidi experienced travelling by both stream train and ferry! Don’t assume it’ll be free though, we got told off for not paying the £2 fare for Heidi’s steam train journey. Oopsie!

Whilst you’re there: 

Use local knowledge

If you’re staying in dog friendly accommodation then the property owner will be one of the best people to ask about places to visit. The lady who ran our apartment pointed out several local pubs where dogs were welcome – always useful information! ;)

Don’t be afraid to approach local dog owners too – most of the time they will be only too pleased to share their favourite dog walking haunts with you. dog-403699_1280

Don’t expect too much from your dog 

What I mean by this is, if for example, your dog’s daily walks usually involve a quick walk around the block don’t then expect your dog to be able to walk for hours and hours on holiday. We made this mistake on our first day and walked for about 10 miles and by the end of it poor Heidi was exhausted. We made sure to take lots of regular breaks in between walks for the rest of the holiday.

Have a plan B

To me, the only downside of taking Heidi on holiday with us is that it limited where we could go. Most indoor attractions were of bounds and thus we were really relying on the weather being good. Fortunately, whilst we were away we had fairly decent weather but we did still have one very wet morning, so out came my emergency stash of Disney DVDs. We opted for a snuggly movie morning until the sun came back out. Definitely pack something to keep you occupied indoors in case our rather unreliable British weather lets you down!

I would definitely consider taking Heidi with us on any future holidays as it really wasn’t much hassle at all. I hope that if you’ve thought about taking your dog with you on a UK break then this post will give you the push to do so. You won’t regret it!

Have you ever considered holidaying with your dog in the UK?

Or do you have any  other tips for holidaying with your dog?

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This post was first published on the 19th August 2014.

Family activities in Glencoe

If you’ve ever considered a family holiday in Scotland but you’re not too sure where to stay, then I have some information that will help you to make that decision.

The Isle of Glencoe is beautiful part of the world to stay and is the prefect location to take part in a variety of outdoor activities that the whole family can enjoy.

Pap-of-Glencoe

What activities can I do in the Isles of Glencoe?

It might be easier to ask ‘What can’t I do in the Isles of Glencoe?’ as there is so much to do. Here’s just a few ideas of family activities in Glencoe to get you started…

Segway tours

What better way to explore all of the wonderful scenery that the area has to offer than by riding on a segway. The experience will create some brilliant long lasting memories, I’m sure.

Segways not your bag? No problem – there’s a whole host of walks available or, if it’s an adrenaline rush you’re after you can go mountain biking instead. Weeeeeeee!

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Seaxplorer Fast Boat Trips

Oh and while we’re on the subject of adrenaline rushes – you can also go on fast boat tours (which sounds right up my street!) You’ll get to check out the local wildlife and fab coastal scenery – all whilst taking in the commentary from your dedicated Skipper!

The Jacobite Journey AKA The Hogwarts Express!

Harry Potter fans will love what is often described as the ‘The best railway journeys in world‘. The Jacobite steam train will take you on a 84 mile round trip around some of the most scenic places in the country, including Ben Nevis, The River Morar and Loch Nevis. Many scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed in those very locations. See how many your mini movie buffs can spot along the way!

The Scottish Sealife Sanctuary

Sharks, sea lions and sea horses – oh my! There’s lots to explore with your little ones at the sealife sanctuary including 50 marine displays, a nature tail, adventure play area AND it boasts ‘the best views of Loch Creran’. Definitely worth a visit, me thinks!

and that’s just for starters….

So you see, this is merely just a sample as to what Glencoe has to offer in terms of activities for families. There are many, many more. The best way to find out what they are? Make your next family holiday a trip to the Glencoe Isles – you won’t be disappointed!

Where should I stay? 

If you are looking for the perfect family-orientated hotel then you must check out The Isle of Glencoe Hotel. The hotel is located right on the Loch Leven peninsula and is surrounded by beautiful natural landscape – you certainly won’t be short of stunning mountain views!

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Not only is it situated in a gorgeous location but it also has:

  • It’s own restaurant serving a delicious selection of Scottish cuisine.
  • A pool and sauna open every day 7am – 10pm (with a two hour evening slot for adults only – LOVE that!)
  • It also has it’s very own adventure centre where you can do even more family activities including: Sea Kayaking, Stand Up Paddle Boarding (I have wanted to try that for so long!) and sit on top kayaking (my personal favourite watersport).

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In terms of accommodation itself you can choose from a standard room – which is an ensuite bedroom with double bed, bath with shower, free WiFi as well as tea and coffee making facilities.

Or you can choose to stay in a feature room which is more spacious and suited to bigger families. You can pick a room with lochside views too. Pretty awesome, huh?

Isles-Feature-Bedroom

Oh and guess what? If you book your stay direct through the website you’ll also get a free Full Scottish Breakfast (nom!) and free access to the leisure pool and sauna (where you can work off said breakfast!)

I love dog-friendly hotels and it’s good to know that The Isle of Glencoe hotel shares my ethos that dogs ‘should go on holiday too’. Dogs are welcome in all communal areas of the hotel except for the bar and restaurant and can also sleep in your room with you. (I’ve just seen Heidi’s ears prick up!) It’s just £10 extra per dog per night.

So what are your waiting for? Head over to their website to find out more.

This is my entry for the #parentpanel round with Parent Friendly Stays