Cuba’s Climate and Landscape – When to Go and What to Pack

Posted on July 25, 2017. Under Tourist Guides.

Climate Cuba

If you’re coming from Europe or the US, you’re probably used to the season – four seasons, to be exact. You’ve got your hot summers and freezing winters with a welcome break from both extremes during spring and fall.

Although Cuba generally offers a lot of variety, this is one instance where it woefully lacks in diversity.

The climate in Cuba is a delicate tightrope walk between two different seasons – the wet season and the dry season.

The wet season lasts from May to November and the dry season lasts from December to April. Of course, everybody (and their grandmother) usually plans to visit Cuba during the dry season, for all the obvious reasons.

However, much like everything else in Cuba, things are not that simple.

The wet season is markedly different in the north of the country than it is in the far south – the same goes for the dry season.

To learn why that is (and how you can make your trip to Cuba during both seasons utterly enjoyable), let me tell you how the landscape influences the climate in Cuba.

The Landscape of the Largest of the Caribbean Islands

Fog in the Vinales Valley

That’s right, not only is it the most beautiful, Cuba is also the largest island in the Caribbean.

At 110 square kilometers, it’s roughly the size of half of the United Kingdom. When we’re talking about Cuba it’s important to understand that it’s actually an archipelago with close to 4,000 islands and cays.

It’s also mostly flat – two-thirds of the country are farmable plains – plantations of tobacco, coffee and various fruits and vegetables are a common sight in Cuba.

The only exception is the Sierra Maestra mountain range, which extends clear across the Santiago de Cuba Province, sheltering the southernmost part of the country from northern winds during winter.

This mountain range is largely responsible for the fact that the north and the south parts of the country have different microclimates, especially during winter.

Sierra Maestra prevents the cold winds from reaching the southernmost tip of the country, allowing for warmer and more swim-friendly weather than in the areas, for example, closer to Havana.

Climate in Cuba – Both Wet and Dry Season Can Be Fun, If You Plan Well

Of course, dry season in Cuba is much more preferable to the wet season. Who wants to deal with constant high humidity and scorching temperatures? No one, right?

weather and climate in Cuba

Average air temperature Havana

The dry season (we can even call it winter although it stretches a bit more than that, right until the end of April) is nice and warm in the north – especially on the Isle of Youth -, with air temperatures of about 26 C (79 F) and sea temperatures hovering at around 25 C on average.

However, cold winds occasionally blow across the plains, coming from the US, so the temperature can quickly drop to 10 C in Havana and around Varadero beach.

Also, although we’re talking about the dry season, don’t be surprised if a sudden shower appears out of nowhere.

Remember, Cuban climate is subtropical and things change fast – the most likely time for rain during winter is late afternoon or early evening.

Northwest is always a bit colder than the rest of the country, thanks to constant trade winds (called Brisa in Cuba), that blow from early in the morning until late in the afternoon.

Sea Temperature in Cuba

Average sea temperature Havana

As for the southern part of the country (the one sheltered by the Sierra Maestra mountain range), expect higher than average air temperatures and warmer sea. Also, precipitation is very rare here during winter months. If you’re looking to replace a cold winter of your homeland with warm beaches of Cuba and zero nasty surprises, Santiago de Cuba Province is exactly where you want to be.

Climate Cuba

As for the wet season, which lasts from May until November, expect a lot of humidity and high temperatures across the entire island. Temperatures become nearly insufferable – although they rarely go above 33 C, there’s so much humidity in the air that the overall impression is a lot worse.

The rains are intense but occur mostly in the form of severe thunderstorms that strike hard and then let up. July offers a nice break from the rains as the average rainfall is a lot lower than during other summer months.

Another important thing – the wet season is also the hurricane season in Cuba.

Now, there’s no need to panic. Cubans have a pretty good hurricane readiness system in place – they’ve had a lot of practice so it’s not a surprise.

However, it is something to keep in mind, especially if you’re traveling to the east of the country. The climate in Cuba during this period would almost be tolerable if it weren’t for hurricanes, which can bring gale winds and torrential rains. On average, Cuba sees a couple of big hurricanes in a 10-year period.

What’s curious is that they generally hit the island in consecutive years – there are usually periods of 2-3 years when hurricanes seem to completely miss the island.

Hurricane Season in Cuba

From all of the above, it’s seems pretty obvious what the best time to visit Cuba is, right?

I’ll agree – if you can get there during the dry season, that’s great. The whole island is your oyster, as they say. My advice would be to visit the south during winter. It’s slightly warmer and the water is just perfect for swimming and relaxing.

However, not everyone gets the chance to visit during the high season. If you find yourself in Cuba during the summer, do the exact opposite of what you would do in the winter.

Go and explore around Havana and Varadero. The temperature is slightly more tolerable and trade winds make trips and excursions just about possible.

Also, by doing this you’ll keep out of the way of hurricanes which, generally, are the strongest and most dangerous in the east.

On the other hand, the south sees less rainfall during summer, so if you want to enjoy the sun (regardless of the temperatures) you might decide you want to go there.

It’s a coin toss for the summer and your choice pretty much depends on whether you want to be hot and wet, or just hot.

What to Pack for Cuba?

Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit!

Regardless of the season, most Europeans and Americans will want to take a dip while in Cuba. If you’re from anywhere in the north, you’ll find the sea to be lukewarm almost always so it would be a real shame not go for a swim.

When it comes to other clothes, you’ll want to keep things light. Light t-shirts and short pants will do the trick for the most part. During winter, make sure to have a sweater or a light jacket handy, especially if you’re in the north.

As for the summer, even your skin might be too much at times. Kidding aside, pack extra light, breathable clothes and tuck a raincoat somewhere in your suitcase.

Final Note – Don’t Let the Season Ruin Your Vacation!

Truth be told, Cuba is always fun, regardless of the season.

So what if you’re there when it’s hot and rainy? Take off your clothes and go run through the shallows! Sit on the beach, get soaking wet, and drink Cuba Libre all day long.

The point is, Cuban climate is what it is – if you can get there during the winter, that’s great. If you’re only able to visit during the summer…well, don’t let a potential hurricane rain on your parade!

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