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Q & A: Children are welcome in the land of Che

We are fascinated by the idea of a holiday this summer in Cuba with our five- and eight-year-old children, but we've been warned about health and safety risks. Is it a safe place to go?

S Marsden


The travel editor replies: Your biggest problem with children, particularly in July and August is likely to be the heat. I've been there alone, and with one of my children, and we found it a good deal safer than some of the other Caribbean islands.

If you stay in a resort and in tourist hotels, you'll find excellent standards of food and hygiene, though the Cubans alas have to suffer deprivation of food, fuel and luxuries. Obviously in Havana, as with any city, there are doubtful areas, and there have been a few muggings. But in tourist areas, though you may be accosted by hustlers trying to sell cigars, and may see men being approached by prostitutes, you are unlikely to meet anything more dangerous.

On a first visit don't be too ambitious. Consider taking an independent pre-booked tailor-made holiday or even a package to Havana or Varadero, the main resort. Doing it yourself can be time-consuming, involving red tape and queuing - public transport is slow and erratic, hiring a car individually can be tricky. Excursions, although more expensive, could be less of a hassle. Choose a hotel with a pool, or at least air-conditioning.

With American Chevvys, cycle rickshaws, the Museum of the Revolution - complete with Che Guevara's stuffed horse and Castro's cruiser, in which he returned from exile - there's enough in the capital to keep children's interest. You can relax afterwards in Varadero, the main resort 90 miles away. It's best to stay at the eastern end away from the oil refineries, where the modern hotels are well provided with children's clubs, entertainment and children's menus. There's little Cuban character about the resort, but it does have lots of watersports, tennis, a dolphinarium and you can easily use the place as a base for tours and day trips.

For travel to and from Cuba, you would do well to forget the national carrier Cubana, which can suffer delays and can involve a trip via Newfoundland. Charter flights from Gatwick or Manchester, or BA's new scheduled service, are better. Several firms offer package and tailor-made independent holidays, including Bristol-based Regent Holidays (tel: 0117 9211711) and Panorama Holidays (tel: 01273 427000).