Cuba is an immensely popular travel destination, having been named the number one destination for solo female travelers by HostelWorld in 2018. Yet it remains hard to hack for a budget traveler: despite the official average salary being less than 50 dollars a month, many experienced travelers report having spent much more than they envisioned. This is a strange reality, due to the fact, Cuba is one of the last remaining planned socialist economies, where prices are distorted and do not always make sense. So while you may have many other questions like how do you get a visa? Or how do you deal with exchanging money in Cuba? Let me first address some great tips that will slash your budget to Cuba.
This post was written in collaboration with Why Not Cuba. They are an international network of Cubans and Cuba lovers dedicated to sharing travel inspiration and up-to-date travel advice about visiting the island.
Cuba is not South East Asia, you will not be able to spend $5 dollars a day and have a phenomenal time. While it is true that travelers have done it, this is accomplished by sleeping in parks or avoiding big “expensive” and “touristy” places like Havana, Vinales or Trinidad.
But don’t worry, if you are a savvy, Spanish speaking traveler with motivation to save money you could be able to keep your budget to $15 USD a day. Do keep in mind though, most travelers tend to spend around $50-$100 USD a day.
Bring Your Own Things
You should plan to pack with you anything for your trip that is not perishable. This includes: sunscreen, medicine, feminine hygiene products, phone chargers, soap, snacks, everything. Buying things in Cuba is both expensive and time consuming. You don’t want to spend half a day desperately looking for an overpriced bag of tampons when you could be sipping mojitos on the beach or learning to dance salsa.
Save Money on Accommodation
For accommodation in Cuba you have two choices: Book in advance online or learn how to haggle in Spanish. Keep in mind that booking accommodation online once you are in Cuba is close to impossible. The internet in Cuba is hard to access and spotty at best. Plus, third-party booking platforms such as AirBnb do not allow you to book from within the country.
Similar to any other travel destination, prices for hotels and casa particulars (Cuba’s version of AirBnb) vary depending on location and quality. You may be able to spend 10 CUC a night per person or less for a shared room. If you aren’t educated on the forms of money in Cuba, especially the difference between CUC and CUP, I suggest reading this article.
Travel Like a Local
Traveling like a local will always save you money. In Cuba, this means taking colectivos, buses and camiones instead of taxis and Viazul. Cheap transportation in Cuba exists and the savings can be considerable. Here is an example: a camion to Santiago from Havana will set you back 12 CUC, whereas a Viazul bus will cost you 55 CUC. Similarly, the P12 bus from Centro Habana will leave you within walking (or bike taxi) distance of the Airport for 0.02 CUC. A private taxi along the same route will cost you 15-25 CUC. Of course, this involves some sacrifices: private taxis are much more comfortable and convenient than packed busses or camiones.
If you’re a seasoned budget traveler, you already know all about sacrificing some comfort to save money. If you’re new to budget travel, get used to the reality and enjoy the savings by buying some extra mojitos.
Know Your Money Matters
It is essential to do your homework on Cuban money. You especially need to know: How the double currency works and where (and how) to exchange money in Cuba. Even just bringing Euros with you instead of US dollars can end up saving considerable amounts of money. For example, if you bring $1000 USD in cash to Cuba, you will lose about $100 USD in extra conversion fees. To avoid this, bring $1000 USD worth of Euros or Pounds instead. This article explains how to take Euros out of an American bank before your trip to Cuba.
In addition, knowing how the double currency (CUC vs CUP) works can help you avoid scams, being shortchanged and other uncomfortable situations.
Learn Some Spanish
Speaking a little bit of Spanish certainly helps decrease prices, but by no means guarantees you won’t get overcharged. Spanish skills are useful when you want to discover the “real” prices of goods and services. For example, if you’re waiting for a colectivo, be sure to ask fellow passengers how much they expect to pay. You’ll be in a much better position if you know the fair price once the time comes.
I hope this guide helps you and suggest that even though researching ahead of time is great, I recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
Also, a super common question I get asked constantly is what camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D5600 and I mostly use this wide angle lens made by Sigma. It's awesome for travel photography - I am seriously obsessed with it.