Note: Majority of prices in this article are noted in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs, pronounced as kook) the local currency used by tourists visiting the country. The exchange rate for CUC is pegged to the USD. 1CUC = 1 USD However, CUP (Cuban Pesos, or Moneda National) are also in circulation. 1CUC = 25CUP. Cuban Pesos are meant to be only used by locals, but you should have no problems exchanging some of your CUCs into CUPs in Havana or another large city (they won’t allow you do exchange CUCs to CUPs at the airport) to enter into the Peso economy. (Read on to find out why that might be beneficial).
A trip to Cuba can mean different things for different people. For many Canadians and Europeans, Cuba has long been known as a destination where you can spend a week in paradise, enjoying beautiful beaches, buffet meals, never-ending mojitos, and all the niceties of home with a touch of Caribbean flair. Indeed, all-inclusive resorts are a huge industry in Cuba, but there is so much more to Cuba than sun, sand, salsa, and carefree resort living.
This past July, we traveled to Cuba to explore country far beyond the beaches of Varadero, Cayo Coco, and Holguin and discovered what it really takes to see Cuba. Based on our experience, we put together this handy guide with prices for across all the major travel categories to help you budget for your trip to Cuba.
Outside of all-inclusive hotels, accommodation options in Cuba are somewhat limited. Hotels are few and far between, hard to book online (booking engines like booking.com and agoda.com don’t allow you to book accommodation in Cuba), and often pretty pricey with rates ranging from 70CUC to 300CUC. The budget alternatives are Casa Particulars, licensed Bed and Breakfast establishments that range very little in size and amenities they offer. Casa Particulars in Havana and Varadero will set you back by 30-35CUC/night, and cost you around 25-30CUC in most other cities in Cuba. Most Casa Particulars offer a private room with double bed, AC, and private bathroom. Few have shared bathrooms and some also offer a private kitchen/dining space. Most of the time, Casas are essentially rooms or private apartments in locals homes with very few frill but almost always a very welcoming atmosphere.
Travel Tip: Casa Particulars can be booked via Airbnb. Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive a discount to put towards your first Airbnb stay in Cuba!
The ultra-budget option available in some cities along the coast are Campisitos that offer nightly rates as low as 10-15CUC. Campsitos are essentially camp sites with very basic concrete huts. Don’t expect AC, private bathrooms, or really much more than 4 walls and a mattress on the floor, but if you are saving every penny, it is an option available to both tourists and locals.
We spent: on average 30CUC /night while staying at Casa Particulars and on average 70CUC/night for both of us while staying at the all-inclusive hotel.
Getting around Cuba is frustrating and expensive.
By car: It is possible to rent a car in Cuba, although the cost is certainly well above our budget. Daily advertised rates start at 80CUC/day, although we did hear stories of lost reservations and of additional 15-20CUC/per day being charged to “retrieve” them. If you are traveling in a group of 3-4, renting a car is a great way to see the country but for a couple like us, the price was a bit too steep.
By bus: Viazul is the only bus network available to tourists and although it does allow you to travel comfortably (busses are equipped with AC and reclining seats) to almost all corners of Cuba, tickets are overpriced and often sold out days in advance. Below are the costs for some bus routes around Cuba (as of August 2016)
- Havana to Cienfuegos – 20CUC
- Havana to Trinidad – 25CUC
- Havana to Finales – 12CUC
- Havana to Santa Clara – 18CUC
- Havana to Camaguey – 33CUC
- Havana to Holguin – 44CUC
- Trinidad to Santiago de Cuba – 49CUC
- Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa – 15CUC
You can book tickets at viazul.com or at the bus station directly. When bus tickets to desired destinations are sold out, shared taxis (taxi colectivo) step in to shuttle tourists around the country. Prepare to pay $5-15 more for a seat (most often very uncomfortable) in the taxi compared to what you would have paid for the same leg of travel on Viazul bus.
By Air: If you are happy to plan your trip well in advance you might also want to look into some flight options. Outside of Havana the main regional airports are in Varadero, Camagüey, Holguín, and Santiago de Cuba. Cubana de Aviación , Aero Caribbean, and Aerogaviota (operate regularly scheduled flights across the country. But keep in mind that you won’t be able to find these flights on Google Flights, Expedia, Skyscanner, and the likes, as tickets are only available directly from the airline. Expect to pay 100-150CUC per flight.
By train: The rail system in Cuba seems to be dying a slow painful death. The locals say most trains in the country are unreliable and should not be taken. With the exception of the main line that links Havana and Santiago de Cuba via Santa Clara, which is said to offer generally reliable and surprisingly comfortable service. The service is known as Tren Francés and costs 65CUC for a first-class ticket and 50CUC for second class.
Hitchhiking: Ultimate budget travelers with a lot of patience may consider hitchhiking, a method of transportation used widely by locals across the country.
We spent: 15-20CUC for every 1.5 hrs of travel per person, interchanging (not by choice) between buses and colectivos
Food & Drink
As with everything in Cuba, there are prices for locals and prices for tourists, but food is the one thing in Cuba that you can save on and save big.
At the cheapest end of the spectrum, you can eat like locals. You’ve got little pizzerias and local hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving a variety of pizzas, sandwiches and refresh (soda) drinks. Basic cheese pizza costs 5CUP (yes, that’s less than 0.10 CUC), add some ham or sausage to that and you are looking at 10-15CUPs or 25 CUPs (if you are buying it in the most touristy place on Obispo Street in Havana). The pizzeria owners will have no issues with accepting your CUCs instead of CUPs, but expect the price to double or triple in the process. You can also stock up on a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables (mangos, bananas, oranges, avocados, etc) by buying them off the horse-drawn buggy carts that roam around the cities in early mornings. Prices are unreal: 3 huge avocados for 10CUP, giant mangos for 5CUP, etc.
Next on the continuum are local cafes. These offer a bigger selection of food (soups, meats, sandwiches and of course pizza) and charge about 1-2CUC per plate. State cafes/restaurants might charge 3-4CUC for a place of meat, rice, fried bananas, and a few slices of veggies.
Then you’ve got your reasonably priced restaurants that charge between 4-7CUC per dish and offer a good selection of dishes on their menus. These are often a hit of a miss, but for the most part, we’ve found food to be rather bland and uninspiring.
Slight more expensive but significantly better in quality are dishes prepared at Casas or Paladars. (Paladar is a small family owned restaurant run next out of a back of a Casa). Dinner at Casas range between 7-10CUC, while breakfasts were typically offers for 3-5CUC per person. Dinners typically consisted of an appetizer (soup, salad, fried plantains, etc), main (chicken, pork, fish, or other seafood), rice, and sometimes dessert, breakfast was usually a spread of breads, jam, butter, fruit, freshly squeezed juice, and sometimes eggs. Meals at Casa were almost always great (in fact some of the best we’ve had in all of Cuba), incredibly filling and well worth the money.
On the very upper end of the scale are overpriced restaurants aimed almost solely at rich tourists. A lot of these places offer dinner and a show packages for 50-60CUC per person. Food is average at best (at least in our experience) and the final bill (without the show) for 2 people ordering 2 mains and 1-2 drinks will typically come to 40CUC.
As with everything, drink prices range depending on the establishment. Water is almost always 1CUC for a small bottle or 1.5 CUC for a big one, although we did come across a few local cafeterias that sold water for as low as 0.60CUC for a small bottle. Beer is 1-1.5CUC. Mojito, Pina Colada, and other local (ie. rum-based) drinks range between 1.5-3CUC.
We spent: around 30-35CUC per day for 2 people on food and drinks. This includes breakfast and dinner at a Casa, lunch at a pizzeria/hole in the wall local shop, and on accession a few mojitos/piña colladas at the end of the night.
We did not incur a ton of expenses when it came to activities in Cuba. For the most part we were happy to roam around the cities and explore the surroundings on our own, although we did take part in a couple of organized excursions as well.
Here are their prices:
- Havana City Tour in Old Convertible – 25CUC (Havana)
- Day Trip to the National Park Alejandro de Humboldt – 23CUC/person (Baracoa)
- Topes des Collates – 55CUC/person (Trinidad)
- Horseback Riding Tours – 5CUC/hour/person (Vinales)
- Museum of Rum Entrance – 2CUC/person
We spent: a total of $143 on activities over the course of our 3.5 weeks in Cuba.
There is no free public internet in Cuba, so we had no choice but to pay for internet during our time in the country. (As digital nomads we simply can’t be offline for almost a month). There are public wifi hot spots in all major cities in Cuba. To access the internet, you will need to purchase ETCESTA wifi cards, which are available in 2 and 5-hour denominations from any ETSCA office at a price of 2CUC/hour. If purchased in advance the cards are reasonably priced, but be aware that hotels, casas, and touts on the street will often try to sell you these cards for 4-5CUC/hour.
We spent: a total of 30CUC/person on Internet for the 3.5 weeks we spent in Cuba.
Gifts and Souvenirs
If you want to bring some gifts and souvenirs back home from Cuba, budget for these in advance as these costs can quickly take your budget over the top.
We spent: just under $100 or 100CUC on gifts and souvenirs
We budgeted $100 USD /day for both of us in Cuba and even with the added luxury of spending 5 days at an all-inclusive hotel outside of Havana, we managed to spend only $2,610 total during our 25 days in Cuba (which works out to be about $104/day).
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What part of the budget do you find the hardest to stick to when you travel?