Cuba & budget do not necessarily go together but with a bit of careful planning they certainly could do!
My boyfriend Adam & I have just spent 7 weeks there. We studied Spanish in Havana & saw most of the city for the first 4 weeks as well as visiting Viñales then spent almost the last 3 weeks cycling from Havana to Trinidad.
Here are our top tips to help you spend less when travelling the destination that it seems, everyone is trying to get to!
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Tips To Help You Save Your Pennies
1) Be Prepared!
I have read mixed reviews about how prepared you should be before going to Cuba. In my experience I would say if you are going there on a budget the best thing you can do is be prepared before you go!
Any luxury items such as toiletries & cosmetics will be expensive in Cuba so it’s best to stock up before you arrive to save you hunting around & paying through the nose (Sun-cream especially).
If you normally travel & buy cheap clothes as you go Cuba is probably not the best or cheapest place for this. Whilst you will find items in some touristy areas there will not be a huge amount of choice. It’s also worth bringing at least one warm set of clothes, just in case, as these could be really tricky to find if you need them.
Other things to bring are any electrical items that you will need & snacks from home (such as cereal bars, sweets etc. as they are no readily available, cheaply in Cuba). I also took some multi vitamin tablets with iron as the food can be lacking at times so it’s a good way to keep your body fed on what it needs.
Bottom line is anything that you regularly use that could be hard to get hold of just bring it with you!
2) Know Your CUP & CUC
I cannot stress this enough as this is where you are really going to save your pennies!
In a nutshell there are roughly 25 CUP to 1 CUC & if you buy food in places that are selling in CUP you can save a great deal!
Outside of Havana you can only really find food stalls selling pizzas (10 – 25 CUP), egg & ham rolls (5-15 CUP) and some other fast food options. Coffee’s at these places are 2 CUP & juice can be as little as 5 CUP.
This literally means that food can be dirt cheap, however I would not advise that it would be easy to sustain yourself on such a limited food choice or rely on finding these places available wherever you go.
In Havana you will find places everywhere if you look hard enough & can find proper meals (such as chicken with rice) in local (CUP) restaurants.
It’s best when paying in CUC to know how much change in CUP you should be expecting & wait for it as in our experience it may not be automatically handed over!
Again, I have read mixed reviews about accommodation prices in Cuba and the ability to be able to haggle on them.
The answer is you can & if you would like to keep your travelling costs down you probably should.
We were paying an average of 25 CUC per night for accommodation for 2 of us in casa particulares (prices for 1 person should be around 15 CUC) without breakfast. Every casa particular on the island seems to charge a flat 5 CUC for breakfast. In our experience this was not good value when you could get breakfast at a local place for under 1 CUC for 2 people! It can sometimes be hard to say no to the house owner so we found a good trick was to tell them one of us had food allergies as it would be almost impossible in Cuba to cater for someone who did (a little white lie now & then doesn’t hurt!)
As well as haggling on accommodation it is also possible to do so on tours & anything else you may be offered, we rarely saw set prices displayed which told us that that they therefore must be negotiable.
4) Go It Solo
Most places are intent on getting you booked onto tours, things to see in the area, dinner at the casa etc. as this is really where they make money.
Don’t be afraid to say no & go off & do things alone!
In our experience Cuba is a very safe country so wandering around & doing your own thing is very much possible & will save you loads of money!
5) Learn Some Spanish
You can get by in Cuba with none but it will help if you know even a little when it comes to bargaining for things & asking whereabouts things are so you can actually find the cheaper places to eat etc.
Our Overall Verdict
Overall Cuba is by no means the best value country we could have travelled to in this part of the world. To be honest we found that we were spending quite a lot of our budget & not getting a huge amount back.
Cuba is a country that does not have a lot available in terms of consumer goods so things are expensive there. Along with this internet is not readily available & if you do require access you will need to pay for it. Not having internet also means that researching on the go & booking things online to keep costs down can be a little more tricky.
On the flip side this it what makes Cuba, Cuba! It was a refreshing change to not see people on their phones 24/7 & not have advertisement for things everywhere you go!
The most important thing for us with our Cuba trip was to embrace it for what it was, as the country is in so many ways still very much untouched!
The main piece of advice from us is that being prepared for a trip to Cuba really is the key!