Travel vegan in Cuba

Someone I met while travelling in Cuba told me “we are not here to eat” when I was complaining about the food, and lack of options…. and sadly for someone like me that likes food, its true…¬†because travelling as a vegan in Cuba can be difficult.

But on a positive note, food it’s ridiculously¬†cheap and they have the most delicious fruit.

Just keep in mind that restaurants aimed at tourists have prices in CUC. Restaurants aimed at Cubans also called peso restaurants, have prices in CUP. more about it here

The cheapest options are at street-side stores. They normally have sandwiches, pizza, rice with beans, pasta, natural fruit juice and coffee, but not all the options at the same time.

If you’re planning to travel to Cuba here is everything you need to know to travel on a budget

Where to eat

In Cuba, there are two types of places to eat like a local, the state-run restaurants and the particulares (private restaurant).

Being the particulares a¬†bit more expensive than the state-run restaurants but not by much. It’s like instead of paying 1 dollar for your meal you will pay 2.

Cooking your own food it’s not an option here, but you can do what we did, that was adding¬†fruit and/or veggies to your meals like avocado, mango, tomato and ask at the restaurants to cut it for you.

Fresh juices are amazing and very cheap. The best option is to have an empty water bottle with you and ask them to refill it with juice (1,2,3.. cups). This is very common between locals.

Being Vegan in Cuba

Being vegan in Cuba can be very hard when you are travelling on your own, on a budget and off the beaten path.

Both state-run restaurants and the particulares are not abundant and have a very limited offer of 1 to 2 dishes.

Eating at the casas particulares, is always an option as well. The hosts will happily cook something for you but will be no different from the things you can eat outside.

How to survive as a vegan in Cuba

Fresh fruit is by far one of the top foods you can eat in Cuba. The most common are guavas, papayas, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, avocados, mamoncillo and coconuts.

Carrying a knife is truly a lifesaver because you can just eat fruits and some veggies when you want.

The morning is the best time to buy seasonal fruit and vegetables. Cubans sell them on street carts near the road or on the markets.

Vegan options in Cuba

Here is a list of the most common ingredients/dishes, that you should know if you don’t speak Spanish.¬†Knowing some basic Spanish its essential when travelling through non-tourist places.

  • arroz¬†(rice)
  • ensalada¬†(salad)
  • frijoles¬†(beans)
  • arroz morro or moros y cristianos¬†¬†(black beans + rice)
  • fruta¬†(fruit)
  • maduros¬†(fried sweet plantains)
  • tostones¬†(fried green plantains)
  • Yuca frita or cassava (a root vegetable)
  • pan¬†(bread)
  • papas¬†(potatoes)
  • Batido (milkshake)¬† *not vegan
  • jugo natural (natural fruit juice)
  • Cucurucho (desert with coconut and pineapple)
  • Pasteles¬†dulces (bakery)
  • mani (peanuts)
Veganism in the big cities

More touristic places, like Havana, Trinidad or Vi√Īales will have better options than the rest of the country because they have some touristic infrastructures and some vegan-friendly restaurants.

Cuba was one of the hardest countries to eat well as a vegan. You will definitely not going to starve but you will get fed up to eat the same food every day, especially if you are travelling like me for a long period of time.

I’ve read that the Vegan Movement is starting to appear in Cuba especially in Havana¬†so things might change in the future.

photography ‚Ästall rights reserved ‚Äď Ana Rocha

Read ‚Äď Part 1¬†for information about money and prices.

Read РPart 2 for information about transports, internet, scams, packing, entertainment and when to visit Havana.

Cuba travel tips: everything you need to know to travel on a budget (part 1)

For what I had read before going to Cuba I was expecting that a month there would be quite expensive, and definitely can be, but you can also travel on a tight budget.

I spent an average of 23‚ā¨ a day, but I travelled with another person, so for solo travellers, this amount would be higher for sure, and of course,¬†everyone travels differently, ¬†so no one ever has the same travel budget. I just put mine here as a reference, so you know that’s possible.

The first tip, never take a no for an answer, it’s important to negotiate, and it’s normal to ‘argue’ and ‘get upset’, always always speak out, if the situation is not fair or reasonable. Otherwise, you will be paying more than in Switzerland or Norway.

Be prepared to sometimes be ignored in a Cuban shop and to be always the last one to be served (but not in a touristic place) ?

Money

Cuba has 2 different currencies –¬†Cuban Peso¬†(CUP)¬†also known as moneda nacional MN¬†and¬†Cuban Convertible Peso¬†(CUC) ¬†(25CUP = $1 USD =1CUC).¬†Foreigners CAN (and should) use CUP it is not illegal,¬†so¬†don’t¬†believe if someone tells you the¬†opposite.

Probably the best tip I can give is NEVER ask the prices in Cuba, expect Cubans to give you always the prices in CUCs and to see other tourists using only¬†this currency. When you ask they know you are not sure…¬†Assume always¬†that the prices are in¬†Pesos Cubanos (CUP), and pay for it straight away, the only exceptions are the touristic restaurants and bars, long-distance taxis, hotels/casas and tour operators, but you’ll¬†realise that¬†they always write CUC¬†in front¬†of the price.¬†So if you see a menu (carta) with coffee – 1, it means that the price is 1CUP (about 4 cents) and not 1CUC ($1 dollar).

You only need CUCs to pay for: long-distance¬†transports, accommodation, museums, touristic spots and water. (0.5L – 45CUC; ¬† 1.5L – 0.70CUC; ¬†5L – 1.90CUC) for everything else use CUPs. We came across some upsetting situations in Trinidad and Havana when buying water, the staff from the supermarket didn’t have the prices in the water and despite the fact that we knew the price and gave the correct amount they asked for much more. Step your foot down and argue loudly so everybody know what they are doing, ¬†they don’t just ask for a few more cents, they ask for a 1,5L 3 o 4 CUC.. what they are doing is illegal and you can ask to speak with the manager or even call the number that is on the wall for the customer service. Demand that they scan your product and give you a receipt like they do when serving a Cuban.

Always choose places that have the prices displayed, it’s current practice, so when they don’t have it, they will probably create a new price just for you. (check out the pictures below they all have prices displayed in CUPs and keep in mind that $1=25CUP)

The prices don’t change much around the island, so having the average food prices in mind should help (all prices in CUPs):

  • sandwich ¬†2-12 CUP
  • pizza ¬†5-10¬†CUP
  • natural juice/milkshake 3-5¬†CUP
  • coffee 1-2¬†CUP
  • chocolate bar 5-10¬†CUP (depended on size)
  • small sweets 1-2¬†CUP
  • peanut bars / seed bars 5-7¬†CUP
  • ice cream 1-5¬†CUP
  • popcorn 5CUP
  • one paper cone with peanuts 1¬†CUP
  • 1 big avocado 5-10CUP
  • 3 big mangos 5-10CUP
  • 1 hot dish (rice with beans and salad) ¬†– 10-25CUP
  • fried banana 5CUP
  • All snack varies from 3-10CUP
  • Pi√Īa colada 5-10CUP
  • Mojito 10-12¬†CUP
  • pasta 10 CUP
  • beer (Cerveja¬†dispensed is the cheapest one) 5-25 CUP
  • soda in a cup 1-2¬†CUP
  • hot chocolate¬†5 CUP
  • churros 3-5 CUP
  • malt beverage 10-25 CUP

The average price for local transports in CUPs:

  • bus – 1CUP (they call it guagua)
  • bici taxi – 5CUP – 10CUP

I brought cash to fund my whole trip so don’t really know how reliable are the ATM, but saw a couple in each capital district.

Exchanging money it’s easy but like everything in Cuba takes time and queuing outside. Ask for the CADECA¬†the official place to exchange money and of course, don’t do it in the street.¬†It is possible to exchange U.S. Dollars, Euros, British Pounds, and a few others. But U.S. Dollar is by far the worst one because it gets charged a 10% fee in addition to the exchange rate.

Exchange your money to Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUC) first and then some Convertibles(CUC) to¬†Cuban Pesos (CUP). (Don’t forget to take your¬†passport).

Paying in convertibles (CUC) and getting change in CUPs is the most popular trick so familiarize yourself with the money and always check your change.

Where to stay 

The cheapest options are the¬†casas particulares, a kind of Airbnb¬†or guest house.¬†Finding a casa is extremely easy, there are plenty available everywhere, we didn’t book any house in advance and was always easy and quick to find one.¬†Simply walk around the area you want,¬†knock on the door of a house with the blue sign and ask to see a room, then decide if you want to stay there or see the next one.

We always negotiate our price to fit our budget that was ‚ā¨20 per night and we found always a house that was willing to do that price for us, even in the more touristic areas like Havana, or Trinidad, so don’t get afraid when they start saying that is the high season, all the cases are full, etc.. Cuba truly has a huge offer.

Breakfast is normally not included and the price is between 5-6CUC, but to be fair you will eat exactly the same out for a fraction of that price, so we never ate at the casas.

photography ‚Ästall rights reserved ‚Äď Ana Rocha

Read РPart 2 for information about transports, internet, scams, packing, entertainment and when to visit Havana.

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