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€ 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) ?
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
- Piña 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 €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 – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha
Read – Part 2 for information about transports, internet, scams, packing, entertainment and when to visit Havana.