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€ 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.




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

  1. minimalist-traveller

    I can feel you. Crazy you stayed there for one month. It is a pity that it is still so hard to eat as a vegan there. We were very lucky that time that we found a vegan hostel in Havanna thanks to Couchsurfing. We also asked some of the the owners of the casa particulars if we could use their steamer to cook some beans for us. So at least we had something. Unfortunately they use bones and animal fat to flavour their boring dishes. We should import a lot of spices there 😉

  2. a mindful traveler

    Oh my, that smorgasbord of all that delicious food has made me hungry. Cuba is definitely a place to check out one day. Thanks Ana 🙂


    Cuba appears such an exotic place. Now that the embargo was lifted, I have heard quite a few of people that were travelling there.I’m sure it’s a challenge, as you highlighted, but hopefully as tourism will grow, they will make better infrastructure.

    • cook the beans

      Unfortunately trump unveiled new restrictions on Cuba, and he has rolled back some of President Obama’s policies. Plus they were very unlucky with the hurricane … but I’m with you hopefully they will grow and improve their situation with time 🙂

  4. anuragbakhshi

    Thank you so much for the post. I read part 2 first and then this. Cleared a lot of things. But am sad that food is not good at all, especially for vegetarians. I’m in Spain right now for the second time in a month, and just love the food (and drinks) here, so cheap and cheerful. Was hoping it would be similar in a place like Cuba.

    • cook the beans

      Unfortunately you can’t compare the food from Spain and Cuba, there’s no similarities 😀 but the drink are great though ? 🙂

  5. Señorita

    What an helpful and detailed post! I loved reading. Thank you for posting:)

  6. Rini

    Good tips! I haven’t been to Cuba in years, but thought about going back before things change too much.

  7. Mr & Mrs Savvy

    Great tips. We are thinking about going to Cuba soon, so this is perfect! We just recently got back from Bora Bora, French Polynesia and posted tips on how we saved over 66% on our trip there.

  8. chloevsworld

    Really good tips, thanks! I hope to visit some day, Cuba has been on my list for a very long time!

  9. Hannah (BitterSweet)

    I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba- It’s near the top of my travel bucket list! It still seems like such a distant dream, but your incredibly helpful advise makes it sound much more attainable. I hope I can get there one day… Your experiences are definitely inspiring!

    • cook the beans

      So glad you found it useful ? and I’m sure you will have the opportunity to visit Cuba one day ?

  10. Budget Traveler

    I think it is interesting to visit Cuba – a place where 1950s to 60s cars are still seen in the streets…

    • cook the beans

      The only side down of that is the pollution sometimes it was so hard to breath ? but they truly are a beauty and give a ‘special something’ to the place! Cuba Wouldn’t be the same without the cars ?

  11. prior..

    wow = I read and skimmed the photos- and need to bookmark this gem of a post – truly great tips for those who plan to visit – and I just enjoyed the vibe of the culture that you gave us here. really enjoyed it… the pineapple and man with hat pic is my fav = but jam packed with culture richness

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