Since returning home from Cuba, I’ve been asked dozens of questions about traveling here. My fellow Americans are just as intrigued by this forbidden fruit of the Caribbean as I was. Despite our governments best efforts, travel to Cuba can’t be completely reversed and there are still many opportunities for Americans to visit. If you get the chance, I hope you find the information below to be useful in planning your own trip.
Whew. Cuba is not nearly as cheap as I hoped nor expected. Between food, transportation and some surprisingly expensive activities, I spent far more on this trip than I planned. But it was all worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Excluding airfare, my daily average is $109.98 for 10 days. That’s almost double what I thought it would be. If we had been more diligent on purchasing bus fare ahead of time, we could have saved ourselves around $100. Tipping is a big part of the culture here, so make sure to tip your guides well. Food is another area we spent way more than anticipated. I wish we would have eaten with our casa hosts more instead of at restaurants. The food was better quality for half the price. The only drawback is you miss out on the live music and dancing a lot of restaurants offer. Perhaps to take your mind of the bland food.
- Activities – $180
- Los Aquaticos sunrise hike – $45 (including tip)
- Horseback riding Vinales Valley – $35 (including tip)
- Hike to Parque el Cubano waterfall – $10
- Buena Vista Social Club – $50 (bland dinner included)
- Big Bus Tour of Havana – $20 ($10/day for two days)
- Souvenirs – $87.50
- I bought a large photograph, magnet, CD of local music and some honey for myself, Cuban cigars for my dad and a few trinkets for friends.
- Transportation – $244.50
- As mentioned above, we could have saved ourselves a lot of money by purchasing bus tickets ahead of time. Instead, we spent hours searching for taxis, usually paying at least double the cost of the bus. You live, you learn. Sometimes over and over again.
- Miscellaneous – $138.50
- The majority of this category is comprised of the $110 visa I had to buy in order to visit Cuba. The rest is what we paid for the internet cards you need to get online at the internet parks. A good way to save money is to forget about getting on the internet completely. Use it as a digital detox. It’ll probably feel pretty good!
- Food – $203.50
- The average price of a meal in restaurant is around $10-12. The average price at your casa is $5. If you eat at the little sandwich shop windows where the locals queue, the cost is around $1-2. We predominately ate at restaurants and I wish we would have stuck with our casa more often. We could have saved a lot of money and had better food as well.
- In case I haven’t said it enough, buy your bus tickets in advance and double check the dates. You’ll save yourself a LOT of time, money and stress. To our credit, we didn’t let this get to us and stayed fairly laidback about everything. But I still felt a bit like a travel amateur with all our transportation problems.
- When you change money, US dollars are charged a 10% exchange fee. It is generally recommended that you bring Canadian dollars or euros to avoid this. However, in the process of changing my money to Canadian, then Cuban pesos, I lost 10% anyway. Perhaps Euros would be more favorable? Regardless, it’s pretty shitty to lose so much money just on foreign exchange fees, so keep that in mind when budgeting/deciding if Cuba is affordable for you.
- Speaking of money, Cuba is strictly a cash society. Credit cards are pretty much unheard of here, and ATM’s are few and far between. Bring all the cash you think you’ll need from home and then some, exchange it at the airport and you should be good for the rest of your trip. But if you don’t bring enough, your probably out of luck, so bring much more than you think you’ll need. Whatever you don’t use, you can change back to US dollars without the 10% exchange fee.
- Cuba has 2 currencies, local pesos (CUP) used by locals, and convertible pesos (CUC) used by tourists. It was recommended to me that you try to get a small amount of local pesos to use when buying things like ice cream. I asked around at a few places about trying to do this, but no one seemed to know where I could make the exchange. Frankly, I never found a place it would have been beneficial to use them anyway. We got by just fine using our CUC’s. And yes, we called them cuc’s.
- In the months since I first started writing these posts, much has changed in regards to the rules for Americans traveling to Cuba. Trump has removed the People to People allowance, meaning you are only supposed to travel as part of a group. Frankly, I would just fly through Canada or Mexico if I were to go again and do it on my own. As I hope to do for a little scuba diving some day.
- The food is meh. Like, pretty much all of it. As Rick Steves said, “If you’re looking for the best Cuban food, go to Miami.” Set your expectations accordingly. However, we did find one restaurant in Havana that, either because it was actually good, or just good by comparison, we both enjoyed enough to go back for seconds. It’s called Sevillas Restaurante Paladar and is located in Havana Vieja, on Obispo, the main tourist street.
- If possible, stay in a Casa Particulare (or Airbnb). All the hotels are owned by the government, and while they are good places to find internet, I’d much rather my money go to the people themselves. Renting out a room is a big part of Cuban culture so you should have no problem going this route, and it’s much more affordable, too.
It’s been awhile since I last wrote about Cuba so I’ve compiled them all here for your browsing pleasure!
My Favorite Cuba Photos
Walking Along the Malecon
A Bus Tour of Havana
European Vibes in Havana Vieja
Havana Part 1 Round Up
Arriving in Vinales Valley
Los Aquaticos Sunrise Hike
Horseback Riding Through Vinales National Park
Cuban Transportation Frustrations
New Year’s in Havana
Traveling to Trinidad
Chasing Waterfalls in Parque el Cubano
Stellar Views of Trinidad
Cienfuegos – City of One Hundred Fires
Flamingo Fun a Laguna Guanaroca