Is it possible to travel to Cuba on a budget? What can you do to plan a cheap vacation to Cuba? Let’s disclose useful tips that will guide you through an unforgettable vacation without spending too much money.
Plan a cheap vacation to Cuba on your own
The first thing you need to do to plan a cheap vacation to Cuba is to rule out a visit organized by travel agencies. Although many of them insist in offering “cheap” all-inclusive packages, traveling on your terms will be always much more economical.
You can start by taking a look at the different airlines that provide flights to Cuba and comparing their prices. Cubana de Aviación is one of the cheapest airlines that allows you to book flight tickets online.
However, if you are traveling from the United States, you will want to check out Cheapair.com, which became the first online travel agency selling direct flights to Cuba. Prices start from over $ 400, but they are expected to decrease thanks to new measures to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba taken by the US government. Departing from Miami? Then, Gulfstream Air Charter is without doubt the most affordable option.
Before embarking on your trip to Cuba, be sure to pick the places you want to visit. Please, head to some travel forums like TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk to see what others recommend. Remember that accessing Internet from Cuba is costly and takes valuable time (check out our guide for connecting to the Cuban Internet).
(TIP: Planning an organized tour to Cuba? Know 5 reasons why you shouldn’t book Cuba vacation packages)
Don’t go with USD
Once you have bought your flight ticket, you should focus on which currency will be the best to take to Cuba. For your understanding, two currencies circulate in the island: Convertible Pesos (known as CUC) that is most used currency by tourists, and Cuban Pesos (referred to as Moneda Nacional or CUP). These currencies are not traded internationally, so you can’t buy them in advance, but only upon arrival. Although the Cuban government plans to lift the penalty fee applied to the USD, Euros and Pound Sterling are still the most recommended currencies to take to the country. Currently, 1 USD is equivalent to 0.86 CUC.
Buy both Cuban currencies
Before leaving the Cuban air terminal don’t forget to buy CUC and CUP. You will need both of them during your stay.
If you plan to go off the beaten track, you must have a 75% change in CUC and the rest in Cuban Pesos. Use CUC to pay for almost everything: accommodations, food in most restaurants, taxis, and other tourism services. Please, note that 1 CUC equals 25 CUP.
Spend Cuban Pesos or Moneda Nacional on buying street food, like sandwiches and pizza, or taking public transport. The CUP is extremely helpful when paying for services commonly used by locals.
With Cuban money in your pockets, you will be ready to decide which would be the best option to get inexpensive transportation.
(TIP: Cuban currency: 5 facts you need to know before visiting Cuba)
Getting around Havana
After landing in the beautiful Cuban capital, you will find outside the airport wide and varied offers to continue your trip by road. Transportation it is one of the core service you must think about when planning a cheap vacation to Cuba.
There will be plenty of taxis 555, and the so called almendrones. They will charge you from 20 to 30 CUC to take you to the downtown. But if you want to save more on transportation, you just have to walk looking for the airport exit on Boyeros Avenue. From there is very easy to catch one of the taxis or private buses used by locals. They will charge you about 10 to 20 CUP, depending on where you are heading to.
Another alternative is to use public transportation service. Buses will likely be overcrowded but they can take you for all over the city for only 1CUP! The P-12 route, for example, will leave you at the well-known Parque de la Fraternidad, the very center of Havana. The “journey” becomes particularly attractive as you pass next to the iconic Plaza de la Revolución. There are also important monuments and historic buildings you can visit near the park, like Fuente de la India, Capitolio, Plaza de Armas, Hotel Saratoga, Barrio Chino, or the famous Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás.
All you want to do is making a ride around Havana? Then take a hop-on and hop-off bus (Havana Bus Tour) for only 5 CUC, a ticket valid for a whole day. There are more than 60 stops that covers the most interesting routes of the city, including Plaza de la Revolución José Martí, Parque Central, Capitolio, Alameda de Paula, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, Cementerio Colón and other iconic places. You may take two itineraries available from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., starting at Alameda de Paula and Marina Hemingway and ending at Plaza de la Revolución José Martí, respectively.
On the other hand, walking around Havana is undoubtedly the best and cheapest way to know the city, its streets and dilapidated alleys, bursting with the survival spirit of the Cuban people.
(TIP: Visiting Havana soon? Know the top 10 things to do in Havana in a weekend)
Beyond the Havana borders
A good alternative to go around Cuba is taking a Viazul bus. Viazul is the national bus company for tourists and covers almost all provinces. This company offers a good service and reasonable rates that vary according to the distance (from 12 to 37 CUC in routes from 4 up to 9 hours long).
But Viazul is not the only transportation mean you may use to explore the whole country. Outside any bus terminal you will find private taxis, commonly referred to as máquinas or almendrones. If you take one of these is very likely that you will have to travel with more people inside the car, but, on the bright side, you won’t have to book in advance. You may also hire any of these taxis for long journeys that starts at 30 CUC.
An even more expensive option is booking a flight in Cubana de Aviación, yet reservations must be done long before departure. At this point you are no longer travelling on a budget or having a cheap vacation to Cuba anymore.
According to the local media, there are about 60,552 hotel rooms in Cuba. A simple search in Internet will drive you to hundreds of websites that will help you find and choose the most affordable offers. Where to stay is a key issue when planning a cheap vacation to Cuba, so should look carefully.
Private houses, known as casas particulares or hostales, are nowadays the cheapest accommodation to stay in Cuba. They continue spreading for all over the island (today there are more than 14,000) thanks to the opening of the Cuban‘s economy to the private sector. Unlike hotels, this kind of accommodations allow you to interact with Cuban families who can also offer excellent meals. Staying in hostales is one of the best ways to learn about the Cuban life and get in touch with the authentic Cuba.
The price for a night in a casa particular range from 25 to 35 CUC per room, not including meals. However, if you look further in travel forums you can find some hostales that offer a room for 10-15 CUC per night. In any case, negotiating with the owners is something you may always do. Another way to reduce costs is by sharing the room with a fellow traveler.
Searching for casas particulares on the internet wasn’t easy, but it is not a problem anymore. Airbnb, for example, is a popular website to book private rooms our houses. Since the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations, Airbnb hosts over 4,000 homes and apartments for rental, 40% of which are located in Havana and the rest are spread all over the country. Additionally, you can install the Cuban-Junky App to find hundreds of casas particulares in Cuba, even without any sort of fee or commission!
When planning a cheap vacation to Cuba, the least of your concerns should be where to eat. Don’t spend money in luxury hotels or big state restaurants.
A wave of private restaurants (paladares) has swept the island. They have radically changed the food landscape with a wealth of options, good service and reasonable prices. Today, in Cuba there are more than 2,000 paladares, where for only 6-8 CUC you will taste exquisite dishes from the Cuban cuisine. Wondering where to find good paladares? Visit A la Mesa, a website that lists the best spots to eat in Cuba.
If you are travelling around the city and need a light snack, you head into a state or private cafeteria. Options there include pizza, bread, sweets, ice cream and soft drinks. Each time you visit these places, pay a fair attention to the menu so you don’t get muddled up with the currency you need to use. The offers at these cafeterias are low-cost, and you may pay with CUP. For example, a snack of a Cuban roasted pork sandwich with soda is priced at about 15 CUP.
Thinking of cooking your own meals? Head to any of the agricultural markets (agromercados) of the city to get vegetables, fruits and meat. Although you won’t find too much variety, you may pay a fair price, even in CUP.
(TIP: Saving money in Cuban food shouldn’t be your only concern. Enjoying the Cuban food may be a delicious experience, but you must follow proven tips to eating in Cuba and stay healthy)
Drinks and parties
A cheap vacation to Cuba does not have to exclude drinks and parties by default. There are plenty of affordable options to enjoy your trip to Cuba with the energy that comes from mojitos, daiquiris and salsa music.
Havana is the capital of entertainment in Cuba. A huge network of nightclubs, state and private bars wait for you to show you the best of the country nightlife. Visit the most popular spots, like El Gato Tuerto, La Maison, El Floridita, Tropicana, the Cabaret Parisien, among many others. However, be careful because a crazy night in any of such places won’t be kind with your wallet. For example, having an evening (dinner and show) at the well-known Cabaret Parisien may cost up to 60 CUC.
Additionally, private bars like El Cocinero, StarBien, Sangri-la offer good eats, drinks and dance for a reasonable price. In some of these places, cocktails may be priced as low as 1.50 CUC or as high as 7.25 CUC.
You won’t need much money to have fun and interact with the natives. Just sitting on El Malecón or Parque John Lennon will be enough to appreciate the life of ordinary Cubans.
Other great and cheap experiences are, for example, witnessing the “9 o’ clock cannon shot” (known as El Cañonazo) in the fortress San Carlos de La Cabaña, or going to the movies, the ballet or an art gallery. Havana is full of spectacular museums with entry fees lower than 25 CUP.
In other provinces you can also visit beautiful places where there is need to pay for the access. The astonishing Varadero Beach, Viñales or Pico Turquino, just to name a few, are heavenly spots you can enjoy for free.
(TIP: Read our guide to choose the best time to go to Cuba, just in case you are wondering about)
The best souvenirs from Cuba
One of the most exciting ways of remembering your cheap vacation to Cuba is by taking souvenirs to home. In Cuba it is very common for tourists to buy handcrafts like wooden jewel cases, pipes, earrings, bracelet. Most of them won’t exceed 5 CUC the piece.
Travelers also like to buy made in Cuba items as pullovers, berets and caps. Many tourists go for items that show the traditional image of Che Guevara or the national flag, mainly because of what they represent to the Cuban history. You can buy such clothing pieces from street vendors or in state shops known as ARTEX, always paying with CUC. You are likely to find the best prices at craft fairs, where you can negotiate with sellers.
As you can see, planning a cheap vacation to Cuba is not that difficult. Draw up a plan in tune with what you want and you will always find good deals. Start by following the above tips and you will save a lot, I mean a lot.
Know more tips about how to plan a cheap vacation to Cuba? Leave your comments below.