Cuba is a fascinating country. With stunning beaches and a vibrant culture and the fact that Cuba was cut off from most of the modern world for so long. It has a unique “frozen in time” feel right now. That surely won’t last as tourism increasingly ramps up from all corners of the globe. Regardless, Cuba is an amazing destination for travelers seeking an affordable vacation with some unmatched unique experiences. So, before you book your flight, we’ll break down how to plan a trip to Cuba on a budget, so you can experience everything this incredible country has to offer, without breaking the bank.
Why is Cuba a Great Destination for Budget Travelers?
With Cuba being isolated from the rest of the world for so many years, many things in Cuba are still quite affordable compared to other destinations. Because traditional high-end consumer travel hasn’t been part of their economy for that long (though, to be sure, it will be as borders continue to open), there’s still many great budget-friendly options for accommodations, and the food is mostly delicious and affordable.
What to Expect When You Go To Cuba
Cuba is a bit of a melting pot, with a unique blend of Spanish, African, and Caribbean culture. When you step off the plane, you’ll find that the Cubans you meet will have a strong sense of national pride which is reflected in everything from their music to their delicious food.
You will also likely encounter some challenges and culture shocks. With the country having been isolated for so long, there’s limited access to the internet. You want to make sure you have printouts of your important documents on hand at all times, just in case you can’t pull it up on your phone when you need it. You may find that there is the occasional shortage of basic goods, so you want to double check that packing list and make sure you’ve got everything that you need before you go. With some careful preparation and a little flexibility though, travelers can still have an amazing time exploring all the Cuba has to offer.
Finding Cheap Flights to Cuba
Affordable flights to Cuba is going to be a bit of a challenge just based on the fact that most airlines don’t have a full schedule servicing the area. That means flight itineraries are limited, and therefore rarely need help being filled with promotions. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find a great deal on a flight to Cuba, though. Your best bet is to use a flight aggregator like Skyscanner, Kayak, or Google Flights to compare prices for multiple airlines. You want to start checking about 6-9 months out from when you want to travel, and consider setting a route alert on Google flights or Kayak. Be sure to keep an eye on budget Airlines like Southwest and JetBlue as they do travel to Havana and they might not be listed on aggregator sites.
When’s the Best Time to Visit Cuba?
Choosing the right time to visit Cuba can help you avoid weather problems, but it can also help you save some money if you’re open to travel at non –peak times. The peak season in Cuba typically runs from December, just after the hurricane season to April, just before the rainy season. While the cost of visiting Cuba tends to be less than most other Caribbean destinations, if you want to achieve further savings consider visiting in the summer, prices will be lower but you will encounter some fairly intense heat, and towards the end of the summer, the risk of hurricanes. We do recommend checking out the prices of visiting in the peak season, though, as it will still likely be quite a bit less expensive than any other Islands in the Caribbean.
Transportation in Cuba
While transportation in Cuba is generally quite affordable, it’s important to plan ahead, as there has been a problem with non-regulated taxi drivers ripping off naive tourists. For travelers on a strict budget though there’s quite a few options. One option is to take the bus which is both affordable and reliable. Another option is to use shared taxis or “collectivos,”, which are a bit more expensive than the bus but still pretty affordable. You can also use pedal power! Bicycles are popular to get around in some parts of Cuba, and can be rented for a reasonable price. It’s also worth noting that many of Cuba’s major attractions can be easily accessed on foot, so, especially if staying in town, walking is always an option to save money on transport in Cuba.
Accommodations in Cuba for Travelers on a Budget
When you’re planning your trip, chances are accommodation is one of the biggest expenses. but there are plenty of budget-friendly options available in Cuba.
Hostels and Casa Particulares
Hostels and casa particulares, private homes that rent out rooms to travelers, are some of the most popular budget accommodations in Cuba. They’re affordable, and provide an awesome opportunity to experience Cuba like a local. In hostiles, you’ll typically find dormitory-style rooms Shared with multiple other travelers, with shared bathroom facilities. Both options are typically very affordable and they both offer great opportunities to meet other Travelers and get local, insider tips on the best things to see, do, and eat in Cuba.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, camping is another budget-friendly option in Cuba. There are several campsites throughout the country that offer basic facilities like bathrooms, showers, and shared cooking areas. It’s worth noting, though, that with camping not being as popular in Cuba as it is in some other countries it might be a bit more challenging to find camping equipment and supplies. So if this is your accommodation of choice, be sure to be extra diligent with your preparations.
Other Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Cuba
You still have more options for budget-friendly accommodations, if you’ve got a little bit more of a budget. You can check out budget hotels, guest houses, and AirBnB rentals. At budget hotels, you’ll find basic amenities, but they’re generally clean and comfortable. Guest houses are similar to casa particulares but are typically more tailored to hosting multiple people.
While still relatively limited at time of publication, the number of AirBnB in Cuba is growing. These can be a great option for travelers who want a bit more privacy and space. That being said, it’s very important to read reviews carefully, to ensure your host is reputable and that you’re getting good bang for your buck.
Food and Drink in Cuba
When it comes to food and drink, Cuba can go toe-to-toe with the heavy hitters. With an intriguing blend of Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences you’ll find dishes packed with flavor that are sure to satisfy any traveler’s taste buds. Here are some of our very best tips on how to eat the best food in Cuba on a budget.
Street Foods in Local Markets
If you want to save money on food in Cuba, look no further than your local street food stalls and markets. Nosh on popular street food dishes like empanadas (meat or vegetable filled pastries), fritters, and roasted pork sandwiches (Mojo pork is one of my favorite foods in the world!). If you’re looking for snacks or for ingredients to cook at your accommodation, local markets are also a great place to find fresh fruits and veggies at a reasonable price
Budget Friendly Restaurants in Cuba
If you prefer a sit-down eating experience at a restaurant, don’t fret, there are options for you as well. Paladares, often small, family owned restaurants, sometimes hosted in the family’s own house, that offer traditional Cuban fare at a reasonable price. Some popular paladares include La Guarida in Havana and Doña Eutimia in Old Havana. You can also keep your eye out for cafeterias, another option for travelers on a budget. You’ll typically find simple meals here like sandwiches and coffee at an affordable price.
Tips for Saving Money on Food in Cuba
On top of carefully selecting your dining establishments, there are a few other tips that’ll help you save a little bit of money on food while you’re traveling through Cuba.
- Bring snacks and bottled water with you when you’re out exploring that way you’re not paying inflated prices at tourist hotspots.
- If you’re staying at a traditional hotel, avoid eating at the hotel as they tend to be more expensive than other dining options in most neighborhoods.The same goes for snacks. if you want to stock up on local snacks, stop at a convenience store. Try to avoid paying the price at the sundry store in the hotel.
- While you’re out drinking, stick to local beers and spirits. These will tend to be cheaper than imported options.
- Consider staying at a casa particular, and while you’re there ask your host what it would cost to cook your meals. This can often be a more affordable (not to mention a much more authentic) dining experience!
Things to Do in Cuba on a Budget
While some activities around tourist hubs can be pricey, there are plenty of budget friendly things to do around Cuba. here’s some of our favorite tips for enjoying Cuba to the fullest on the cheap.
Free and Low-Cost Things to Do in Cuba
Cuba tends to be a less expensive destination than many other places in the Caribbean. With that, many of its most amazing activities are free or low-cost. Some of my favorite affordable activities include:
- Exploring Havana’s colorful neighborhoods, like Vedado and Miramar.
- Visiting Havana’s Malecón, a scenic waterfront promenade.
- Relaxing on Cuba’s beautiful beaches, like Playa Ancon and Varadero.
- Checking out street performers and musicians in Old Havana.
- Taking a salsa dancing class in one of Havana’s many dance studios.
- The historic city of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The Vinales Valley, known for its tobacco plantations and stunning limestone formations.
- The colonial city of Cienfuegos, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara.
- The Museum of the Revolution in Havana.
More Money-Saving Tips
Consider the following tips to save a few bucks as you plan your trip to Cuba:
- Buy tickets in advance online or from local vendors, rather than at the attraction itself.
- Visit attractions during off-peak hours or during the off-season to avoid crowds and save money.
- Take advantage of group tours, which can be more affordable than private tours.
- Explore on foot or by bike rather than hiring a taxi or car.
- Look for discounts or promotions on travel websites and social media.
Using Money in Cuba
Cuba operates on a dual-currency system. This can prove to be confusing for first time visitors. Additionally, prices can vary widely depending on the season and the location that you’re making the purchase. Let’s break down what you need to know about money in Cuba.
Cuban Currency and Exchange rates
Cuba operates on two currencies: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP). The CUC is pegged to the US Dollar and is used primarily by tourists while the CUC is used by locals. Exchange rates can fluctuate, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on rates before you travel. It’s also important to note that US dollars are subject to an additional 10% tax when exchanged in Cuba.
How Much to Budget For a Trip to Cuba
Depending on your travel style and preferences, the cost of a trip can vary widely. As a general rule of thumb though, if you’re traveling on a budget, you can plan on between 50 to 100 US Dollars per day, well if you fall in the mid-range, you can expect to spend around $150 to $200 per day.
While you’re there, here are a few tips for saving money and avoiding scams in Cuba
- Exchange money at official exchange houses (cadecas) or banks to avoid scams and inflated exchange rates.
- Beware of overpriced taxis or restaurants catering exclusively to tourists. Only take licensed taxis, and avoid tourist traps.
- Ask locals for recommendations on affordable activities and restaurants. Go down those small roads and look for restaurants full of locals.
- Avoid using credit cards, as many businesses in Cuba only accept cash, or charge a fee.
- Negotiate prices for taxis and souvenirs, as this is a common practice in Cuba.
Safety and Travel Tips for Cuba
Like any destination, and perhaps a bit more than most others, Cuba has its own unique set of safety concerns, cultural norms, and health considerations. Here are some tips for staying safe and healthy while you explore Cuba.
- Keep your valuables secure and out of sight.
- Avoid walking alone at night, especially in unfamiliar areas.
- Be cautious of pickpockets in crowded areas.
- Use only official taxis and avoid unmarked or unlicensed taxis
- Drink bottled water and avoid tap water.
- Use insect repellent to avoid mosquito bites and potential diseases like dengue fever.
- Consider getting vaccinated before your trip, especially for diseases like hepatitis A and B.
To wrap it all up, Cuba is a fantastic travel destination for anyone traveling on a budget. Not only is it less expensive than other Caribbean islands to start with, there are also ways to further save money using some of these tips. From the beautiful beaches to the rich history and architecture there’s something for everyone in Cuba. Happy Travels!
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