Like many other keen travellers Cuba has always been high on our bucket lists. Although high, it was one of those exotic locations that we thought we may never get a chance to visit.
In late 2016 we started planning a trip to backpack down through Central America including Mexico. After doing research we discovered a flight from Europe to Mexico City with a stopover in Cuba was of similar cost to a direct flight so decided it was a perfect opportunity to check it out.
As with most new countries we visit our research began with googling the country and reading blog posts. It didn't take long to realise that the information within these posts would become super important as Internet is hard to come by in Cuba.
Some blog posts we found useful were:
25 Awesome things to do in Havana, Cuba
11 Things To Do During Your Trip to Havana, Cuba
Budget Diving in the Bay of Pigs: Things to Know
Cheapest Scuba Diving in Cuba Review
Playa Larga on a Budget: Planning Your Visit
In addition to saving the above websites for offline viewing we found having a copy of Cuba Lonely Planet really useful.
The sections below give an overview of our 12 day trip with a focus on budget travel and documenting useful information that we think could help others.
Locals speak very little English so if your Spanish is rusty like ours it will save you. The app is great as it works without an internet connection and also pronounces translated words which we found useful for learning useful phrases such as "dos de cerveza por favor".
Before we visited Cuba we marked everything on Google Maps knowing that even without internet we could still find our way around with GPS. For some reason once we arrived in Cuba both of our markings disappeared. Luckily we had downloaded Map of Cuba offline. It was useful for finding Lonely Planet street addresses, tourist attractions and other places of interest such as currency exchanges (Cadeca) and banks.
Havana Airport to City – 30 minutes – 30 CUC total
Havana - Casa Mariela - 3 full days - 17 CUC per night x 4 (Airbnb)
Havana to Vinales Collectivo - 5 hours - 30 CUC per person
Vinales - Casa Lliana y Albe - 1.5 days - 12.50 CUC per night x 2 (Airbnb)
Vinales to Playa Larga Collectivo - 7 hours - 35 CUC per person
Playa Larga - Casa El Ruso - 1.5 days - 16.50 CUC (Airbnb) + 20 CUC extra night
Playa Larga to Trinidad - 3 hours - 15 CUC per person
Trinidad - Casa ??? - 2.5 days - 20 CUC per night x 3
Trinidad to Havana - 5 hours - 25 CUC per person
Havana - 1.5 days - 15 CUC per night x 1
City to Havana Airport – 30 minutes – 20 CUC total
Budget for 2 people
Visa = 2 x £23 = £46 = €53
Flights = 2 x €285 = €570
Collectivo Transport = 260 CUC
Accomodation = 204.50 CUC (99.50 CUC pre booked through Airbnb, 105 CUC spent while in Cuba)
Spending Money for 12 days = 605 CUC
Total spent in Cuba for 12 days = 1069.50 CUC = €900
Total spent in Cuba for 12 days + flights + visas = €53 + €570 + €900 = €1523
We both (Lithuanian and Australian) required a 30 day visa to visit Cuba. We paid £23 each through the website http://www.cubavisas.com and they were posted to our home address in the UK. The visa took about 5 days to arrive in the UK but you can pay extra to get it delivered express.
Arriving in Cuba
We took a 16 hour bus from Ljubjana, Slovenia to Cologne, Germany and then flew with Eurowings direct to Havana, Cuba. The flight took approximately 11 hours.
Once arriving in Havana we paid 30 CUC for a taxi into the city.
1 Convertible Peso CUC = 1 USD
1 Convertible Peso CUC = 25 Local Cuban Peso CUP
0.05 Convertible Peso CUC ~= 1 Local Cuban Peso CUP
Do not bring American dollars as they charge a 20% fee at the exchanges!
At the airport we exchanged 600 euros into 670 convertible pesos. A Passport was required. The airport didn't have any local Cuban pesos so instead we had to wait till the next day to find a currency exchange (Cadeca).
For an idea of how much to convert into local pesos, we converted 40 CUC which lasted us for 12 days. No passport was required when converting CUC into CUP.
While in Cuba we withdrew an extra 300 CUC using our UK debit cards at a cash machine near the Sevilla Hotel in Havana. My Australian bank card didn't work.
There are banks in Cuba but the waiting times we witnessed were very long so wouldn't recommend relying on a Travel or Debit card. Bring cash.
Before we visited Cuba we were expecting it to be really confusing which currency an item was being advertised in but it didn't take long to work it out. The street stalls generally advertised in local pesos but also accepted convertibles and fractions of convertibles. Cafes/bars/restaurants/casas/collectivos always advertised in convertibles.
We found that things were slightly more expensive than blog posts suggested which maybe an indication that Cuba is getting more expensive or we need to work on our haggling skills!
Cuban streets pretty much consists of pizzas and toasted sandwiches and the going rate seemed to be 15/20 local pesos.
Sometimes a stall would advertise a pizza/toasted sandwich for 1 CUC but most often if we offered 15/20 local pesos they would accept.
Also often no prices were displayed on street food and when enquiring we would get the standard response of 1 CUC. We often observed how much a local was handing over to get an idea of the real price.
Crime is pretty much non existent in Cuba. We felt extremely safe the entire time. Even walking around at night with mobile phones and DSLR camera out.
The scariest part of Cuba for us was the rainy 130 + km/h collectivo ride from Vinales to Playa Larga with 15 of us in the back. The roads have lots of pot holes and it doesn't help that the cars aren't in great condition either. Also all our backpacks were tied on the roof and there was no cover so our backpacks and everything inside got soaking wet.
I didn't see any car crashes but did see alot of broken down cars on the side of the road and witnessed it first hand. On the way back from snorkelling at Bay of Pigs our bus broke down. We flagged down another bus which let us on for free. Cubans are friendly people and even if your collectivo were to break down on a longer haul I'm confident it wouldn't be too hard to flag down another and continue the journey.
We always drank bottled water but apparently the tap water in Cuba isn't as bad as other Central/South American countries.
One thing that we noticed was that hardly any peso stores had the price of water. When enquiring the standard response was 1.50 or 2 CUC which was the same price being charged in restaurants. We tried haggling the price down but couldn't get anyone to budge.
At the Havana local bus station we managed to get it for 0.80 CUC which I think is closer to the local price.
The going rate seemed to be 1/1.5 CUC for a local beer, 2/3 CUC for a Mojito and 4/5 CUC for a bottle of rum.
The best Mojitos we had were at Hotel Sevilla and Maximo Bar in Havana. They both cost 5 CUC but were large and quality. Hotel Sevilla had really nice views over the city.
Our favourite local bar in Havana was Bar Lucero.
You see alot of locals drinking straight Silver Dry rum from cardboard boxes especially along the Malecon in Havana. It costs about 1 CUC for 200mL. I initially thought it was a cheap pre-mix but turned out to be 200mL of 36% local rum. Try if you dare!
We often found restaurants offering meat with salad, rice and black beans for 4/5 CUC.
Home stays in Casa Particulars are the most common accomodation in Cuba. No matter where you stay generally it will include the following:
A private room
A private bathroom
2 single or double beds
Breakfast offered for 4/5 CUC
We prebooked 7 of our 13 nights through Airbnb before we arrived. It's super easy to find accomodation once you arrive in each city but we found on average we were paying around 15/20 CUC through Airbnb but in person they were wanting 25 + CUC. For our last two nights in Havana we did manage to haggle a room down to 15 CUC.
We tried booking Airbnb accomodation while in Cuba but received an error message saying you aren't allowed to.
We used collectivos taxis the entire time as they offered door to door service and were the same price as buses.
For arranging collectivos we always found if we booked ourselves we would get 5 CUC cheaper than what a Casa owner quoted as they got a commission.
In Havana we arranged transport through Hotel Lido and in the other cities we found locals offering cheap deals. Sometimes we had to pay a deposit to secure a seat.
The Locals always fulfilled there promise of picking us up from our accomodation at a certain time and then dropped us at the door of our next city accomodation.
We managed to get a taxi to the airport for 20 CUC and flew direct to Mexico City, Mexico with Interjet. The airport didn't have many food/drink options but thankfully the prices weren't overly inflated like many other airports. We paid 2 CUC for a sandwich and 1 CUC for a coffee.
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