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A Day In Havana, Cuba For Less Than $25

Cuba. Just the mention of this communist nation stirs up a whole range of opinions, thoughts, ideas and wonder about this fascinating country. For anyone who has backpacked around Central America, it also brings up another belief. That it is expensive! Luckily, I’m here to tell you that it needn’t be, and that you can easily spend a day in the capital city of Havana for $25 or less!

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The Issue Of Money And The Double Currency

Cuba has a dual-currency system in place, which is very interesting and slightly confusing. The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the money that foreigners will be dealing with (and that Cubans want to get their hands on), while the National Peso (moneda nacional or CUP) is what the locals receive most of their pay in and what they primarily use. 25 CUP’s is equivalent to 1 CUC. One convertible peso is valued the same as one US dollar.

Just about everywhere a tourist would need to make a transaction, only CUC’s are accepted. Most visitors to Cuba spend their entire trip only using convertible peso’s. The secret is that if you can get your hands on the moneda nacional, you will be able to purchase some items at a fraction of the cost!

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To swap your CUC’s to CUP’s, you will need to find a bank that deals in exchanges. It shouldn’t be too hard to locate one if you ask a few locals, or check with your casa particular host.

Accommodation

Cuba doesn’t have a large number of backpacker accommodations. However you can still find dorm beds in Old Havana for $10 a night. But by far the best way to sleep in this country is in the “casa particulars” that can be found in every town. These are essentially people’s homes that have registered with the government to become a guesthouse. Staying in one of these is the most authentic way to experience accommodation in Cuba as you get to spend time with a local in their own home. They are slightly more expensive in Havana, usually around the $20 a night range. But if you can find someone to split a room with you, this is a great deal! Otherwise, a dorm bed is the next best option.

Food

If you do end up staying in a casa particular, they usually offer the option of having meals in their house. Breakfast will be around $3 and this will usually be a massive meal!

With a fist full of moneda nacional, you can venture into the local markets and purchase some fruit for less than $1. Street food will bring you the likes of pizza for 50c or some pastries and sandwiches for around $2.

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Our favourite place to eat however was across the road from the National Capital building, or El Capitolio. There are numerous restaurants along this street, but Los Nardos was the best! Don’t let the amazing ambiance, the piano player and the romantic setting fool you – this place is cheap! You’re looking at around $4 for a delicious, top quality meal that will be so large you will not need dinner!

Transport

Cuba is famous for its vintage American cars that roam the cobblestoned streets. Everyone wants a ride in one! Taxis cruise the streets looking for customers, and of course the vintage cars are going to cost more than the dodgy Russian Lada’s getting around. Luckily you can find a ride in a classic car around the city for less than a $1! In popular places (outside El Capitolio for example), simply flag down a vehicle with a “taxi” sign in the windscreen and ask if it is “collectivo”. If the driver says yes, then state your destination. If he agrees, jump on in. They usually have fixed routes and will only leave when they are full. The cost will be 20 CUP (just less than $1).

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Another great way to get around town is the public bus. It truly is a great experience and you will very rarely find another foreigner on board with you. They are slow, smelly, hot and an authentic way to get around! They stop every few hundred metres, and the cost is so low (only in moneda nacional) that for the sake of ease, we’ll just round it up to $1.

Activities

Taking out your accommodation ($10), food ($7) and a ride in a collectivo and the bus ($2), that leaves just $6 for your daily activities! Luckily, this is plenty, as the most enjoyable thing to do in Havana is to get lost and explore!

An absolute must do is to check out Old Havana (La Habana Vieja – a UNESCO World Heritage Site). You could easily spend the entire day walking around its beautiful streets, wandering in its cool plazas and observing life unfolding in every nook and cranny. If you are lucky, you might even get to see a salsa band playing in a small bar!

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Making use of the bus network, on the other side of town is the Plaza de la Revolución. This is another interesting sightseeing expedition and is worth a visit.

By now you will be getting thirsty, and there is no better way to quench your thirst then with a bottle of Havana Club rum! With that $6 burning a hole in your pocket, pick up a bottle for $4, some mixer for $1 and maybe some lime and walk along the Malecón – the long, seaside esplanade running along the edge of the Caribbean. Find a spot, crack open that bottle and pour yourself a drink while watching the gorgeous sunset over the sea. The people watching along here is amazing and no doubt you will end up making new friends with the friendly Cubans who are partaking in the same relaxed atmosphere as you.

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Other Activities

If you want to skip out on the bottle of rum, a highlight of any trip will be the Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolución), costing 5 CUCs. Learn all about this fascinating time in history and study all the propaganda that is there to be viewed. You will walk away wondering which propaganda is true – The Cuban’s version or the American’s.

If you like ice cream (and who doesn’t?) then you cannot miss the Coppelia, one of the largest ice cream parlours in the world! Located in a park that occupies an entire city block in the Vedado district, this place dishes up delicious dairy products to 35’000 customers a day! They accept CUC and CUP (cheaper in the moneda nacional), and will cost anything from $1-3, depending on your selection.

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Of course the biggest attraction in Havana is simply the city itself. You can (and will) spend days just wandering its streets, chatting to locals, listening to music and dancing salsa. All for $25! Viva Cuba Libre!

Have you been to Havana? How did you like your stay there? Is Cuba expensive in your opinion?

About the Authors:

a77beb467942664b2d97c2dc60797e42Lesh and Jazza from NOMADasaurus are backpacking overland from Thailand to South Africa without using any air transport. Alongside their network of talented guest writers they aim to promote sustainable, long-term travel with the best first-hand advice possible. They are truly inspiring travelers who you can follow on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

 

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Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"

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{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Jazza - NOMADasaurus July 18, 2014, 12:38 am

    Thanks for allowing us to contribute to eTramping, Agness and Cez. Really appreciate it.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder July 18, 2014, 1:44 am

      Thanks Jazza for contributing! Awesome post! I simply can’t wait to visit Havana :-).

      Reply
  • Charlie July 18, 2014, 1:23 am

    Really enjoyed this, always wondered about travelling in Cuba. What was the food like there?

    Reply
    • Jazza - NOMADasaurus July 18, 2014, 1:27 am

      The food on the most part was quite delicious. Like most Central American countries, some of the street food was a little oily and a tad on the unhealthy side, but you can always visit the local markets to stock up on fruit. The food in the casa particulars was always amazing! The hosts really go all out to make sure you are well-fed with top-quality dishes.

      Reply
      • Agness Walewinder July 18, 2014, 1:43 am

        Thanks Jazza for sharing. I would love to try some local food in Havana. It does seem to be a bit too oily, but it’s so affordable and sounds yummy!

  • santafetraveler July 18, 2014, 4:26 am

    I’d love to go to Cuba- but it’s hard to do it from the USA. Doable but challenging.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder July 18, 2014, 10:27 am

      Me too!!!

      Reply
  • Agness Walewinder July 18, 2014, 10:26 am

    :D!

    Reply
  • Renuka July 18, 2014, 4:51 pm

    Sorry, that’s off the topic, but Cuba looks so much like Mumbai – that pavement along the sea looks like Marine Drive in Mumbai. Looks like a lovely city! Good tips! (But I guess I have to travel there to find out what is cheap and what is expensive).

    Reply
  • Mike July 19, 2014, 12:01 am

    Lesh and Jazza…great guest post! Thank you for sharing them with us, Agness! That is so awesome you guys made it to Cuba! I’ve been fascinated all of my life to visit but it sounds like it’s difficult for Americans to get there if I understood correctly. Continue and enjoy your wonderful adventures! :)

    Reply
    • Jazza - NOMADasaurus July 19, 2014, 11:19 am

      Thanks very much, Mike. Appreciate it the kind words! Cuba was a fascinating country mate, and I definitely recommend visiting as soon as possible!

      Unless things have changed since we were there, it isn’t too hard for Americans to visit. You just need to fly via Mexico (Cancun is best) or possibly Canada. I know from Cancun they give you an exit stamp on a piece of paper, and then in Cuba they also give you an entry stamp on a different piece of paper. When you return to Mexico, ditch both the stamps and you have no evidence of leaving Mexico and entering Cuba. We met quite a few people from the United States on our trip.

      Hope you get there soon, buddy. Happy travels.

      Reply
  • Anna July 19, 2014, 7:12 am

    This is a great guest post! I didn’t know about the different currency for tourists and locals. That’s interesting. I heard that a lot of basic necessities things in Cuba are really expensive for locals, like toilet paper. How sad! But I would love to get the chance to visit someday.

    Reply
    • Jazza - NOMADasaurus October 24, 2014, 12:13 am

      It’s one of those strange things, because the government actually supplies its citizens with most amenities. Toilet paper is also only really prevalent in the Western world – it is rarely used elsewhere. Still, it is a fascinating place. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  • Escape Hunter July 19, 2014, 12:20 pm

    Very beautiful! I hope reality won’t be disappointing when I get there. And I also hope Cuba doesn’t change, but I’m afraid the process of change has already started.
    Those beautiful yank tanks won’t circulate forever on the streets and the decaying buildings will probably be restored as well.

    Reply
  • Franca July 19, 2014, 5:42 pm

    Thanks for sharing guys, Cuba is always been a place I’d love to go and it’s nice to know it can be done on a budget too! :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder July 20, 2014, 8:51 am

      Hope to go there one day… :-)

      Reply
  • realgunners July 20, 2014, 1:29 am

    Interesting post! In Malaysia, Cuba is famous only for Che Guevara and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I never thought much of Cuba as visiting destination, this is an eye opener.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder July 20, 2014, 8:51 am

      Great to know that!

      Reply
  • Mary {The World Is A Book} July 20, 2014, 7:06 am

    This was such an interesting read. Cuba is still a mystery especially for us, Americans, since it’s not easily accessible. It’s great to know things are cheap and I can’t get over the dual currency. Thanks – I learned quite a bit more about Cuba.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder July 20, 2014, 8:47 am

      I’ve heard that it’s “illegal” for Americans to travel in Cuba :-(.

      Reply
  • jan July 20, 2014, 10:55 am

    What an imaginative use of $25. Cuba would be such an intriguing place to visit and we can do it on a budget. Wonderful.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder July 21, 2014, 1:59 pm

      Indeed! :)

      Reply
  • Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans July 21, 2014, 5:10 pm

    Cuba is a high priority on my travel wish list although it’s difficult and costly for us Americans to travel there. But I’m planning on going there one of these days by way of Jamaica once I get my Jamaican citizenship. Cuba is such a fascinating country!

    Reply
    • Jazza - NOMADasaurus July 22, 2014, 1:41 am

      Hey Dana,

      It’s not any more costly for Americans to visit Cuba than it is for any other nationality. If you choose to go about it the ‘legal’ way then yes, you are going to need to fork out a lot of money to visit. Or just do what the vast majority of people do – go ‘illegally’.

      Book flights from Mexico, exchange a bunch of Mexican Pesos into CUC, and off you go! It’s no different to how everyone else enters the country, and your government very rarely actually prosecutes its citizens for visiting Cuba as a tourist.

      Reply
    • Agness Walewinder July 23, 2014, 4:02 pm

      Same here Dana!

      Reply
  • Anna @ shenANNAgans July 22, 2014, 1:33 am

    Wow, thats crazy they have a local & a tourist currency. Seems an odd way of doing things, would deter a lot from visiting. I read somewhere that if you have a visit to Cuba on your passport, it can make it rather difficult to venture to other destinations around the world, the US in particular, so I popped my visit to this fine destination on the lower end of the travel bucket list.

    Reply
    • Jazza - NOMADasaurus July 22, 2014, 1:45 am

      Hey Anna,

      Cuban immigration doesn’t put a stamp in your passport – just on a piece of paper. No concerns about having any evidence! We actually flew through the States directly after our trip to Cuba, via Mexico. No questions, no problems. Easy as pie!

      Reply
  • Victoria July 23, 2014, 10:31 pm

    This is a really good article Agness. I haven’t been to Cuba yet although I would love to.
    I’m not aching to go to South America but I would love to go to Cuba, Peru, Mexico, and Costa Rica. I have been to the Domincan Republic which was really expensive, but I was under the expression that Cuba was cheap. It seems that I was right. :)

    Reply
  • Christine July 24, 2014, 8:29 pm

    Yay! I love seeing bloggers write about Cuba. We absolutely loved it there and especially Havana! What an amazing city and perfect for budget travelers!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder July 28, 2014, 2:38 am

      I’m glad to hear that Christine!

      Reply
  • Krystelle August 2, 2014, 4:20 am

    Thanks for the insider tips! We are heading there in just under three months and this information is invaluable!

    Reply

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