The island nation of Cuba continues to grow in popularity with travellers flocking here to relax on the beautiful beaches, drink rum, dance salsa, stay in an authentic casa particular with a Cuban family and discover the faded grandeur of a nation frozen in time by political forces.
While there are many package deals available for well-off tourists looking to discover this unique holiday destination, for those who wish to explore for a little less, there are a few ways to do Cuba on a smaller budget. Travel experts recommend a daily budget of CUC$60 (same value as USD) if you want to travel on the cheap side of things. However, to stay within this limit, travellers will need to be savvy with their cash and their choices. Read on for some ideas on how to save money during your budget Cuban break!
Don’t be a tourist!
Visitors arriving in Cuba will discover that there is a segregated system here. One service and price for foreigners, who tend to afford a higher price, and a low-cost option for locals.
Travellers who dress like the typical tourist will often find themselves paying a higher price than those who attempt to blend in with the local culture. Consider ditching any outward signs of affluence, such as visible cameras and jewellery (always a good idea for tourists wishing to avoid becoming a target). Attempt to learn enough Spanish to communicate well with those you will be dealing with during your stay.
While visitors will have to exchange their foreign currency for the tourist dollar ($CUC), you should be aware that residents in the country actually deal in the second kind of cash – the $MN – national money. You may be able to request the change from informal sellers in the national money. Then, use this for payments to street vendors etc. who usually charge less in local currency.
Budget accommodation in Cuba
Travel agents will attempt to sell you a room in one of the government-run hotels in Cuba. You will save a lot of cash by looking at the other options available. Consider one of the great self-catering vacation apartments in Havana or opt for one of the Casas Particulares. That’s where local residents are permitted to rent rooms to visitors. Rates are usually set per room, rather than per person. So, consider travelling with friends to save money.
Getting about on a budget
Tourists will be steered in the direction of dedicated tours, taxis and the specially laid on “tourist buses”. All of which are likely to be more costly than the options available to those who live in Cuba. Consider taking accommodation in an area central to where you wish to explore. This will allow you to do a lot of your exploring on foot. You’ll need to get up early, though, as the hot climate in this country makes it inadvisable to be exerting your body in the full heat of the day!
You can buy a bicycle (and then sell it on!) or hire one in the capital, Havana. This is another cost-effective travel option for those looking to explore a smaller area. If you do want to take a bus, keep an eye out for the local Astrobus service. Be aware that these services have only two seats for overseas visitors, so they are not a great option for groups. Do NOT attempt to hitchhike to save money on travel in Cuba. Local drivers who pick you up could be accused of operating an unlicensed taxi service and be punished for attempting to help you out.
Eating on a budget in Cuba
Food is an important part of your Cuban holiday budget, so consider carefully how you can cut this cost. You may want to choose the “full board” option at your Casa Particulare. This incurs a charge but ensures access to generous portions, morning and evening. Another option is trawling the markets and street food stands for bargains. Diners should be mindful of health and safety when opting for foods prepared in not-so-clean places!
Enjoying Cuba for less
Once you have the basics covered, you are free to explore this amazing country to your heart’s content. Free fun includes the beautiful beaches and amazing architecture, and street dancing displays and vintage cars provide free distractions throughout the day. Don’t forget to take a lot of photos to remind yourself of this amazing destination!