We’ve already covered The Cost Of Travelling In Cuba, but what if you’re on a strict budget, or you want to cut down your costs considerably so that you can stay in Cuba longer? Cuba doesn’t have to be a $100 / day destination, in fact, you can get by on far less than that if you know how to travel the country cheaply.
In this article, we’re going to break down 5 simple methods that you can help keep your money in your pocket, so that you can travel Cuba on the cheap! How cheap? We know people who have spent less than $15 / day and while we wouldn’t recommend limiting your trip this much, it just proves that it is possible to get by on very little.
1. Spend More CUP & Less CUC
Cuba has two currencies and although this can be very confusing for travellers, it can also help you to save a ton of money in Cuba… if you know where to spend each currency. The CUC is pegged equal to the USD, while 1 CUP is worth just 4 cents US. Obviously, the more you spend CUP and the less you spend CUC, the cheaper your trip will become. But you can’t spend CUP everywhere!
Remember: CUC = Expensive / CUP = Cheap
Basically, you can use CUP to buy street food, pay for local transport and buy groceries at the market. The best way to save money in Cuba is to buy cheap peso food, instead of eating at fancy, CUC-charged restaurants.
But just how much can you save with CUP?
If you eat a pizza at a CUC restaurant, it will probably cost you around $10, while a pizza at a CUP peso food stand will not cost more than $1 (often just 50 cents). A fresh fruit juice in a restaurant will cost around $3, while the same juice at a peso joint will be around 4 cents.
You can save even more money on food by purchasing groceries from the local market using CUP and then cooking up meals at your casa particular (home stay). While we wouldn’t recommend forgoing all Cuban food in restaurants and always cooking for yourself for budget reasons, cooking your own meals is a good way to save money on a few meals throughout the week.
Local transport can offer the same savings in CUP. If you hire a CUC tourist taxi, it will likely cost you about $5 – $8 for a short ride, but hop on a local collectivo taxi that charges in CUP and you won’t spend more than 50 cents! There are also two inter-city bus lines – the Viazul and the Astro. The Viazul bus, while more comfortable and reliable, charges tickets in CUC and therefor is more expensive. The Astro charges in CUP and is about half the cost.
2. Stay In Casa Particulars
There is no reason why you wouldn’t want to stay in a casa particular. They are cheap, clean, comfortable and they offer you the chance to stay with a local family. Hotels in Cuba are all state-run, so by staying in them you are not really putting money into the pockets of local Cubans. Casa particulars are family-owned and operated and they are much cheaper than hotels in Cuba. A typical casa will cost you around $10 / night, while a hotel will likely be $80 or more. Casas also offer the best meals and the friendliest ambiance in all of Cuba. We booked all of our casa particulars through HostelsClub.com.
3. Bargain, Bargain, Bargain.
As a gringo (foreigner) travelling in Cuba, you’ll be overcharged for just about everything. It’s not personal, so don’t let it hurt your feelings. Just learn how to have fun with it and get ready for some bartering.
The art of haggling is a part of day-to-day life in Cuba, so you better get used to it. Every time you buy something, unless it has a price tag (and sometimes even if it does), you’re going to want to ask for a lower price.
We were overcharged for everything from bottled water to souvenirs while we were in Cuba, and we consider ourselves to be pretty good at bargaining, so just know that whatever price you get, a Cuban would probably get it for less.
Whenever you’re bargaining, keep it light and always have a smile on your face. If the price doesn’t seem fair to you, just walk away and say “no gracias“.
4. Don’t Get Scammed
Having to bargain for purchased goods isn’t a scam, it’s just a part of living and travelling in Cuba, but there are real scams here to be aware of and while Cuba is a very safe place to travel, knowing what to watch out for can save you a ton of money. Basically, most scams will happen in the touristy towns of Havana and Trinidad, while outside of those cities you won’t likely have any issues.
There is a very low rate of violent crime in Cuba, so it is unlikely that you will be robbed or mugged, these rip-offs are just harmless ways of parting tourists from their hard-earned cash… and Cuban jineteros (street hustlers) are skilled at their craft.
The Befriend Scam: If a Cuban (usually male) approaches you on the street and seems to be very friendly, you should be immediately cautious. It’s not a very nice to say that all Cubans in Havana & Trinidad are out to scam you, but the truth is that most encounters in these cities will have an underlying motive. Usually the jinetero will lead you to “his brothers'” bar and you’ll sit down for a bunch of drinks, and when the bill comes you’re new friend will disappear and you’ll be stuck with the check.
The Overcharge: Often the bar that your jinetero friend took you to will be in cahoots with him and will charge you ridiculous rates for everything you buy. But this isn’t the only place you’ll be overcharged in Cuba. ALWAYS check your bill and your change when you’re in Cuba. More times than not, you won’t receive the correct amount of money back.
The CUP Change Trick: This is an easy one to fall for. Basically, you pay for something in CUC (valuable) and you are given back change in CUP (not valuable). With this scam, hustlers can steal hundreds of dollars / day without any tourists noticing until they go and try to spend the bills elsewhere. Study the difference between CUP and CUC bills and don’t fall for this one!
5. Ask A Local
With local wages topping out at an equivalent of $25 / month, it’s no surprise that Cubans know where to find a good bargain. Ask a local before doing anything. Not only will they tell you the best places to have great local experiences, but they’ll know how to do it on the cheap! The best people to ask are the owners at your casa particular. Ask them how to get somewhere with local transport, where the best and cheapest restaurants are and where to find cheap beer! They’ll know it all.
Budget Smart, Don’t Sacrifice.
Travelling around Cuba is a pleasure, so make sure that you keep some money aside for those “luxury” experiences that make this country so amazing. Don’t miss out on live music because it’s expensive, make sure you take the odd tour and try not to limit your travels with too strict of a budget. It would be a shame to come here and miss out on many of the things that make Cuba so fascinating. Be smart, be savvy and have fun.