Cuba is a wildly underrated independent travel destination. Boasting more than just white sand beaches and holiday resorts, this massive island is home to a deep and rich culture, unique to its Spanish and African roots as well as its Latin American neighbours. It’s also home to lush jungles, beautiful tobacco plantations and jaw-droppingly topography worth writing home about. But what does it cost to travel in this Caribbean island nation? We spent nearly a month here, travelling independently and staying in Casa Particulars (Cuban home stays) and we can honestly say that Cuba can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it.
Unfortunately, Canadians have created a reputation for themselves in Cuba as the visitors that go to Cuba, but never really sees Cuba. Ask any Cuban in the travel industry and they will tell you that Canadians always go to Varadero and never see “the real Cuba”. It’s time to leave the beach resort behind for a day, a week or for your entire trip and discover that Cuba is truly a traveller’s paradise. But what will it cost you to steer away from bottomless booze and mediocre meals? Let’s break it down:
Visa for Entry & Exit Tax ($20):
As Canadians, you will be offered 90 days of unrestricted travel in Cuba, but before entering the country you will need to procure the $20 “tourism card”. Sometimes this cost is included in your flight ticket cost (ask your airline). If not, you can pick it up at the airport upon check-in.
There used to be a $25 exit fee for all visitors to Cuba that was to be paid at the airport upon leaving the country, but as of May 1st of 2015, this tax no longer exists.
Insurance ($2 / Day):
All travellers to Cuba must have valid traveller’s insurance for which you will be checked at the airport upon arrival. Most Canadians between the ages of 25 and 50 should be able to get basic insurance for around $2 / day so it’s not a big cost, but make sure you have it before arriving!
Getting There & Away (Around $1,000):
We highly recommend searching for flights from Canada to Havana with Kayak where you can find a return flight from Toronto in high-season for about $700. From Vancouver they are about $1,000, but we’ve heard of some crazy seat sales where you can get these flights for half-price or less.
Accommodation ($20 – $30 / Night):
Truly one of the best aspects of travelling in Cuba is the opportunity to stay with a local family. Before you turn down this prospect because you want your own space or for your love of clean and comfortable hotel rooms, you should understand that every Casa Particular (Cuban home stay) we stayed in gave us our own area of the home, a large and clean private room with a private bathroom and all of the space and privacy that we could have asked for. Many of the rooms compared to that of 3 star hotels in size and quality, with the added bonus of a local family there to help at every turn. Travelling around Cuba and missing out on the experience of staying at Casa Particulars would be a shame and at $20 – $30 / night, you really can’t go wrong!
Food ($0.25 – $15 / Meal):
I know, that’s a pretty big stretch isn’t it, from 25 cents to $15. The reason for this difference is the dual currency that is still in place in Cuba. If you go to “Peso Food Stands” where you can use the National Peso (CUP), you can enjoy a tasty egg sandwich and a cup of fresh guava juice for less than a buck. If you go to a tourist restaurant where you have to spend Convertible Pesos (CUC), then you’ll spend at least $3 for a local chicken and rice meal, or up to $15 for a large lobster feast. We highly recommend eating at your Casa Particular where the owners can cook you up an amazing spread for around $6 – $10! We’ll be writing more about the dual currency of Cuba soon so stay tuned to Credit Walk for that information.
Transportation (Around $4 / hour):
As a tourist independently travelling Cuba, you’ll most likely be taking the local 1st class, air-conditioned bus (Viazul) and state taxis. We found that the Viazul buses average about $4 / hour, so if you’re on the bus for 5 hours it will probably cost you around $20. Amazingly, taxis in between cities are often the same price so definitely shop around before buying a bus ticket. If you’re going on a major tourist route (i.e: Trinidad to Havana), you should head into an Infotur travel agency office and ask about shared taxis. They’re usually the same or cheaper than the bus and much faster and more comfortable. You can find Infotur Travel Agencies all over the country.
Tours (Around $25 / half-day)
Of course, $25 is a very vague estimate because it entirely depends on what activities you hope to do. A car and driver will cost you about $50 for the entire day and a horse tour will generally cost you around $25 for a half day. If you plan to visit multiple sites and pay entrance fees etc. then this amount will increase significantly. A walking guide should be cheaper than horses and a driver that speaks English will always cost a bit more.
Scuba Diving ($25 – $45 / Dive)
Even though scuba diving centers are all state-run in Cuba, the prices actually vary quite a bit from place to place. Generally the cheapest place to dive is around The Bay Of Pigs (excellent diving) and will cost around $25 / dive including all equipment. Other places can be upwards of $45 for one dive and if you plan to visit the world-famous Los Jardines de la Reina, you’ll have to join a live-aboard and your prices will quickly go up.
Getting Money In Cuba:
It is best to bring in all of the Canadian dollars you will need for your trip and exchange it at a local Cardeca (Cuban Money Exchange) while in the country. You can take out money from ATMs in Cuba using your credit or debit cards, but be aware that there will be a hefty 3% “currency conversion fee” added by the Cuban bank, as well as any fees your Canadian bank may charge. ATMs only dispense Convertible Pesos (CUC) so if you’d like to procure CUP for cheap meals and produce, you’ll have to visit a Cardeca and exchange for them there.
Average Daily Budget in Cuba ($60 – $100 / couple):
There is such a huge difference in what things cost in Cuba that a travel budget in the country is very hard to pinpoint. Basically, if you eat a lot of peso food (which is still tasty) and don’t do too many tours, a couple could get by on about $60 / day. We recommend budgeting $100 / day for a couple, because you will then be able to eat delicious seafood meals, take lots of tours and really get to enjoy the country.
No matter how you budget your trip for Cuba, you’re in for a great experience. Instead of sticking entirely to expensive, cultureless resorts, try to get out and visit “the real Cuba” for at least a couple of days, if not your entire trip. Let’s make a new name for Canadians and show the Cuban people that we are interested in their fascinating culture and not just in white sand beaches and cocktails. Cuba is out there, waiting to be explored and it can be done on the cheap. So get out there! See it before it changes forever.