Travel Cuba on a Budget — Yes, Cuba

Despite the romantic idealization that some people have of Cuba, it’s not a cheap place to stay unless you know just what to do.

Americans are, for the most part, banned from visiting Cuba. However, tourism remains a vital part of Cuba’s economy — and that inevitably means higher prices and costs. With that in mind, it’s important to be familiar with the two different currencies used in the country — the CUC, a convertible peso for the tourists with the same exchange rate as the US dollar, and the Cuban peso which is used by the locals. Although it’s wise to stick to the CUC, you’ll inevitably end up with a few pesos in your pocket, which you can use to buy small things like coffee and bottled water. Don’t fall for street hustlers offering to exchange currencies for you; it’s likely to be a scam.

The Caribbean country has 300 days of sunshine each year and an average temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit, so there’s no need to worry too much about what time of year you go, but bear in mind that the cheapest times to travel tend to be April through the end of June, and late September until December. Instead of booking a hotel or hostel, casa particulares are a good alternative for the traveler on a budget, which are state-licensed rooms for rent in private homes for roughly 15-30 CUCs a night and a little extra for meals, Cuba Junky has a list of reliable and rated places to stay. The licenses must be shown in windows, so it’s easy to spot where you can stay, and if they have no space they will help you find somewhere else.

If you’re not careful, traveling around Cuba can get expensive very fast. Hitchhiking is dangerous, and taxi services are costly; renting cars is a great idea in advance, as it will save you up to 11% card fees. If you’re planning to book cheap holidays to Cuba, then it’s best to think in advance as your CUCs will go a lot further if you rent cars in advance and primarily take the bus or walk. Tourist hotspots are the most expensive places you can go, but locals will be happy to point you in the direction of something more authentic (and more reasonable).

Hitchhiking across Cuba might sound adventurous, but it’s definitely not a good idea, even if you speak Spanish. Providing unlicensed taxi services to foreigners is illegal in Cuba, and you may end up being pulled over by the police and removed from the car if you’re caught. Usually licensed taxi services can be quite expensive, but renting cars in advance can save you some ridiculous extra fees. The bus system is also good and inexpensive.

One last piece of advice you may not think of: Toiletries and medical supplies are considered a luxury in Cuba, and you may find it difficult to track down even the most basic items — although when you do they will cost a lot more than you would think. So make sure you bring enough sun tan lotion, hand sanitizer and toiletries for the length of your stay, or you’ll pay for it.

Photo Credit: Natalie Maynor


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    Americans aren’t exactly “blocked” or “banned from visiting”… At least on the Cuban end of things, they’re welcome with open arms to visit. It’s self-imposed American boycott laws of visiting that restrict travel there. If you want to actually change attitudes and policy somewhere, wouldn’t it make more sense to overrun with your own retiring fanny-pack wearing Baby Boomers? Cripes, if they changed the laws and opened the floodgates, Cuba wouldn’t know what hit them. It would certainly change government more than any embargo does.

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    Lisa says

    Travel from the U.S. to Cuba is possible if it’s for a cultural exchange type reason. My daughter’s softball team and her high school’s baseball team went early this year. It was a great trip.

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    Aunt Jenny says

    I have a couple of friends that have gone to Cuba recently. They have both gone thru local colleges that are offering educational trips (exchanges?). They both thought the trip was fascinating. Huge black market economy that is right out in the open. They were also told that if you are an American you can’t bring souvenirs back with you, unless it falls under the category of art, and they were all told that no, a refrigerator magnet is not considered art. The cars are something to see over there, old cars (from the 50s) that are very well kept and beautiful. I think there’s a documentary out there somewhere about the cars of Cuba if anyone is interested.

    Overall, they said that they found the people that they met to be very nice and very hopeful that things are going to open up soon. They said it was definitely worth the trip to go.


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