Basically there are 2 types of accommodation in Cuba: Hotels and Casas Particular.
Hotels are state owned (at least 51% but let’s not get technical) and don’t live up to the international classification. Deduct at least one star for the real comfort level. So if you are looking for a terrible price/quality ratio go for a Hotel.
‘Hostal’ is a classification invented by the Cubans. It’s just a different name for a Casa Particular with more than 1 room. Cubans think it has a classy ring to it!
Some innovative Cubans came up with the idea to rent out beds in dormitories per bed and not per room on a Casa Particular permit. Hence the hostel was created. They are perfect for the solo budget traveller. So a hostel is simply a Casa Particular that rents beds in shared rooms.
Casas typically charge 25 CUC and up per room (in Havana). Hostels for backpackers start at 6 CUC per bed. So if you are travelling alone it is a lot cheaper and much more fun because you will make new like-minded friends from all over the world, that are also travelling on a similar budget.
You can spend all the money you want in Cuba; it is not a cheap destination. It’s not Asia, and you definitely can’t live on 5 $ per day. We’ll explore a reasonable budget here.
First of all, you have to get there. We have no clue about from where you will be arriving or where you want to go so we’ll omit the flight. From Europe, you could take the boat in Rotterdam if you want to travel slowly (about three weeks, via Venezuela). It’s a very relaxed and slow, but you don’t have a jet lag upon arrival!
What should be in your budget?
We’ll explore each of those below.
We would not recommend hotels. They are expensive, not so good as you would hope and always should have a star or 2 less than they boast next to their names. (Fun to know, Hotel Parque central literary lost two stars recently… Nobody got hurt!)
Still, want to stay in a hotel? Budget between 25 for a dump up to 600 for the five stars in Havana.
Most travel websites and guides recommend staying in a Casa Particular, and I would mildly agree with them. It’s the Cuban version of a BnB and in general, offer a much higher price/quality ratio than the official hotels. You can find a Casa particular from 20CUC and up. 20 CUC is very hard to find and impossible in Havana Veilla, Viñales or Trinidad. Prices are usually per room and without breakfast. Here’s how to book a casa particular.
Most travel advice stops here. So let’s look deeper to bring a standard budget down a bit
The Campismos are all located off the beaten track. They are some sorts of holiday parks with little cabins. Most are in the middle of beautiful nature. I would recommend everybody to spend a night or two in a Campismo. Prices range from 2 to 8 CUC per night per cabin. You need a car, bike or creative transport to get there. Reservations are difficult, to say the least… Just show up and talk to the receptionist (if there is one). Every major town has a Campismo Popular office. The Campismos are hard to find and not easy to reach. You probably need a rental car to get there. But they are cheap, fun and this is the real Cuban adventure.
Hostels are a new formula in Cuba. Especially in Havana. Based on a Casa Particular permit, hostels put up to six beds in a room and rent them for 5 to 8 CUC per night. These are great budget places, especially for backpackers and single travellers.
Some Cubans are willing to rent you a room for a night or two for a tenner in an unlicensed house (all Casas particular need an official licence, are very much state controlled and pay rather hefty taxes). Risks are not so high as you might think. The police might kick you out at 3 o’clock in the morning, and then you have to find another house. Chances of this happening are very low. Cubans, however, take bigger risks. If the police kick you out, they will get a huge fine (in CUC) and risk losing their house altogether. It’s not possible for you as a foreigner to estimate how high the probability of this happening is, so leave that to the Cuban offering you a room. He is well aware of the risk he is taking and probably took his precautions or has his connections that minimise the potential problem. So if someone offers you an illegal house, bargain the price, and I have no objection you stay there.
All prices (except hotels and Campismo’s) are negotiable. Put some effort in negotiating, and you will save about 20%.
Summary sleeping budget:
It’s impossible to find a place to sleep below 8 CUC. The absolute minimum budget would be ten on average… You will be sleeping in Hostels and Campismos at least 2/3 of the time to get to this budget. Hostels being not very comfortable and lacking privacy and Campismo are not very practical or easy to reach. More of a realistic budget for sleeping would be 25-30 per night per room. If you want to spend a lot of time in Old Havana, Viñales or Trinidad your budget goes up with about 5 CUC/night since those places are more expensive.
How do you want to eat? On the low-end, you can survive on 4 CUC a day or even less if you are willing to eat Cuban Pizza every night. (Believe me, pizza sounds good, but you are not prepared to eat more than one a week.) Breakfast in your Casa typically costs 4-5 (pp) and negotiating will bring that down to 3-4. Breakfast in the cafeteria down the street (there is always one): Coffee, a cheese sandwich, and a fresh juice cost about 80 cents. To be paid in Moneda Nacional (Read this to get a clue about the double currency system). Lunch and dinner are the same stories.
In a cafeteria, you can get a full meal for about 2 CUC and a pizza for 10 – 20 MN.
Dinner in your Casa Particular should cost between 8 for pork and chicken up to 12 for lobster and crocodile (the last being illegal but tasty!). You can spend between 7 and 100 CUC per meal in the paladars and restaurants. Spending a lot of money on food in Cuba does not mean it’s good by definition. Some restaurants offer great price/quality ratios others minor ones. Home cooking sounds good, but you will not have a kitchen with the equipment nor the ingredients. Herbs, pepper, fresh pasta… Forget it if you don’t stay long term.
You can save a lot of money eating cheap. You could eat (rather well) for about 3-4 CUC per day. But that’s hard work. I recommend you use a budget of 15 and if you want to eat well every meal to about 30. Sometimes you will spend more, sometimes less. On average you can eat on 15 per day.
Your budget for transportation depends on how many kilometres you want to travel and how comfortable you want to do that. A rental car doubles your budget. (Read more about rental cars here).
Different forms of transportation
In the town, the bus costs 40 Centavos (MN), and if it’s not too crowded, you can perfectly take it. Avoid very crowded buses, as your pockets, will probably be picked. Between towns, you have to take the Viazul. Often these are full (they are not, and a solution to this problem is in our book). On the Viazul site, you can find prices and departure times. The Viazul is the only thing that sticks to a timetable in Cuba!
Taxis, both legal and illegal
Shared taxis should be slightly more expensive than a Viazul ticket. See ‘rental cars’ for more information about the illegal taxis. Legal taxis that put on the meter are costly and don’t add very much to comfort or speed. So why take them?
These are freight trucks that have been modified to carry passengers. They are getting better every year! Commercial buses cannot be used by a private enterprise, so private transport is done with a truck. The price (for you) should be around 1/3 of the Viazul price for the same trajectory. In Havana, they leave from the central train station. They don’t have timetables and stick to that principle very well.
Don’t. Period… Just don’t.
Same advice… Don’t
Summary Transport budget.
Make a rough estimate of the number of kilometres you are going to travel and divide that number by 18 if you’re taking buses 15 for illegal taxis (this is pp). Double that if you rent a car.
In town, you take fixed route taxis or buses they do not affect your budget.
Please prepare and take everything you need. There is nothing you can buy in Cuba that is better or cheaper than at home. Just don’t go shopping.
A beer costs 1 or 1,50 in a club. Cola (the Cuban version) 55 cents and a mojito between 1 and 7. I spent about 5 per day for drinks, but some people don’t get to noon with that. I’ll leave this to your personal needs or perception of them. Put 10 CUC in your budget if you are not a sponge and you will be all right. A bottle of rum always comes in handy and costs about 7 for a good rum.
For most places, you pay 10 to get in. Live music in Old Havana and the Malecon is free. So are open air concerts and street parties. Buy a bottle of rum and some cups, sit on the Malecon, share the rum and you will have a party!
Museums are between 4 and 8 CUC. Ballet and opera 25 (which is worth it… I’ve seen Rigoletto with about 80 singers on stage!) The cinema is 80 cents and looking at prime classic cars on Saturdays (at the Piraqua) is free.
You are a tourist, and the bad news is that you are not going to make real friends in a few days. Company has a price in Cuba. For a friend put 5 CUC per day per friend in your budget and for the more exotic company (male or female or both, whatever makes you tick) about 50 to 80 per day. I’m not going to elaborate on this as I believe consenting adults should do what they consent to do… But before you read this please.
You can survive for 40-50 CUC pp per day. With a bit of clue, you can bring that down to 30. Without any clue, you are going to spend 70-100 CUC per day. With ‘company’ and without a clue you will pay about 200 a day. Good luck!
Knowing how to handle the jineteros will cut your budget by at least 20%. Here’s how!