The capital of Cuba is the biggest city in the Caribbean. ‘Havana es Havana’ say the Cubans, and it is hip and happening. The Old Lady is bent and bruised but just got a new hip and dances through life!
Havana has about 3 million inhabitants. (Officially it’s 2.1, but a lot of Cubans migrate to Havana illegally because in Cuba you can’t just move to another town.) They all come looking for work and fortune, and you just might be it! (See ‘how to handle jineteros.)
Do spend more time in Havana than you initially planned. The city is much bigger and more interesting than just the Old Town and Vedado. If you want to get to know the town and look behind the mask, it puts up for tourists. My friends and I at TripUniq can give you a hand. We know the city like the back of our hands and will not only show you what most tourists miss, we’ll tell you where to eat well and cheap, reveal some secrets and be your virtual friend.
Some facts about Havana
On average one building comes down per day.
The sewage systems date from 1911 and the much-needed renovation is sponsored by Kuwait.
Its nick is ‘city of Columns’ and was founded in 1519.
The whole of the Old town and the 9 kilometres of Malecon are Unesco World Heritage.
Fine beaches at 15 minutes drive by beach bus.
Havana is a metropolis, and you cannot ‘do’ it in two days. Don’t go to Havana to shop!
It’s is also the scam capital of the world. Everywhere in the world tourists are being scammed. Usually, lower class bums do that. In Havana however, the university professor and the dentist join the game because they too have to make a buck or two to get through the day. This makes life as a tourist just a bit more challenging… If you know how to handle them, jineteros are fun. If you don’t, you will get scammed a few times and from then on just ignore all Cubans. Which is a pity because Cubans are interesting, cultivated and fun!
Do prepare, please.
Prepare yourself for a different mentality, and you will have a better time in Cuba.
Talking about time: On the ‘get the eBook’ page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours on the airport… You don’t have to buy the book, just get the tip.
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!
Cuba has slowly opened up the Internet. First, there was the problem that all Internet communication should go via satellite and that made it slow and costly. Consequently, Internet access was slow and expensive.
Then, in 2011 the optic fibre cable connecting Cuba with Venezuela stirred hope, but nothing much happened. Stories about sharks eating the cable and some government official buying the wrong cable explained nothing. Internet stayed slow and prices high. 2 CUC per hour in a country where average wages are about three times that amount (per month) means that an average Cuban paid 30% of his monthly income for 1 (ONE) hour of internet. (That all of this is plain bulsh#t must be clear… we explain it in our book)
In June 2015 Etecsa, the Cuban telecom monopoly opened up WiFi zones in every city. Prices went down to 1.5 CUC an hour in 2017 if you could buy a scratch card. These cards are always sold out but can be bought on the streets for 2 CUC. The mechanism of this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this article, but some people are making big bucks here.
‘Tomorrow I’ll take you to a free WiFi spot” whispered a friend of mine…
He sparked my interest… Free WiFi? WTF!!! In Cuba?!?
The next day we were on our way. First the bus, then an almendron and a short walk. After an hour we arrived at the studios of KCHO. And even outside the wall, there were many, many people surfing on their laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Kcho opened up his Internet connection and on the wall (on the outside) he explains the few simple steps to connect to his network. And it is Free!
No Free WiFi for you
Before you run off to Kcho to update your FB status, I have to advise you not to. The abundance of young Cuban intellectuals all sharing this connection makes it slow. Very slow. You as a tourist are more than able to buy a scratch card and use the paid link. Don’t take away the bandwidth for people that cannot afford to buy it! But if you want an enjoyable excursion here’s Kcho studios (located on the corner of 7A and 120.
Password: abajoelbloqueo(down with the embargo)
Update April 2016:
Kcho now works together with Google… They opened the first Google centre in Cuba. 15 Chromebooks offer free internet! And it is broadband! On a critical note, the WiFi is free as in money but not free as in ‘do whatever you want.’ KHCO is a personal friend of Fidel and is monitoring content…
Update Feb 2018
Poof… Gone is Google and gone is the free WiFi… Good ETECSA (paid) connection dough… Must have something to do with Trump and Cuban politics or the fact that KHCO was caught with a joint.
Want some more hidden information on Cuba? Keep reading our blog or buy our Book (and no, the book is not a collection of blog posts) 🙂
This blog is about finding a fixer in Cuba. Sometimes a fixer is worth his weight in gold; others just cost their weight in gold. You have to make the difference.
Offers of fixers:
Cuban streets are full of people more than willing to help you out. In the tourist areas, they are all (yes, all) just after one thing: Becoming your fixer for an hour, day or week and getting as much money out of your pocket as possible. So streets are off limit if you want to find a fixer in Cuba.
How fixers work
Fixers have all kind of ways to earn money. The most used method is the commission system. A fixer will get commission where ever he takes you (and that commission is added to your bill). The more money you spent, the better for him… Guess what his primary objective will be?
You don’t need a fixer
But why would you need a fixer? You can fix everything yourself. Read our book to get up to speed on how to handle Cuba, and you will probably be a better fixer than anybody you will meet on the street!
Enjoy Cuba and fix it yourself!!! With our help it’s easy! Let us be your fixer from a distance! Fixing stuff in Cuba is a piece of cake. Order our book HERE, and we’ll give you a tip that will save about two hours one in Cuba… We fixed a waiting line problem.
Because Cuba is very safe, you can fix your own stay. Only if you really want a fixer and want to pay top dollars you can send us a mail at email@example.com. We will fix it. Orthis guy can be your fixer app in Havana 🙂
Or you could read our book. It’s faster and cheaper… 🙂
Don’t take a jinetero as your fixer. You will not buy his loyalty no matter what you pay.
Cuba is one of the last economies in the world where there is a cash only economy. So how much money do you need to take to Cuba? Of course, this depends on your life style. How much does a car cost?
Except in some hotels, plastic money is useless. To make matters worse, the few ATMs they have don’t accept your card (or will swallow it). You could go to a bank to get money with your credit card but please ask your bank if your card is valid in Cuba.
We mean it: Take cash to Cuba
The best way to an excellent money to Cuba is Cash. Big notes are no problem.
Some people think they should take Dollars since that is the number one international currency. That would be a mistake since Cuba is “at war” with the US they impose a 10% penalty to the Dollar. So if you are going to take money to Cuba, take Euro’s, Swiss Franks, Mexican Pesos or British Pounds.
Good travel shops have a money belt that you use as a regular belt.
It is a very discreet and functional way to transport and stash money.
How much money do you need?
How much money you need depends on the life style you want to lead, how manny friends you want to make and how much you know. In Cuba the ‘I don’t have a clue’ tax is very high. A typical budgetwill double if you are paying this tax. That’s why our book is a very good investment (and it’s funny too).
In Cuba, nothing is what you think it is. That is the fascinating aspect of the working man’s Paradise but also one of its pitfalls. Proper preparation will substantially reduce the cost of your stay.
How much money can you import?
Well up to 5000 $ you don’t have to declare your money. Above that you have to. Declaring it does not really matter… You can bring as much as you like… Cuba as a state likes you to bring money (and leave it behind).
Money in Cuba is different
We spent a whole chapter in our book on money because it is a surprisingly complicated matter in Cuba. They have a double currency system. CUC and MN. To make things clear they are both indicated with a dollar sign and both called Peso. But one is worth 25 times more than the other. This simple phrase alone should convince you that you should prepare at least a bit before you go to Cuba.
A typical budget for prepared people would be around 40-60 Euros per day per person but unprepared this can easily double for exactly the same holiday. Prices for a cup of coffee vary from 2 CUC to 1 Peso in the next door place. That is 50 times cheaper! For the same coffee… Taxis will charge you a high ‘no clue tax’, as will restaurants, casas and everybody else. Get a clue please!
Get a clue!
We recommend a good preparation before you decide to take your money to Cuba, it makes a huge difference. It’s always better to be prepared than surprised… And you will be surprised!
To help you prepare we wrote a ‘tell it like it is’ no-nonsense guidebook. Please read it; it will enhance your pleasure and reduce your costs.
Please don’t think this blog explains everything… the book goes one or sometimes two levels deeper :-)…
If you want, you can get it here. We offer a no good, money back guarantee and since we’re not Cuban, we stick to our word :-).
Anyway, onthis pagewe have a tip that will save you a few hours at the airport… you’re welcome 🙂
A casa particular is the official Bed and Breakfast in Cuba. They are often referred to as ‘sleeping in the houses of real Cubans’. This is a euphemism. Most owners of the Casas are social upper-class, party members and relatively rich. The real Cuban cleans and cooks at your Casa Particular for 2 or 3 CUC a day.
The word “casa particular” means ‘private or lonely house’… that’s why most of them are in buildings and crowded areas… :-). Bring ear plugs, Cuba has a wall of back ground noice.
The real Cuban houses
If you want to know how real Cubans live, get yourself invited to a meal at the home of the cleaning lady at your casa. Be discreet; Casa owners do not like their personnel to mingle with tourists. So that you know, the owner of your Casa Particular is NOT a typical Cuban.
Still the Casas are by far the best way to get to know the country. I would prefer a Casa Particular above a hotel anytime. Better service, better food, better beds (most of the time), friendlier people and more freedom.
You can recognise an official Casa by this sign.
It has to be blue. The red signs indicate that’s a Casa Particular for Cubans only, mostly rented by the hour.
Staying in a Casa Particular has some pitfalls too. That’s why you should read our book. We help you travel Cuba the smart way and will not only save you a lot of money, we will give you insights about the country, and it’s people that are off the record and (sometimes) politically incorrect but true.
You can either pre-book your Casa over the internet or find yourself one on the spot. Here is a site with many Casa’s. Finding a Casa Particular is no problem. I never pre-book and always get a good deal because I understand the game… You might too if you go through the trouble of reading our book.
Still, the Casa particular is by far the best way to get to know the Cuba. We help you understand the way this works and explain what you can negotiate and what not.
You must understand that the Casas are heavily taxed and thus seem very expensive if you compare their prices to the monthly pay a Cuban receives. But they are only taxed on the rooms they rent, not on the food they serve you.
We have a whole chapter of tips and advice how to handle the pitfalls you can encounter in your Casa. Please read it to prepare your stay. You can start by reading part of our book on this site.
To download the whole book, you must compensate our troubles with a few Euros :-).
Negotiate a lot and about everything. That does not make you cheap; they will respect you for it.
Spent a few days at a Campismo, they are very cheap
Never arrive somewhere with a Cuban by your side.
Ignore everybody that talks to you on the street.
Don’t make Cuban friends.
Speak Spanish. Nothing drives up prices more than the inability to communicate.
Know what you owe and count your change.
Eat 5 pesos pizza (once).
Book your Casa beforehand, using the Internet. Or read this.
Stay away from the tourist areas.
Don’t believe anything anybody tells you.
Use MN whenever you can.
It can be fun to be cheap
Not all of these tips will enhance the fun you have, but they all bring your budget down. Other ways make Cuba cheap and preserve the quality of your holiday: For those tips we refer to our book, which is cheap too, compared to the savings it will bring.
Your Spanish is better than you think!
Nothing raises prices more than the inability to communicate. Learn some Spanish!
You know more Spanish than you think. Almost all words that have more than three syllables in English are derived from Latin and have the same meaning in Spanish. Just pronounce: reservation, communication, vocabulary, direction, investigation or permission with a Spanish accent and you will be understood.
An exception would be ‘introduction’ (‘exception’ itself is no exception by the way), if you ask to be introduced to someone, you are asking if you could put part of yourself into the other person. In Spanish, you present yourself
You see, your Spanish is already a lot better than you think.
During the next part, I will put the Spanish word between brackets just to show you how good your Spanish already is. (to read that part.. you have to buy the book 🙂 though… Sorry…)
Save money, buy our book
No matter how hard you try, Cuba will never become cheap as long as you are not a Cuban. So the best tip to make Cuba cheap… become a Cuban… :-)… the second best tip is to read our book. We’ll give you a time-saving tip on this page…
To discover Cuba cheaply is quite impossible… You can go to Cuba cheap, but then you do not discover it. The cheap way to go to Cuba, without actually getting to know it, is to take an all-inclusive holiday package, which will get you to the working man’s paradise but you will be in a hotel where only the bad quality and lousy service will give you an impression of the real Cuba.
We can, however, help you to discover the real Cuba cheap(ish) by helping you to avoid al the scams, show you the ropes of the Cuban way of negotiation and give you an overall impression about how cheap things can get if you know more about the mechanisms of the market.
You can, and must, use the two currencies. The more you use Moneda Nacional, the cheaper Cuba becomes.
No Clue Tax
In Cuba, nothing is what it seems… You should wrap your mind around that statement to get a clue. It’s expensive not to understand how things work. The no-clue tax in Cuba can be very high. Please get a clue!
Our whole book is about how to manage this complicated country. The less you know, the more expensive Cuba is. Although it will never become really cheap, we can cut your budget in half. It will cost you a tenner, but the rewards will be great!
Not only will Cuba become quiet cheap if you know where to look for what and what to avoid, but it will also become a lot more fun and a lot less frustrating.