I’ve written about why you need to get yourself to Havana now, my take on the interesting economic situation in Cuba at the moment, and the 15 best things to do in Havana, so it’s only fair I offer you a quick cost breakdown and a few budget tips so you can start planning your trip!
As I always stipulate when offering cost breakdowns, what you spend is so personal because it’s based not only on how much you have the ability to spend, but also on what’s important to you.
Bear that in mind, but know that I travel with a “broke and choosy” mindset, meaning I pick and choose what seems of value and happily eat a cheap meal in exchange for a few mojitos on a patio later.
Travel Costs in Cuba
Like many others, we stayed in a little apartment in Havana Vieja rather than a fancy hotel. I can’t tell you what the hotels cost, but I can tell you that a 1.5 bedroom apartment ran us at $50 CUC (remember, that’s equivalent to USD) a night.
We were allowed four people in that apartment, but the rooms were somewhat connected and not entirely private. A full two bedroom apartment would have been around $60-100 a night.
Food is where it really varies. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll find some places that are meant for locals and where you can get an entire pizza or big bowl of pasta for less than $1 CUC. But the pricing will be in Pesos and so it might be confusing.
Here’s how to keep it straight:
Remember that 24 Pesos = 1 CUC and it should be obvious (most of the time) what something costs. You will never have to pay 25 CUC for a pasta (I would hope!), so if you see pasta with the price of 25 next to it, it’s likely priced in Pesos and you can therefore assume it’s only going to cost you $1!
There are more mid-range options than anything, with meals between $4-12, and a few pricier places of course. The closer to the tourist strip on Obispo street, often the pricier. Look for little hole-in-the-wall places selling entire meals for cheap if you’re on a budget! And ask if you’re not sure which currency they’re using.
Buying a bit of food and eating breakfast in will keep costs down significantly, as you can get bread, fruit and eggs all for mere cents at a local market (or the carts passing by in the streets).
A bottle of rum in a shop costs about $5, but one drink at a restaurant is about $3-4.
Tourist activities are where you can really rack up some costs, but they also vary a ton. An hour in one of the pimped out vintage cars will run you about $50 CUC. But the bus tours are only $5 CUC. Museums were between $5-8 CUC and many of the things worth seeing and doing are totally free.
I think it would be fair to say that a couple could spend two weeks in Havana, budgeted but not bored, on about $1300 CUC/USD.
That would be at $50 per night for lodging, $30 per day for food (very possible, but a bit limiting), $140 total for transportation and entertainment, and a bit of extra for souvenirs.
1. Get off the tourist strip. If you do nothing else, heed me on this. Food, water, T-shirts, everything and anything costs many times more in these areas than something literally one block over. Get exploring and get off those tourist strips (especially in Havana).
2. Haggle. Almost every single vendor and store (unless prices are clearly marked) give you a price about double of what they’d be willing to take. They say $15? Ask for it for $7 and work your way up from there to a price you feel good about.
3. Do not take the yellow CubaTaxi taxis (except from the airport). They charge literally 8-10 times what most of the other taxis will charge. The trick, however, being that they will go anywhere and the other taxis often follow routes.
If you speak Spanish, you can ask around and figure out the distinction. If you don’t speak Spanish, expect your taxi fares to be large. And as I mentioned above, haggle. Most of them will start at a price nearly double what they would actually be willing to accept for a fare.
4. Do NOT exchange your money in Cuba. Don’t bother bringing more USD than about $50 just to get you from the airport into the city – then use an ATM to withdrawn the currency from within Cuba. The cambios charge an incredibly high commission (about 14%) and they line up around the block some days. Just trust me on this and save yourself a lot of money and headache.
Check with your bank if you are unsure about whether your debit card will work oversees. Any of the VISA debit cards should, but regular ones may not.
5. Spend your first day finding some markets that sell fruits and vegetables, find a bakery, ask about locating some eggs, and plan to eat at least one meal a day outside of a restaurant. This keeps costs down significantly and as an added bonus, tends to be a lot healthier.
That’s it! Remember, travel is much more about soaking in the sights and sounds than about doing, and you can have an amazing time even while keeping the belt cinched a bit tight. I offer a few more of my more general budget travel tips here if you want a few more ideas.
Have fun and happy trails!