Travel plans to Cuba? An estimate of the expected costs is always welcome!

General

From day 1 on this Caribbean island, you will notice that Cuba is set to become relatively expensive for tourists. Note that I deliberately write ‘for tourists‘, since the prices for locals and tourists are almost everywhere strictly separated. The ratio between the two prices is often ridiculous. Even the currency is different: locals pay in CUP, while tourists pay in CUC. Here and there they deviate from it, but it typifies the system though.
On the other hand I want to emphasize ‘become‘. Since the United States embargo was lifted, the prices are rising. Now and then it was already painfully obvious when comparing the prices with our few years old guidebook. Fortunately, you can still travel budget-friendly today in Cuba, although you need to do a little more effort than, say, in Nicaragua and of course Asia. How it will evolve in the coming years? Our impression does not bode well! All the more reason to visit this unique island as soon as possible. Be inspired by our highlights of western Cuba.

Havana

As the CUC is 1:1 with the USD, we will mention prices in the US currency and based on 2 persons, unless otherwise specified. Please note: for the exchange of USD they levy a penalty of 10%. It’s better to bring EUR – enough euros as cash withdrawals from an ATM could sometimes go wrong in Cuba… Americans should make the calculation: changing to EUR or CAD first and thereafter to CUC or just change once and paying the 10% penalty.

Flight tickets – €430 per person

Regarding the flights, I guess we scored a good deal. Booked three weeks before departure, we paid €400 per person for a round trip Cologne-Varadero, directly and in Christmas period, albeit with low-cost airline Eurowings. That means: pay extra for every extra! Likewise for check-in luggage. We checked in one piece (for the two of us) for €30 per person. Meals and drinks can be bought on-board, water is available for free on every flight. But let’s be honest: the food on-board is not exactly the culinary highlight of your vacation… We were very pleased with our self-service lunch from the local supermarket. Unfortunately, also the entertainment system is only available at an extra charge. Hint: we’ve noticed that the children’s section is free! Maybe there’s something fun to watch? We entertained ourselves with Jungle Book! 🙂

Accommodation – $32 per room per night

Just about every hotel in Cuba is at least partly owned by the government. Although we can’t speak from experience, we do not recommend similar accommodation. We haven’t met anyone who is enthusiastic about the value for money – on the contrary! Fortunately, there is an excellent B&B-like alternative in Cuba: the casas particulares.

Accomodation_cuba

Compare it with Airbnb, but offline. All over the country locals offer one or more rooms for rent, often with a superb value for money. Count on about $25 to $35 per room. In return, you get a private room – often with separate entrance – with air conditioning and private bathroom. But more important, it is the hosts that make this casas so attractive. They do really everything to make you feel at home. Spending the night with these warm families makes your experience on this unique island much richer! Basically everywhere in Cuba – except in Varadero – you can walk in without reservation, even in high season.

On average, we spent $32 per room per night. Curious about the casas particulares we stayed at? Read more here!

Transport – $100 per person

Traveling through Cuba painfully illustrates the forced distinction between locals and tourists. There is indeed a separate public transport network. Tourists should use Viazul. Basically a good option: clean, punctual and safe. But, you have to pay the price. We’re not saying it’s impossible to use the cheap local bus network, but expect little comfort (but sure an adventure!) and a difficult quest. You’ll find very little information as a tourist will always be redirected to Viazul. Especially if you don’t speak Spanish, it’s quite a challenge!

Oh, one more thing: don’t rely on the online reservation system of Viazul. It does not work. It seems to work, but it doesn’t. In most cases it will just seem fully booked – while it’s probably not. In case you were able to get your online ticket anyhow, you’re actually still not sure of your seat. Just go a day or two before departure to the Viazul office and arrange your transportation on the spot. Even in high season we’ve never encountered a problem.

Transport_Cuba

Should the bus be full anyway, the taxi collectivo could be an interesting alternative. These are shared taxis that pick you up at your casa and drop you off at your new place. For example for a ride from Havana, this option is even preferable to Viazul: easier and often cheaper. The Viazul bus is in fact only bookable in their office, which is quite a distance from the tourist area in Havana, namely in the district of Nuevo Vedado. So you’ll have to pay a taxi to buy your bus ticket at to the office (2-way) and and a taxi on the day of departure (1-way). For us, the choice was easy: the taxi collectivo, from our casa in Havana directly to the casa in Viñales! The owners of your casa certainly can help you too arranging a shared taxi!

Below is a list of our transportation costs:

FromToPrice/persHow?
Varadero AirportHavana$10Viazul
HavanaViñales$20Taxi collectivo
ViñalesTrinidad$37Viazul
TrinidadPlaya La Boca$2Taxi collectivo
Playa La BocaVaradero$25Taxi collectivo
VaraderoVaradero Airport$6Viazul
Food & drinks – $15 per person per day

Grocery shopping in order to save some money? No, in Cuba it doesn’t work that way. You won’t find supermarkets to buy some bread and spreads for a cheap breakfast and lunch. If you finally find something that looks like a store, the selection is limited and not really useful for breakfast or lunch. Same story as for the hotels, we also don’t recommend the official restaurants. The prices are certainly not outrageously high, but too high in relation to what you get and definitely too high to eat out three times each day if you are on a (backpackers) budget. In Cuba there is only one way to stay on budget: street food!


Streetfood_cuba


Pizza Cuba


Especially for a small hunger street food is perfect and, yes, dirt cheap. The only challenge is to find it! Often you have to literally look inside the houses to suddenly notice a cardboard price list. Without this advice, you would most likely just pass them. If you find one: stop, order and enjoy! Note that prices in these food stalls are given in the local currency CUP. The easiest way is to keep some of the local cash in your pocket, though most convert it properly. For a small pizza expect to pay about $0.5 and for a large one around $1. Here and there a vendor dares to take advantage of “the rich tourist” and doubles the price. If we kindly ask why the price does not match their price list they, equally kindly, answer: “Just because you are a tourist.” Okay… Fortunately, you still can’t complain. The menu is almost identical everywhere and doesn’t go beyond all kinds of pizza, burgers and sandwiches. Not the most healthy choice, but hey, you’re on vacation, right?

For the big appetite you’re most welcome at your casa particular. For $10 per person your hosts will prepare you a full dinner. Not particularly cheap for a backpacker, but like I said this is for the big appetite. You get a lot in return. Both literally and figuratively. Expect a extensive three-course meal and sincere gratitude. At Christmas we rewarded ourselves in our casa in La Boca with a leisurely lobster dinner, while enjoying a wonderful sunset in the Caribbean Sea for $15. Sounds good huh? Sure it was! Starting the day with a hearty breakfast is also perfectly possible in your casa. Perhaps you get the most varied breakfast you can find in Cuba. Fresh fruit, fresh juice, rolls, butter, cheese, ham, eggs cooked to your liking, coffee, tea, (chocolate) milk, … and sometimes even pancakes. All of this at an affordable price of $5 per person. It will keep you going for a while!

FoodDrinks_Cuba

And what about drinks? Well, since rum is almost cheaper than bottled water, we can recommend 3 things: cocktails, cocktails and cocktails! Delicious mojitos, daiquiris and piña coladas for about $1 or $2! Be sure to try the authentic Canchanchara – perhaps even more Cuban than the well-known mojito. We’re sold!

Excursions – $52 per person

You have them every touristic area: people trying to sell you a top excursions for “a good price”. Sorry guys, we don’t like that. We prefer to explore our own path! In Cuba, it’s very simple. Strolling through the old streets of Havana Vieja is an experience in itself. In Trinidad you should try to uncover the various look-outs, scoring the most magnificent views over the colorful colonial city. There’s also much to see in the vicinity of Trinidad. Hike to several waterfalls in nature reserve park Topes de Collantes, like Salto del Caburní. For this, you’ll have to grab a taxi (about $12 per person) and pay a surprisingly high entrance fee, i.e. $10 per person. Fortunately, a refreshing swim in the clear blue natural pool makes it totally worth it!

Topes De Collantes

Furthermore, by bike ($5 per person) you’re in no time from Trinidad in Playa Ancón. Likewise, a bicycle offers many opportunities in Viñales. We started the day with some perfect views over the valley from different look-outs and then continued our journey into the valley itself. A whole day, just the two of us and the unique natural beauty, at our own pace, for $10 per person. Don’t hesitate to start a conversation with the hosts of your casa, even though it’s more gestural than verbal – well, that was the case with us. Not only it will benefit the atmosphere, but before you know you’re also invited on a private tour to a local tobacco farmer! Much more authentic, more fun and obviously cheaper than an arranged touristic tour! From Viñales you can rent a scooter for about $30, for example to visit the bounty beach Cayo Jutías.

Scooter Cuba

Total – $625 per person excl. flight tickets

For traveling two weeks or 15 days through the unique Cuba, we spent $ 1,200 excl. international flights. This results in a daily budget of $40 per person, i.e. slightly more than you can expect in Nicaragua. You should add a little extra for the entry visa, but that depends on your nationality. For us, Belgians, it was €25 per person. The departure tax of 25 CUC per person is no longer required, as it is abolished since May 1, 2015.

What do you think of this budget? Please share your thoughts below!