When preparing and planning for a trip to Cuba, it’s important to think about your budget and how you’re going to pay for things while gallivanting around this incredible island nation. With internet and wi-fi being scarce and a total hassle to find & use, you must have your finances and your budget sorted out beforehand. It’s not as easy to check your bank balance online and deal with acquiring currency as it is in other countries.
We backpacked around Cuba for 3 and a half weeks earlier this year we’re here to give you a full breakdown of what things cost and how much you can expect to spend while travelling there.
(For more information on preparing and planning for your trip to Cuba, see our article here)
First Things First
Before even figuring out how much money you’ll need in the bank, it’s important to understand the Cuban currency (of which there are two) and the rates.
1 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) = 1 US Dollar
25 National Pesos (CUP) = 1 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)
The National Peso (CUP)
This currency is what most of the local people are paid their salary in. Using the National Peso, you can purchase smaller items, and the “basics” that one needs. It’s important to realize that this isn’t the “Cuban people’s currency”, foreigners can use this money as well, and buy the following items with CUP:
- Rides in the local inter-city buses (jam-packed full, no room to breathe)
- Fruit and vegetables from the markets and side-of-the-road stands
- Street snacks such as popcorn and fried plantains
- Rides in a collectivo (shared) taxi
- “Peso” food such as: pizza, ice cream, sandwiches, rice & bean meals, and other smaller meals (pork & rice, spaghetti)
- Fresh fruit juice
- Basic groceries and produce
The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)
This currency is used for “luxury” items and is the money you’ll mostly find yourself spending during your travels in Cuba. Locals who earn this currency rather than the National Peso are typically those in tourism (casa owners, tour guides, taxi drivers, hotel staff, etc.)
Being a Cuban and earning CUC is definitely ideal. With just 1 CUC (after exchanging it into 25 National Pesos), they can buy 25 rides on a bus, 25 fresh cups of juice, or some rice and beans. This is the currency everyone wants.
Keep this in mind when musicians or dancers ask you for a tip – your 1 CUC goes a long way in Cuba.
With CUC, you can pay for:
- Meals at a sit-down restaurant
- Cocktails and beer
- Bottled water
- Tourist bus (Viazul) tickets
- Hotels and casa particulares
- Scuba Diving, horseback riding and other excursions
- Car and scooter rentals
- Anything you want to buy, you can with this currency
The two currencies actually look quite similar so when you first arrive, familiarize yourself with them to avoid being ripped off.
Also, always check your change to make sure that if you paid in CUC, you receive CUC back, (sometimes people will try to scam new travellers by giving them change in CUP, which is worth significantly less).
You can buy things that are normally charged in CUP with CUC and visa versa.
Note: If you have a debit or credit card issued by an American bank (ie: CitiBank), then it will NOT work in Cuba’s ATM machines. If you have a bank card from any other nation, it should work, but a 3% fee will be charged each transacation. Even if you opened your account in your home country, but it is affiliated or run by a US bank, your card will not work in Cuba.
Many people choose to bring cash into the country. Do NOT bring in US Dollars, as you will be charged a 10% conversion fee. Also, note that Australian dollars are NOT accepted. The best currencies to bring into Cuba to convert over to CUC are Canadian, Euro, Pound and Mexican Pesos.
For the sake of simplicity, prices in this article are in CUC / USD (they’re equal), unless otherwise stated.
Now that you understand the currency, let’s move on to costs…
(For more, see: How to Deal With Cuba’s Dual Currency)
How Much Does Cuba Cost?
Cuba is very strange in that it can simultaneously be one of the cheapest travel destinations in the world, and one of the most expensive, depending on how you travel. Here’s a breakdown of what things cost in the country:
$20 – $30 / night for a double room in a casa particular. Solo travellers can get a discount.
$25 – $180 + / night for a hotel room.
For authentic Cuba travel, Casa Particulares are the way to go! They’re affordable, comfortable and you will enjoy a more local stay while in the country. This is the best way to get to know the locals – feel free to chat with them about their life in Cuba, and practice your Spanish! The food served by the casa owner is also very good. We highly recommend eating at least a meal or two at your casa particular.
Check out this video where we give you a tour of a casa so you can see what it’s like.
We recommend booking your casas on HostelsClub.com. None of the other top booking engines (booking.com, hostelsworld.com, hostelbookers.com) cover Cuba. Once you’re in Cuba, finding internet is a hassle and it’s expensive, so it’s best to have your accommodation sorted out ahead of time, unless you’re prepared to wait in queue for internet.
Another option is to just show up at each city and look around without booking ahead. Many casa owners will greet you at the bus station and offer you a room (or sometimes lie and pretend that they are the casa that you booked with).
Food & Drink
The cost of a meal out varies greatly. Some cities are cheaper than others, such as Camaguey, while some are much more expensive. The cost of alcohol varies as well depending on where you choose to drink.
Cocktails at your casa are often cheaper that at a bar. Expect to spend $2 for cocktails and $1 for a beer.
At a nicer restaurant or bar, cocktails and beer are often similar in pricing – $2 – $3 each. Go for a mojito, trust us, you’ll love it!
Bottled water is what you need to watch out for. It’s hot in Cuba and you’ll want to make sure you stay hydrated. The cost of a 1.5L bottle should be $0.70, however, most shops charge tourists $1.50 because they know we need it!
Shop around until you find the real price, or better yet, just hand them $0.70 and act like you know what it should cost. Also, some casas have fresh water and juice for free. Just ask.[table “” not found /]
Check out our video where we sample peso food around Cuba!
Contrary to belief, the food in Cuba is pretty good! Don’t believe us? Check out our article about Cuban cuisine.
Attractions and Activities
All of the museums, sites and activities that you’ll want to partake in will be paid for in CUC.
Havana: Museo de la Revolucion (Museum of the Revolution) – $8 entrance fee
Havana: Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana (Fort of Saint Charles) – $7 entrance fee
Havana: Museo de Bellas Artes – $5 entrance fee
Havana: Ride in a Classic Car down the Malecon – $15 – $25 depending on your bargaining skills
Vinales: Horseback riding tour – $25 for a 4 hour trip
Trinidad: Horseback riding tour – $15 for a 3 hour trip
Vinales: Santo Tomas Cave – $10 entrance fee (with guide)
Cayo Jutias: One scuba dive, including equipment – $40 (bad service though)
Cubans can enter museums and other attractions as well using the National Peso. For example: If it is 5 CUC for foreigners to get in, it’s 5 CUP for locals ($5 vs $0.20). This is one situation where it feels like there is a currency for foreigners and a currency for Cubans.
Although it truly is tourist pricing in this case, we do believe that if it weren’t this way, then many of the local people wouldn’t be able to visit the historic sites of their country. Tourist pricing is a hot topic, something we’ve covered in length before, but we won’t get into that here.
The transportation options in Cuba are plentiful, comfortable and reliable. The cost of transport varies with each city, and with all of the transport listed below, make sure the price is per vehicle, not per person.
Here’s a rundown on the types of transport, and their costs:
Private Taxis: $2.50 – $7 for a journey within a city.
From the airport in Havana to Central Havana, the cost is $25 for the taxi. An intercity, 60 minute private taxi costs around $30.
Although taxis have meters in them, they won’t be turned on. Arrange a price before you get in.
Shared Taxis (Collectivos): $0.50 / ride in the city (paid with 10 CUP. Don’t pay with CUC)
In Havana, very old classic cars run up and down various streets, on a set route. They will pull over and pick up people who are going in their direction, but you must flag them down. If you don’t know the route, this can be confusing.
You can also take shared taxis in between cities for (often) the same cost as the bus. From Trinidad to Havana, the cost is $25 / person. Ask at the Infotur offices for more details.
City Bus: $0.04 (yes, 4 cents!)
This transportation is very cheap, but the buses are packed to the brim with people. If you know the route and where you want to go, this is a good option.
Astro Bus: (generally around 1/2 the price of a Viazul bus)
This is the regular choice for intercity buses in Cuba. The prices of the Astro are cheaper than the Viazul below, however, there are only a few seats reserved for foreigners, the buses aren’t as new, and they aren’t as reliable.
Note: locals pay in CUP, while tourists pay in CUC.
Viazul Bus: $4 – $5 / hour
This is the tourist bus, which has air conditioning, and runs on a reliable schedule. Some sample costs:
Havana to Vinales: $12
Vinales to Cienfuegos: $35
Cienfuegos to Trinidad: $6
Trinidad to Camaguey: $15
Cycle Taxi: $1 – $3 (depending on your bargaining abilities)
This is one mode of transportation where we always felt bad for the poor guy who had to cycle our big butts around in 35 degree heat! Bargain with the cycle drivers, but remember that this is a very hard job.
Scooter: $25 / day ($20 if you rent for 3 days)
This is the best way to get around in our opinion…especially in Vinales!
Check out our video of us scootering around Vinales!
Total Daily Budget:
After spending 25 days in Cuba, we spent $1,695.00. That’s $67.75 / day for two people. However, I have to say that we lived pretty well while we were in Cuba as it was our vacation from blogging and being online! It would be possible to travel here for a bit less if you ate more peso food, and took the local transportation.
We did stay in casa particulares, we often ate peso food, we limited the amount of entrance fees we paid, and we took many cycle taxis. However, we did drink mojitos and beers on the regular, ate good food and did a few activities (scuba diving, horseback riding and caving).
Another thing to note is that we didn’t pay for our accommodations as we are ambassadors for HostelsClub.com. So you would need to add $20 to our daily budget of $67.75 to get a more accurate budget.
We think that $87 / day for two people to travel around an incredible Caribbean island is worth every penny!
What do you think, are you surprised by the cost of travel in Cuba? Have you been there? If so, how much did you spend on average?