Cuba is a fascinating place to travel to, not only because it’s been cut off from most of the western world for over 50 years, but also because it has something for everyone.
If you want to scrape by on the bare minimum, Cuba can be an extremely affordable destination, and if you want to live it up in style, you can find all the luxury you need here. Soak it up, travel how you want to, and enjoy one of the most memorable places on Earth.
There are two different types of currency in Cuba, the CUC (often pronounced kook by Cubans) and the CUP (The National Peso). CUC is pegged equally to the US dollar, while you’ll get around 25 CUP for 1 CUC.
Many people believe this means there’s a tourist currency and a local currency, but this isn’t entirely true.
While most luxury items like hotel stays, expensive restaurant meals, tours, rental cars and nice buses will be paid for with CUC, locals also use this currency if they want to purchase the same “luxury” items, so it’s not technically a “tourist currency”.
While almost everything tourists buy will be in CUC, if you get a chance to use CUP for things like produce, street food and some local transport, do it! Using CUP can be a real money saver.
If a meal is available for 25 CUP in a small peso food stand, then usually you can pay 1 CUC if you don’t have CUP. But this isn’t always the case, so it’s wise to carry about US $5-$10 worth of CUP currency for those peso food moments!
Food is one of those things in Cuba that can vary greatly in price.
There are some small restaurants and street food stands that serve up tasty meals and they charge in CUP, meaning it’s much cheaper to eat there.
This is known as “peso food” and it’s a great way to save money in Cuba.
Typically, you can get “peso pizzas” for around $0.25US - $1US, or some rice and meat meals for $1.50US. There are also some stands selling delicious fresh juice for just $0.04US and egg and cheese sandwiches for just $0.35US!
On the other hand, if you eat at a nicer sit down restaurant that serves food with more frills, such as pasta, seafood and steak, you will be charged in CUC. These types of meals, while still a good value when compared to the US, will usually cost around US$8 - $15.
If you choose to stay in casa particulars, you can ask the hosts to cook up a meal for you (highly recommended).
These dinners are often tastier and cheaper than you’ll find in nicer restaurants, and you get to enjoy the experience of eating in a local’s home.
In Havana, I dined on a fresh lobster meal at my casa for just $10US!
You can spend upwards of $300 per night at the more swanky hotels, but in my opinion, a more enjoyable and authentic way to see the country is by staying in Casa Particulars.
In a casa, you’ll have your own room with a nice double or queen-sized bed and a private bathroom.
Casa Particulars can be booked on HostelsClub.com and they won't usually cost more than $20 - $30US per night.
Many of them include breakfast, and all of them include the convenience of having a Cuban family to hangout with, and ask about local attractions and restaurants.
There are some costs involved with using ATMs in Cuba. Most debit cards from western countries (except USA) that use the Cirrus or Plus network will work in Cuba, as well as cards on the Chinese Union-pay system.
Every cash withdrawal however, comes with a 5% fee straight out of the Cuban ATM.
If you don’t have an American debit card, the easiest (and cheapest) way to take out money in Cuba is to use the ATMs to withdraw local CUC currency from your debit card.
You can’t get CUP from ATMs though, so you should take your cash to the cardecas to exchange for CUP.
If you have an American debit card, or you just don’t want to use the ATM, then it's best that you go straight to the cardecas to exchange cash.
Unfortunately, there is also a 10% levy on USD at the cardecas, so you should exchange your USD to Canadian Dollar, Euro, Great British Pound or another major internationally traded currency before you enter Cuba.
The last thing you want to do is head to Cuba with an American debit card that won’t work in the ATM, and a bunch of US dollars that will cost you 10% in currency exchange fees!
There are many different ways to get around Cuba. Public transport is relatively affordable and reliable, but you can also rent cars, hire drivers, or take tours around the country.
In Havana, there are even funky little coco taxis!
Rental cars are relatively expensive in Cuba. They’ll cost you at least US$80 per day.
If you can split the cost with a few other travelers, then it’s not so bad, but in many cases, it’s nearly the same price to hire a private driver who knows where they’re going.
You can also hire motorbikes in some towns. We recommend picking one up in Viñales, as it’s a great way to visit the nearby sites. Motorbikes will only cost you around US$20/ day and they’re definitely worth having.
There are plenty of local buses in most major towns that run on a schedule, and take passengers from point A to point B within the same city.
To go between cities, tourists basically have two choices:
1. Regular tourists Viazul buses, which are more comfortable, slightly more reliable, and much more expensive.
2. Or, the local Astro buses, which charge in CUP and are much cheaper. Your ticket on this bus is not guaranteed however, so you may find that you’re waiting around for a long time to catch the next scheduled bus.
You’ll usually have to buy bus tickets for both these types of buses at the bus station in advance. This can be a bit of a hassle as the stations are often out of town and there are sometimes long line-ups.
Try to buy your ticket for your next destination when you arrive at each station.
Of course, this will depend entirely on your travel-style and how much you like to splurge on fancy meals, nice hotels, and expensive tours.
Hardcore budget travelers could easily get by on $35US a day in Cuba.
This is if you’re staying in the cheaper casa particulars and eating mostly peso food.
It will afford you slow travel with a cheap Astral bus ride every 3 - 4 days and maybe even the odd tour.
This is a pretty comfortable travel budget for Cuba.
You’ll be able to stay in nice casa particulars and maybe the odd midrange hotel. You’ll be able to eat a mix of peso food and nice sit down meals. You can go on a few tours during your trip, and maybe even fit in a dive or two.
The sky’s the limit in the top-end category. Stay in swanky hotels, start every day off with a mimosa, and finish each evening with a delicious lobster meal, a fine bottle of wine, and a Cordoba cigar from sunset in your private Jacuzzi.
Our partners Goats on the Road break down 7 things you must know before heading to Cuba, so that your travel planning can go a lot smoother.
From hostels to hotels and casa particulares, our partners Goats on the Road share their essential tips on how to book accommodation in Cuba.