If you think that a holiday in Cuba will be cheap, think again. It’s easy for forget and travellers are always surprised when they arrive and find sky-high prices on this Caribbean island. If you’re heading to an all-inclusive resort for a 2-week holiday, then this might sound strange. How can £1 beers be expensive? For those travelling long-term though, Cuba is no cheap jaunt.
Cuba has two currencies, did you know that? There is the national peso (moneda nacional) and the convertible peso (CUC), also called the “cook”. The CUC has roughly the same value as an American dollar, making it easy to do conversions. Cubans themselves make their everyday transactions in pesos including paying restaurant bills and making transactions at the markets and shops. The country’s so called “luxury items” which include tooth paste, soap, toilet paper, razors, television sets and imported cheese much be paid in CUCs, at special shops that only deal with this currency.
Do not arrive to Cuba expecting to use American dollars. There is a 10% penalty charge for using it and exchanging with it. Instead exchange your money into pesos, buying CUCs as you need them.
Cuba may not have hostels but they do have casas particulares. Similar to Bed & Breakfasts, these are rooms in private houses that are rented out to foreigners for a very good price. The higher the price, the nicer that quality (generally). In Havana expect to pay $30 CUC for room in a quaint mansion with a private bathroom. Rooms for $15 CUC tend to be simple with shared bathroom facilities. Outside the capital though, prices vary and it’s recommended to see the room before booking or paying. liligo.com is an easy way to search for guest houses and hotels in Cuba.
Avoid the guest houses listed in guide books. They pricier and busier. Look for the “H” symbol on the door, this is the common marker for all casas particulares. Look for something just
outside the city centres since prices drop dramatically just a few streets away. It’s okay to bargain
with the owner, especially if you plan to stay a few nights.
Dining and eating out
Generally budget travellers will eat their breakfast and dinner at their casa which is a great option. But if you really want to save, head for the streets. Enjoy pizzas, meaty buns, hot dogs and other local specialities for a few pesos. Shop at the marketplaces for fresh fruits and veggies which can be bought in pesos.
Street food, although cheap, is greasy and not exactly healthy so do your body a favour by mixing things up a little bit. Alternate meals at the casa and out on the street.
Living ‘da life
When it comes to touring and sightseeing, prices are negotiable and change often. An entrance fee you see in a year-old guide book could have easily doubled since its publishing date. Pay what you think it’s worth and if you try walking away, you might just be offered a discount.
If you’re unsure about prices, ask and be vocal. Make sure you know whether something is in pesos or CUC, it would mean the different between a cheap brunch on the seaside and the most over-priced buffet in the world. It never hurts to bargain.
What were your impressions of Cuba?
Img: george.shon / flickr cc