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The Traveller's Magazine
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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.

Money matters

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. is an easy way to search for guest houses and hotels in Cuba.

Buying a cigar? Always take two. (cc)

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

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5 responses to “Cuba for the budget traveller

  1. Hi! Thanks for you comments, sounds like you really know about the situation in Cuba. In the end, what places did you manage to visit outside of your resort? Can you recommend some sites that travel guides might not include?

  2. I visited Cuba for a week at an all-inclusive resort (Melia Las Antillas) and agree that it is more costly than I expected. Taxi rides away from the resort are basically $1 per every kilometre and food costs in restaurants are basically all done in CUC at a close exchange rate of 1:1. I could have stayed in the resort, but it's not my real cup of tea – I like to go out and experience the culture.

    Stay away from non-bottled water and bring immodium because you never know when your stomach will give out, especially if you're mixing food and alcohol which seemed to get two of my friends sick.

    As for McKinley's statements – they seem like the rant of an idealistic fanatic than any statement of fact.

    1. Tourist revenues are controlled by the government yes, however I'm not sure how you can state that it is used by the military elite to keep the people down? Can you back this up somehow? This may have initially been done to ensure that coup attempts like the 'Bay of Pigs' was not repeated, but I don't think you can say the same thing now.

    One may as well say, don't visit China either because their tourists dollars are being put to maintain the same trade imbalances against the USA which caused outsourcing the failure of globalization and the lowering of living standards in the west by slaughtering the middle class.

    2. Unfortunately the avenue for intellectual discussion and debate for the majority of cubans post-education is a non-factor as most are too concerned about finding employment and surviving day to day – though I never felt that they were politically oppressed by the state – more by circumstance.

    3. Yes, poverty is overwhelming, though that does not equivocally mean that deprivation is as well, but maybe our definitions of deprivation differ. Actually, as most live a simple life and depend on government control over food rations and pay, I found cubans to be very friendly and respectful not only to tourists but to each other as well.

    4. Cubans are one of the most racists societies on the planet? You are referring to Cuba which was controlled by English rule as well as Spanish rule and abolished their slave trade earlier than the United States did? At most one could say that they are xenophobic, having had the embargo on them for so long and being extremely isolated due to that.

    Cuba does not need 'freedom' as Charles puts it and lifting the embargo will not be the only answer. Once the embargo lifts, which will definitely help, the government will need to maintain an iron tight fist over investment control to ensure that capatilistic corruption does not make the cuban poor even more so, though they're already in a tight spot with that.

  3. Thanks for the comment McKinley, for sure Cuba has some work to do. Doesn't keep it from attracting travellers and tourists each year though, have you ever been?

  4. Hell on earth…. This is one country that should be boycotted by all tourists, just like South Africa back in the 1980's. All tourist revenues are used by the military elites to keep the people down. The political oppression is stifling, and the poverty and deprivation of the natives is overwhelming. Worst of all, this is one of the most racists societies on the planet.

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