Havana Capitol

Cuba Budget Travel Guide: 7 Essential Things to Know

From transport & casa particulares to food & money, our Cuba Budget Travel Guide gets straight to the essentials you need to know before you go.

For citizens of the United States, we here at DIY Travel HQ recommend first checking out this one stop travel guide to American’s Traveling to Cuba.

* Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before any trip to Cuba. We’ve been using World Nomads for over 10 years – it’s the best-value provider we’ve found & we’ve also never had any issues on the few occasions we’ve had to make a claim.

#1. Cuba Budget Travel Guide: Transport

Viazul is the most popular & convenient way to travel around Cuba – they are a long-established company  with bus services that are the most reliable, punctual & hassle-free.

The air-conditioned buses are comfortable & fitted with toilets & televisions.

Tickets can be booked at any Cubanacan, Cubatur & Havanatur travel agencies & some branches of Infotur – these can be found in most major cities. Booking 1 or 2 days in advance is usually enough to guarantee you a seat.

Complete schedules to many destinations in Cuba can be found on the Viazul website though making reservations online are usually problematic.

Prices start from around CUC$4-5 an hour – the further/longer you travel, the cheaper the price per hour.

Photo courtesy of Cuba Cayo Sabina

Viazul bus in Cuba

Viazul buses can take you almost everywhere in Cuba

#2. Cuba Budget Travel Guide: Accommodation

Your best choice for accommodation in Cuba is staying in a casa particular.

Many of the most popular casas have their own websites or profiles on Airbnb but there’s no need to book ahead or book online – when you first arrive in a new city, just walk around & look for a blue anchor sign.

If you do prefer to have your accommodation booked in advance, we recommend Booking.com as a trustworthy source of accommodation in Cuba. Make a booking with our link for 10% off your stay.

Casa Particulares Red & Blue Signs

Look out for the blue anchor, that symbolises a place as a casa particular

Visit a few casas until you find one you like, for the price you’re willing to pay.

Use Lonely Planet as a guide but they generally list places above CUC$20 – you can always find a casa for CUC$15.

All casas are very clean, tidy & friendly. You can have as much or as little contact with the host family as you like. Note that most will only speak Spanish.

The most important thing to look for in a casa is that it has its own entrance – cuartos independientes (independent quarters). This was you have more privacy & can come & go as you please.

At a bare minimum, your room will include a double bed, air-conditioning & usually a private bathroom (guaranteed for CUC$20).

Sometimes a room will include 2 double beds, a fridge and/or cable tv with a couple of English channels.

Most casas offer meals, for an additional prices:

  • Breakfast – CUC$3-5
  • Lunch – CUC$6-8
  • Dinner – CUC$6-8

Casa particulares can organize tours, guides, transport, etc.

Room in Casa Particular in Cuba

Don’t stick to guidebook recommendations, there are plenty of casas to choose from in every town

#3. Cuba Budget Travel Guide: Food

There are a few hierarchies on the pecking order when it comes to food in Cuba.

On the bottom of the food chain is eating at peso food stalls, which have some of the cheapest streets eats you’ll find anywhere in the world:

  • Coffee – 1 pesos / 4 cents
  • Juice – 2 pesos / 8 cents
  • Sandwiches – 3 pesos / 12 cents
  • Pizza – 5 pesos / 20 cents

Peso street food in Cuba might not be the tastiest or most nutritious but it’s very cheap & you can fill up for many pizzas & juices almost nothing.

Chorizo pizza for 40 pesos

Pizza with chorizo is just 10 pesos or 40 cents – cheese pizza is half the price!

Next on the food chain are government restaurants in Cuba.

They have no sense of customer service, getting your food can take over 1 hour & it’s all Cuban food, also known as comida criolla.

Don’t expect much from your meals in government restaurants but they usually tastes better than they look.

On the plus side, for CUC$1-2, you can get a 3 course sit-down, restaurant meal with a drink – without having to make small talk or smile back at the wait staff!

Vedado market restaurant in Havana

This huge & delicious dish was just 40 pesos – a bargain for Havana!

Finally, there are private restaurants, some catered to Cuban tastes & others to foreign palates & wallets.

Local private restaurants are similar to government restaurants but smaller & more casual. They’re slightly more expensive (dishes around CUC$1-2) but the food is usually tastier.

Private tourist restaurants are familiar with Western customs of hospitality & customer service and many of the staff will speak English.

In these cities, you can find restaurants of all kinds of cuisines including Italian, Arabic & Chinese, mainly operated by Cubans – note that tourist restaurants can also be state-run.

Meals at most tourist restaurants range from CUC$8-30.

If you’re a foodie, stick to the tourist trail & you can definitely get your fix of good International cuisine in the bigger cities like Havana & Trinidad

Tourist restaurant in Old Havana

A tourist restaurant in Plaza Vieja, Old Havana

#4. Cuba Budget Travel Guide: Money

Cuba has a dual currency system – the convertible pesos (CUC$) & Cuban pesos (moneda nacional, MN$).

Essentially, CUC$ is used for anything to do with tourists & the tourism industry, while locals almost solely use the Cuban peso.

  • CUC$1 = 25 peso (or MN$25) or US$1
  • 1 peso ($MN) = US$0.04 or CUC$0.04

CUC$ convertible prices are usually charged for Viazul buses, casa particulares, official taxis, entrance fees for museum & attractions, tourist restaurants & souvenirs.

$MN peso prices are used to at peso food stalls, government restaurants, local private restaurants & local transport (eg. camiones).

Bank in Cuba

Change your foreign currency to CUC convertible at any bank (they sometimes change to MN pesos too)

You can only change Cuban currency in Cuba: at banks, exchange shops (Cadecas) & hotels.

Changing US dollars to CUC incurs a 10% penalty, but there’s no penalty for converting CUC to USD.

Euros or Canadian dollars are the best currencies to bring into Cuba to convert.

Cuba is a cash society but ATMs are becoming more & more common – you can usually find them in most touristy cities.

However ATMs will charge you CUC$4.50 for every transaction & the maximum amount you can withdraw is usually CUC$150.

Cadeca Money Exchange in Cuba

Change your CUC to pesos at any local money changer, called Cadecas

#5. Cuba Budget Travel Guide: Tipping

As a budget traveler, there are only a few occasions where you might like to tip in Cuba.

  • Restaurants – 10-15%
  • Buskers or musicians in restaurants, streets or plazas – loose change
  • Taxis – 10%

In some museums or government buildings, a member of staff may offer to show you around – they expect a tip of CUC$1.

Busker in Old Havana

I thought this was a statue! He deserves a tip!

#6. Cuba Budget Travel Guide: WiFi

You can access the Internet in Cuba by buying a prepaid scratch card with a PIN code.

Wifi cards are available at government-run ETECSA stores. They cost CUC$2 per hour & you can purchase them in different denominations (eg. CUC$10 for 5 hours).

You don’t need to use the whole amount of time in one session or in one location. Any remaining time can be used throughout Cuba, within 30 days from first use.

You can also buy wifi cards from hotels which have wifi access or from touts on the street (for a premium) – you’ll often have locals whispering “wifi, wifi” in your ears as you walk pass, like it’s some kind of contraband!

There’s a 99% chance that any large group of people – locals & gringos – gathered in 1 place is going to be wifi hotspot.

Wifi in Old Havana

I think there’s WiFi here!

#7. Cuba Budget Travel Guide: Laundry

There are no laundromats in Cuba – Casa particulares (or hotels) are the only places in Cuba that provide laundry service.

Casas are very relaxed with prices – one place suggested CUC$2-3 depending on the pile of clothes, another casa insisted that we pay what we felt like (she was happy with CUC$3 for a big load of clothes, including a couple of pieces that were hand-washed separately).

Hanging laundry in Havana

Cases can do laundry for you, the locals do it themselves

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From transport & casa particulares to food & money, our Cuba Budget Travel Guide gets straight to the essentials you need to know before you go. Find out what you need to know about transport, accommodation, food, money (dual currency system), tipping, wifi & laundry in Cuba. Once you get your head around the money, Cuba is super-easy & interesting to travel!



*** The Final Word – Once you get your head around the money, Cuba is super-easy & interesting to travel! ***

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Accessible DIY travel to more distant locations via multiple connections or longer forms of public transport

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Visited in May-June 2016