Cuba on a budget?
Replies: 19 - Last Post: Aug 1, 2012 9:23 PM Last Post By: cuidate
Jul 29, 2012 1:33 PM
Cuba on a budget?I have gotten the wild idea to take a 5 week trip before Fall term starts. I spent the last year backpacking Central America and loved it. My questions are: How easy is it to go from Cancun to Havana? Do I buy tickets in advance from the US? And my main question is how cheap could I do it? I am on a tight budget and am used to staying in cheap hostels. I have heard different things about Cuba, from staying with families to expensive hotels. I speak good Spanish and would like to learn more about the culture and practice my dance moves. Again I hear it can be extremely cheap or expensive... Any tips?
Jul 29, 2012 2:11 PM
1And my main question is how cheap could I do it? I am on a tight budget and am used to staying in cheap hostels. I have heard different things about Cuba, from staying with families to expensive hotels.
Cuba is not cheap for tourists. The most common suggested budget for tourists staying with families in private houses is about $100 per day. I would venture that $50-60 is the bare bones minimum and that is a survivalist budget that provides little for entrance fees to the common areas. Hitchhiking and other free transportation is simply not a viable option for travel. Rooms in private homes are typically $20-25 per night. There is no more economical lodging for all practical purposes.
Can you tell us if that fits in your budget parameters?
Jul 29, 2012 3:37 PM
2Fare from Cancun is approx. $350 r/t. If you're in the NorthEast, fly from Montreal or Toronto for approx. $650; also, charter airlines (SunWing, WestJet, TranSat) a bit cheaper--sometimes much cheaper if you're fortunate enough to get a last minute bargain. As bobmichaels sez, count on spending at least $25/night on a casa particular (cheaper if you find a non-registered casa; also, campismos populares are cheaper, but are usually found at out-of-the-way places to which you have to spend $$$ for cab-fare to get to them). Since you know Spanish, you should be able to purchase street food, or eat in peso nacional restaurants, which are considerably less expensive than those venues which charge in CUC's (convertable pesos). ViaZul buses are a good deal...about the same price you'd expect to pay taking a Greyhound here (but not as cheap as MegaBus, or the Chinese buses in the Northeast). Also, ViaZul has better service, and is lest dicey, than the Grey Dog here. If getting there is half the "fun", you might consider taking the train (e.g. "Tren Hershey" (a.k.a. "The Toonerville Trolly") from Casa Blanca, a short ferry-ride across the harbor from Habana Vieja, to Matanzas, or the "Tren Frances" from Habana to Santiago and points in between. If you are really adventerous, take the more local trains to/from points in between. Also, if really adventerous, after slipping the driver a few CUC's, you can usually take a camion from one provincial town to another. In Habana, you can take a bus (see routes by googling "guaguas, habana"), but I don't recommend this unless you want to save on a sauna, or, better yet, by taking an "almondron" (jitney along a fixed route) payable in CUPS (or sometimes, one CUC). You can even induce a CocoTaxi driver to take you out to the 'burbs' for less than a regular taxi. Your big daily savings, besides staying at an, err, "unofficial" casa particular, however, is by eating street food, or eating at CUP restaurants. (Again, since you know Spanish fairly well, this should not be a problem.) Also, some ** and *** hoteles are fairly inexpensive, and not that bad if all you're doing is sleeping there. (e.g. such hotels as the Caribbean, the Lido, and the Lincoln, in Centro, Hotel Mariposa out in Novia de Mediodia, Yagrimas in San Antonio de los Banos, etc. Their prices are almost equivalent to those of casa particulares.) There was a young couple a few years back whose whose adventures were posted by a link. They actually hitch-hiked, stayed at casa particulares (legal and otherwise), campismos populares, and even (illegal) camping out, who managed to do it for a whole month on less than $600!). Still, for a first-time, I'd follow bobmichael's advice and expect to pay at least $100 CUC's/day. If you can really economize, you can do it for $60, but this is a vacation, and not a trial by ordeal, isn't it? Have a great trip!
Jul 29, 2012 3:59 PM
3Yup, I always budget $100 per day for the time I spend in Cuba. I still normally bring money home but there are many days where I spend that much, but it's a good planning average for me.
As others have noted, Cuba isn't really a cheap country. There is no hitchhiking in general and while $20-25 per night is ok for the rest of Cuba, I'd budget $30-35 per night for time in Havana.
Jul 29, 2012 4:22 PM
4It's as variable as Bob suggests - $50-100 / day is the right range. A real back-packer like yourself would find ways to cut into that a smidge but only after a few visits. As a first-timer you would likely find it hard to live within that.
CUN-HAV is $350 RT forever with some Cubana flights slightly less.
Jul 29, 2012 4:40 PM
Jul 30, 2012 5:05 AM
6Yes, buy your ticket in advanced. If coming in November book your lodging in advanced (at least for Havana).
Jul 30, 2012 1:22 PM
Jul 30, 2012 3:45 PM
8I concur with the info provided by all the previous posters. I have done "bare bones" travel in Cuba myself and do not think I ever managed to AVERAGE less than $50/day, and on most trips it was more like $70/day. Here's one way to look at it:
$20/night: Lodging. Can be cut in half if you find somebody to share with, since price is by the room rather than the person. (Few rooms are big enough for more than 2 people.) Note: Figure $25 minimum for a Havana room.
$10/day: Meals. On this you can eat well--big breakfast, big dinner, snack of street food for lunch. You can cut this by about 1/3 if you eat all your meals on the street. Street food is safer in Cuba than in any CA country I have traveled in, but it's not as tasty. (Except for the ice cream, which is really good.)
$10/day: Beverages. You can cut this in half by eliminating alcholic beverages and buy bottled water by the gallon. Or eliminate this expense entirely if you drink tap water. But to do this last, you would want to either have a water filter, chlorine tablets, or ask the casa owner where you are staying to boil the water for you.
$10/day. Entertainment. $5 will get you into most museums. It may get you to/from the beach. It will buy you a drink or two in a club frequented by locals, plus a drink or two for the local who brought you to this club, which you probably would not have found on your own, since Cuba has virtually no advertising. It will buy you a bottle of booze which you should take if you're invited to a house party.
$20/day. Transportation. Of course there may be some days when you don't leave whatever town you're in, and get around on foot. But there will be other days (like the day of your arrival and the day of your departure) when you will spend about $20 just to get to and from the airport, as there is no public transport, just taxis. There are lots of cheap ways to get around Havana, but you probably should use the Viazul or Conectando Cuba bus to get between towns. Hitchhiking is possible, but enormously time-consuming because private vehicle owners are not allowed to transport foreigners unless licensed (like a taxi) to do so. In which case they charge taxi-type fares. Government vehicles (mostly trucks) do transport hitchhikers, but you are competing with scores of Cubans, because hitchhiking is a major method of transport for most Cubans going from one town to another. If you choose this method, much of your time in Cuba will be spent alongside many many Cubas, waiting in the blazing sun and eating exhaust from diesel-burning trucks. It is an experience, but not an adventure, nor, in my view, a very good way to spend time in Cuba. There is one other way to cut your transportation costs in Cuba, and that is by bringing a bike. This is what I did, and what I would recommend for anyone who has the stamina for it. You could buy a cheap one in whatever country you depart from, and if you wanted, leave it with a deserving family in Cuba (the equivalent of gifting a First Worlder a car). All this would cost you would be the price of the bike and whatever the airlines charges you to bring it to Cuba.
Only you know which of the above categories you might be able to reduce or eliminate.
Jul 30, 2012 6:37 PM
9Some absolutely great stuff partcularly from emagic and ttjpdo!
Also ditto #5 Cancun is for most not as good a departure point as Mx City.
Jul 31, 2012 1:30 AM
102 budget tips I'm missing above: Stay out of Havana and don't make Cuban 'friens'
Jul 31, 2012 12:17 PM
11To clarify CubaConga's comment about "frens," these are not actual Cuban friends, but people who approach you in public places with a greeting which often begins, "Hello, my fren." As elsewhere in the world, people you approach are usually helpful, but the ones who approach you usually want something--and will generally claim to have whatever it is you say you want or need.
An expense not mentioned above: $25 departure tax from Mexico if you have been in-country more than 24 hrs, and a $25 departure tax from Cuba when you leave. Also, if you have to pick up any essentials, like toothpaste or sunblock, you will find that these cost the same as in the First World. There are no bargains on imported goods. The thing to keep in mind is that just because Cubans speak Spanish, that does not mean that Cuba is part of Central America. It is the Caribbean, and closer to North America than to South America. So are prices.
Jul 31, 2012 12:35 PM
I'm pretty sure the airport tax out of Cancun is $55 per person, if you're there longer than 24 hours, but I could be wrong. Not sure if MEX is different.
Keep your inbound flight boarding pass if you have to overnight there and can leave prior to 24 hours.
Jul 31, 2012 4:52 PM
13Ryan, you could be right. I have only passed through Cancun once in the past three years, and did not stay long enough to pay the departure tax for those who stayed longer than 24 hours. I'm pretty sure it would be the same in Cancun as in Mexico City; maybe someone who has flown from there recently and paid the departure tax can clarify?
Jul 31, 2012 4:54 PM
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