How to visit Cuba on a budget
Cuba, with once closed doors and still fascinating communist country, is open for business and fast becoming a favourite tourist destination by many (some three million a year, apparently).
Yes you can cruise around in vintage American cars, learn to roll your own cigars, wear head-to-toe Che Guevara merch and drown yourself in mojitos at the likes of Ernest Hemingway’s old haunt in kitsch-cool capital Havana, but scratch the surface and you will find even more to Instagram about when exploring the Caribbean’s largest island.
Also you're probably just about to head back to or are starting uni for the first time and that means, after the fun of O-week wears off it's time to hit the books. But not so fast, give another type of book a whirl first and get in on a cheap as chips holiday like one to Cuba to motivate you through all those loooooooong tedious lectures and even longer nights of studying/working at Maccas.
Best part is that you won't have to worry about having the $$$s upfront cause we have super sweet zero interest 9 month layby options* too. Yewww.
Make your pesos stretch
But this story isn’t about what to do in Cuba – it’s about how to make your pesos stretch further once you’re there. If the best things in life are free, then some of the best things to do in Cuba would have to be dancing to the rumba riffs in the streets (it’s a thing), exploring the restored-yet-lost-in-time beauties of Old Havana or seeking warmth from a chat with a Cuban or while swimming in the turquoise waters of beaches like Playa Paraíso and Playa Sirena in Cayo Largo del Sur. Yep, free fun.
Learn to speaka the language
To save yourself more pesos, mochilero (backpacker), learning some Spanish will go a long way when bargaining, making local friends and even navigating local buses instead of lining up at expensive taxi ranks. Being able to communicate to locals you’re a student or backpacker will also set you apart from the cashed-up tour crowd.
Double the currency does not equal double the $$, sadly
Next is to navigate the dual currency sitch. That’s right, two kinds of pesos are used in Cuba – the Cuban Peso (CUP, moneda nacional) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Expect to pay for most stuff, like accommodation, food, taxis, bus tickets and nightclub entrances in CUCs (don’t use US dollars as there is an extra commission or tax). It pays to keep an eye out for services like restaurants, food markets and local buses that accept CUP (what the locals use) and you will often be rewarded with much cheaper prices (and surprise finds).
Travel by choo choo
Trains are slow but cheap and seeking out overnight transfers will save money on accommodation. Or you could travel like the Cubans on local buses or catching cheap lifts on trucks known as Camiones. News along the grapevine is to ask a local to buy your bus or train tickets for up to 25 times the savings (not an endorsement to undertake this activity!).
Cheap food doesn’t have to be all rice and beans. Dining at small, mum and dad-run private restaurants known as paladares and pizza shops will save you a pretty peso or two as will eating outside of tourist strips like Old Havana and buying snacks from food markets. Apply the same wit as everywhere else in the world and follow the scent of ‘popular with locals’ and trusted recommendations.
Accommodation in Cuba was once restricted to expensive government-run hotels and, aside from a few backpacker options around Havana, there aren’t many more options just yet. However, one shining beacon is the growing number of casas particulares – legal homestays that are cheaper than hotels and offer a unique insight into Cuban culture, food and life (under US$20/night which you can split with another for added savings). #cubanfriendsforlife