Cuba’s currency has changed – locals and tourists say goodbye to the so-called dual currency system and hello to the reactivation of the historic national currency, the Cuban Peso (CUP). This guide will detail everything you need to know about Cuban currency, answer whether you can use your credit card in Cuba and discuss the rumoured USD tax AND exchange fee! Keep reading so you can prepare before you go and enjoy your stress-free trip from when you arrive.
No, I’m afraid you can’t exchange your native currency for Cuban in your home country or anywhere in the world apart from Cuba.
However, we have handy advice below to help you get the most out of the exchange.
What Currency to Take to Cuba?
You can’t buy CUP in other countries like you can buy euros for your trip to, say, Paris.
As a workaround, it is recommended* that you take either of the following three currencies to Cuba in cash:
Pound sterling (GBP)
You can see today’s Cuba exchange rate here as well as other currencies accepted and their exchange rates.
Once you are in Cuba you can exchange the above with a 3% conversion fee.
* Taking GBP, EUR or CAD is only recommended if the exchange rate is good for you at home and you don’t have to go miles out of your way to make the exchange. Shop around online to see what the best rates are before deciding if you are going to exchange your native currency for either of the three.
What is the Cuba Exchange Rate for USD?
Up until July 2020, there was a 10% conversion fee on the US “greenback” dollar.
This meant visitors were charged the 3% conversation fee discussed above and a further 10% fee so 13% fee in total.
Previously, this would have meant:
$10 USD – 13% (1.30) = $8.70
$100 USD – 13% (13) = $87
According to many news outlets, as of July 2020, the 10% tax has now been scrapped. Do you have experience of this? Please leave us a comment or email gemma(at)twoscotsabroad(dot)com.
However, the official Banco Central De Cuba still shows GBP, EUR and CAD to offer better conversions than the USD.
How to Get Cuban Currency
The official Cuba money exchange is called CaDeCa (Casa de Cambio). They can be found everywhere in Havana and the bigger cities but less so in smaller towns.
We were caught out in Caleton by Playa Larga as the bank hours were limited. Luckily new friends lent us some CUC so we could go diving at the Bay of Pigs the next day.
To exchange money at CaDeCa you need:
An early rise
Be prepared to wait in long lines.
I read that CADECA shops close at 3pm so get there early, at opening times is recommended. Although changing money in Cuba is not impossible, it can be taxing on time.
There are two CADECA at Havana airport, check upstairs for the quieter one which had no line when we arrived.
It is recommended to exchange as much as you are comfortable with at the airport.
The airport ATM did not work during our departure.
Cue panic as we were not aware that there was a tax you have to pay to leave. Luckily our airline had already covered it. Read our guide to Cuba to avoid the silly mistakes we made.
Should I Exchange Dollars at my Casa?
So this is an update as of 2017, a reader asked on our scams in Cuba post whether to exchange USD for CUC at their casa found through Airbnb.
I asked around and fellow bloggers who have recently been to Cuba said that they were offered this too and declined, opting to order euros instead and exchange some at the airport.
Have you exchanged money at your casa? Please share your experience in the comments below.
What about ATMs in Cuba?
There are ‘hole in the wall’ ATMs in Cuba and we used them after our cash ran out. You can expect to pay a 3% exchange fee.
Non-US Visa is the preferred card. Others may not work.
Again, there may be lines and there are instances when the money runs out. ATMs also max out so you may have to return for more.
Cash may come out before your card so remember to lift it out the machine or it will get swallowed. We had a swallowed card incident in Peru and it sucked, boom boom!
Overall, getting cash in Cuba is relatively easy if you have a non-US card that works, can beat the crowds and don’t mind making a few runs.
Can You Use Credit Cards in Cuba?
Overall, Cuba is a cash country and the easiest way to get around is by carrying currency.
Increasingly, there are some places that will accept non-US credit cards but this is not the norm.
It isn’t certain whether your credit card will work in Cuba either.
So How Much Does Cuba Cost?
The total budget for 3 weeks in Cuba came to 1903.50 USD. That’s 90 USD per day for two people with limited activities and one week in an all-inclusive resort. You can read the full details here in our breakdown guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
What money is used in Cuba?
The currency used in Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP).
CUC v CUP?
Tourists were able to use both but CUC was used more frequently to pay for accommodation (casas), taxis, tours and meals. CUP was used for street food.
What is the currency in Cuba for tourists?
Now, there is one currency, CUP.
Previously, tourists used both CUP and CUC.
Can I use USD in Cuba?
On the whole, no, you can’t pay with USD in Cuba.
Should I exchange my USD before I go to Cuba?
You can’t actually exchange USD to CUP outside of Cuba.
Should I exchange my USD to another currency before I travel?
This very much depends on what exchange rate you can get for GBP, CAD or EUR.
If the rate is poor, it may be worth you taking USD.
If it involves you having to drive for miles and eats into your time, just take USD and be prepared to wait in line.
Is Cuba expensive? Yes and no. Cuba is a relatively cheap country to enjoy an all-inclusive holiday in, but budget backpackers who are accustomed to the cost of travel in say Bolivia or Cambodia will find Cuba expensive. We spent three weeks in Cuba with the intention of seeing the whole island, which is possible in that time. However, our daily budget dictated and we had to cut the trip short. This travel budget for 3 weeks in Cuba will outline the price of accommodation, food, trips and travel, for two.
Whether you are visiting Cuba for a long weekend or a three-week trip, our guide will help you plan and budget accordingly, eliminating any surprises when you hit the ground!
We visited Cuba as part of an 18-month sabbatical to travel the Americas and Europe.
We did find it hard going from Colombia to Cuba and the highest expense was moving between destinations. While Cuba on a budget is not impossible, it is difficult if you plan to travel. Read on to find out more.
Cuba Budget Planning Prices
Before you leave for Cuba there are some things you need to invest in:
Airline ticket – the price of this will depend on where you travel from. European readers, pay more to ensure that your Cuba Tourist Card is included in the price. US, your travel insurance should be covered
Cuba Travel Visa – this can cost anything from $15-35 and must be secured before you fly into Cuba
Vaccinations – check with medical professionals that you are up to date with vaccinations required for Cuba
The cost of casas depends on where the house is and what the rooms offer.
Generally, rooms cost between 10-50 USD per person.
We mostly spent 10 USD per person and negotiated this price for every room after Viñales.
The price of your casa will include a bed for the night in a basic room, an ensuite and a fan or aircon.
Some rooms will have fridges. Not all casas have WiFi for you to log on to, others go as far as to offer you a phone!
Breakfast is around 4-5 USD per person and varies in quantity, mostly a decent plate of eggs and fruit and served with love.
If you want to avoid carrying large sums of cash with you, you can reserve your room before you travel to Cuba. However, you really don’t need to do this as casas will recommend others in the town you are going to next. They will receive some commission for this recommendation from the owner.
You can even rock up to a destination and ask a taxi driver or PR hanging about the street to help you find one. So strange to us, very normal to travel in Cuba!
If you’d prefer to see what you are getting use Booking.com and you can read reviews at TripAdvisor, for example, this casa, La Villa Teresa in Havana. Gorgeous.
Taberna La Botija: nice atmosphere, live music – tapas for 2 / 2 drinks: 23 USD
El Olivo: try the paella – two mains 15 USD
Dulce Vida: nice pizzas – pizzas/drinks 25 USD
I do feel bad that these are up in the top 5 on TripAdvisor, something we normally try to avoid, but this highlights how varied the food quality is in Cuba!
Food in Cuba Total: 445 USD two weeks eating breakfast at casas, snacks/small meals for lunch and dinner out, for two. Includes coffee and water
The infamous 1 USD pizza, and Gemma
Partying in Cuba
Cuba is a very social place and Cubans are very social people!
It’s hard not to get swept up in the Latin passion of salsa and that cheap rum (ron) goes down far too easily. It’s cheap too at 6-9 USD!
Casa de la Musica in Trinidad and Havana are very popular with tourists, you will spot many jineteros dancing with foreign women and foreign men picking up local Cuban chicas.
Touristy spots like La Floridita in Havana will set you back 12 USD for two daiquiris. They weren’t even the best we had during the trip.
Don’t miss the 1 USD cocktail man in Trinidad, excellent for budget travel in Cuba!
Please be warned: s*x workers target visitors of all ages. We met a young Irish high school teacher who was asked on a date by a waitress, they met that night and the police chased her away as she was a known worker. Life is hard for many Cubans, easy money is being made from visitors. Stay safe – check out this post on scams in Cuba.
Partying in Cuba Total: 161.50 USD includes drinks out and bottles of rum. We drank most days because it’s Cuba! This does not include the all-inclusive booze
Sunset with our new pals in Varadero
Transport in Cuba
The most expensive thing you can do in Cuba is to move.
The drive between destinations is what hurts the wallet most, hence why we stopped moving and opted for a lounger for a week.
Not what we intended but as long as you are prepared for the price, do put lots of destinations on your Cuba itinerary.
Viazul is a bus company which runs between towns and cities in Cuba.
This is sometimes the cheapest way to travel around the country, however, locals never know the bus schedules and the times in the Lonely Planet are unreliable. Note down the times from the website before you go.
Word of warning – by the time the bus reaches smaller towns, there may be no seats.
This happened in Playa Larga where we participated in some diving in Cuba.
What do you recommend? Tell us in the comments below
Activities in Cuba Total: 324 USD
Diving in Playa Larga
Miscellaneous + Luxuries
When looking at the above prices please remember that you will be hit by fees when transferring money which is explained in detail in this guide.
WiFi is not free. You have to purchase cards and log on at the designated spots around Cuba. Some of these spots are at the store you can buy the card, in the parks, some restaurants, hotels and casas.
One hour costs 1 USD, five hours will get you 5 USD. Find out more here.
It’s Cuba so it’s got to be done – we bought some cigars as gifts!
The best advice we were given was to avoid the jineteros who try to sell you cigars on the street (or from their windows!) and buy from the official shops for authentic smokes.
We found the Viñales store was cheaper than the Havana shop. Fewer tourists go to Viñales, and Viñales is the land of tobacco!
On our last day in Havana, we treated ourselves to a day at the fancy Hotel Sevilla where you can access WiFi using your cards by the pool for a day rate.
Hotel Sevilla in Havana was one of the first hotels to offer WiFi access. To access the pool, it costs 20 USD per person but you get 15 USD back to use as a credit at the bar for snacks and drink.
Craig celebrated his birthday in Cuba. I shopped ’til I dropped in the all-inclusive resort… Can you sense the sarcasm?
Craig loved his Che Guevara bamboo cup, a packet of crisps, and two 30 minutes WiFi cards. Ha!
Luxuries and Miscellaneous Total: 162 USD
The total budget for 3 weeks in Cuba: 1903.50 USD.
Our Cuba daily budget was 90 USD per day for two people with limited activities and one week in an all-inclusive resort.
Cuba on a Budget
How expensive is Cuba then? For us, as part of a big trip, expensive. For someone going on a standalone trip, not so much maybe. Here are our Cuba budget tips to help you save cash:
Bring EUR, CAD or GBP but only if you get a decent rate at home
Shop at local vendors and markets
Learn to love the 1 USD pizza
Dine at cafeterias
Pick up fruit and veg at stalls
Eat and drink at restaurants and bars outsides of the tourist areas
Buy rum/ron in local shops
Take a purifying and filter water bottle like the Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off]
Stay in casas and negotiate before agreeing to stay. This is perfectly normal. You can not negotiate if you book before you go
Learn Spanish, as I said above you need survival but if you are at a conversational level you will get by much easier
Do the groundwork before you go and have a digital detox so you don’t have to pay for WiFi
Avoid moving around too much but then this means you won’t experience the best of the island
Do the free Havana walking tour and pay a tip at the end
Bring everything you need like sunscreen and medicine. You might not get it in Cuba
Churros in Havana
Buy the Guides
There is only one country where I genuinely think you need a travel guide and that is Cuba. Due to the Wifi and 4G restrictions you can’t just jump on TripAdvisor, bus times etc. It is mighty frustrating. I really regret not investing in a guidebook.
Do you think Cuba is cheap? I hope our guide and three weeks in Cuba experience has helped you in your planning. I do think you could do it a little cheaper if you ate locally and moved around less but then you would miss out on really cool destinations and the varying landscape of the island.
Affordable, accessible and unusual. There are many reasons that scuba diving in Cuba is recommended for experienced and new divers. This guide looks at four popular diving spots in Cuba including the historic Bay of Pigs, the freshwater hole at Cueva de Los Peces, postcard-perfect Playa Ancon near Trinidad and Guardalavaca near Holguin. As well as some tips for those who prefer to snorkel with the fish and the coral of Cuba.
It is unlikely you can book a dive online, WiFi and 4G work differently in Cuba. Read our guide
It is perfectly normal to book a scuba diving day trip through your casa or hotel
It is best to arrive the day before you want to dive and book a tour for the next day
Not all diving instructors speak English but generally enough to get by
Equipment is provided and included in the price
Some of the best diving in Cuba are very affordable and the more dives you book, the cheaper it gets
Diving at, or from, Varadero is the most expensive option, dive elsewhere if you can
You don’t have to dive, you can snorkel in Cuba too
1. Diving at The Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs has two main beaches – Playa Larga and Playa Gerón.
A local in Viñales recommended Larga over Gerón, we hadn’t mentioned we wanted to dive but this turned out to be the best option for the plunge.
Playa Girón is where Fidel Castro defeated the US during the famous attack at the Bay of Pigs.
It has a museum and plaques for history fans. I was super keen to see this but it was going to cost too much in a taxi from Caleton were our casa was and as per, no one knew what times of the bus which is such a headache.
The dive does not require a boat, you just walk straight into the water. However, you do need a lift from the dive company to the site.
PADI certified divers may have the chance to do a different dive which involves investigating a wreck at another dive site.
How to Book a Dive
The best way to book your dive is to ask the owner of your casa or hotel. Failing that, a taxi driver should be able to help you out.
The Octopus Club dive centre will collect you in the morning around 9am and take you to the dive centre where you will be kitted our and then driven for 20 minutes to the dive site.
This is where Cuba from the TV is – crystal turquoise blue sea which smashes right up to the side of the ‘beach’ (grass and rock)!
How Much Does Diving Cost?
The beauty of diving in Cuba is that there is no need for a boat which keeps costs down (25 USD) as you just walk directly into the sea. I think this is the cheapest diving in Cuba. If you know differently, please tell us in the comments below.
Initially, I was concentrating too much and had a slight panic, was I breathing too heavy? Too much? Was this normal? Why did I eat five pancakes and now feel like vomiting?
Craig confirmed he too was breathing heavily and long so this calmed me down and I was good to go.
Craig said he panicked a little because he felt light-headed after his ears equalised (diving chat for ‘popping’) but that did not tamper the overall experience, which was magical.
Down we went to the bottom of the Caribbean, can’t say that happens every day.
It felt like flying through the water amongst the colourful fish. The advice was to stay away from the bottom, I can confirm that coral hurts when you scrape your leg against it!
At one point I was fixated on the bubbles escaping from the instructor’s equipment, it looked like massive mushrooms of silver mercury rising to the top of the water, truly like a Disney movie.
We were underwater for forty minutes and when we returned to civilisation, our friend Geoff said ‘damn it, that’ll be another expensive activity I’m sucked in to,’ he was a first-timer too.
For 15 USD you can hire a snorkel kit, although I think this price is really steep.
We were told it is because of the bus journey so it might be worth investigating a taxi to the beach and hiring the kit there. Into snorkelling, check out this post on snorkelling in Palau, an island near the Philippines – jaw-dropping!
Here’s very amateur footage of our dive at Playa Larga.
This was Craig’s first dive which is surprising since his Dad is a retired deep-sea diver for the Ministry of Defence and although he felt panic at first, once he eased into the experience he was raring to go again.
I’ve dived once before in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and was keen to do it again in the turquoise waters of Cuba. It has been a highlight of our three week trip to Cuba and at 35 USD each, an absolute bargain.
If you don’t want to dive, you can try snorkelling in Cuba instead.
Did you dive or snorkel? Tell us in the comments below?
Me casa, su casa, as they say in… every country but especially in Cuba. Staying with locals is part of the Cuba travel experience and the types of accommodation that you book are called casa particular or casas particulares (plural). Stay with Cubans for an authentic while supporting the community and saving some of your travel budget too! This guide explains what casas are, shares our experience, discusses where to stay in Cuba and finally, other forms of accommodation on the island which you can book too.
Casas particulares are a form of accommodation in Cuba. They are extremely popular with tourists as you get to live in a local’s house in the heart of the destination.
Casas are completely legal as owners sign up to have the right to rent out a room in their home or a full house if they have one.
Many offer breakfast making them essentially a B&B.
Some of the best places to stay in Cuba are actually casas which is great because hotels are expensive.
2. How Do I Find Casas Particulars?
If you are relaxed, arrive in Cuba and wander about the touristy areas.
Someone will stop you and ask if you need help/want to buy cigars! Decline the cigar offer but ask if they can help you find a casa.
This is completely normal and I know it is not the way you normally travel.
They’ll take you to a friend’s casa free of charge. Payment will be made by the casa owner in the form of commission. You will experience this exchange all over Cuba for a variety of services such as taxis, class car tours, bike rental, etc.
We let fate decide our casa during our second visit to Havana and felt confident doing so after three weeks in Cuba.
A local in a tuk-tuk cycled around a couple of options until we found one.
Once you are in a casa, the host can suggest casas in the next town you are moving on to.
They have a network of ‘friends’ who look out for each other.
We booked our casa in Viñales through our accommodation in Havana.
I know this sounds totally alien to us but it is honestly the norm for tourism in Cuba.
→ Note: The majority of casa owners do not speak English. Work on your survival Spanish before you go. Here are 5 ways to learn Spanish without leaving the house.
3. Are Casas Particulares Legal?
We got the impression that in the past casas were a bit ‘under the table.’
People who have not been to Cuba (but like to think they know everything there is to know about the country, yeah those types) appear to think that casas are a secret network of housing.
This really isn’t the case!
If a house has an upside-down anchor sign outside, then they have registered with the government as a casa.
The owner pays some form of tax to the government and the guest will get a receipt.
Owners usually take your passport number for their records. There is a receipt/tax record book they complete.
4. What Are Casas Particulares Like?
Casas all differ!
In Viñales, Sara and Jorge’s casa is painted blue. It has a porch with rocking chairs and wait for it… four beds in the spare room!
This was our first experience of a casa so we were surprised to see more of a hostel dorm set up.
In Caleton near the Bay of Pigs where we went diving, the owner doesn’t live in the house.
This is her second home which she uses purely for rent.
There is a porch, back garden with a washing line, kitchen, three double bedrooms and a bathroom.
The following hostels have dorm rooms and social spaces in Havana. If arriving solo and looking to meet friends I highly recommend staying in a hostel first and meeting travel buddies as casas can be very private.
Club 58: Outstanding reviews, friendly staff, very social, super central and safe
Ronaldo’s: This is the first hostel in Havana and a bit of an institution. Nice rooftop. Friendly staff
Paradise: This is where we stayed for two nights as Ronaldo’s was full. Nice rooftop. Hot rooms
Going to Cuba? Pin to your board
The types of Cuba accommodation are pretty unique I think you will agree. From casas to hostels, hotels to all-inclusive resorts there is variety to choose from but we urge you to get out of your comfort zone and stay with a local at their casa particular so you can experience a bit of culture and help out the community too.
Planning a trip to Cuba and don’t know the difference between your CUP or casas? Don’t stress, tranquilo! Our Cuba travel guide details the essential planning areas from tourist cards to currency, accommodation and itineraries. So let’s dive you so you can start dreaming about those Caribbean beaches and rum cocktails.
Ultimate Cuba Travel Guide
Before You Travel to Cuba
Getting to Cuba
Where is Cuba? Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet.
Travel to Cuba is relatively easy for all nationalities with the exception of citizens from the USA.
For non-US citizens, it is as simple as having a passport in date booking a flight with an airline carrier and touching down/sailing into Cuba as long as you did not travel through the States.
If you are planning on a multi-destination trip and the USA is your stop before Cuba the US rules apply, regardless of your nationality.
Travel to Cuba from USA is regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
For US citizens travelling to Cuba and those arriving from the US, previous relaxed regulations created by Obama have been tightened again but it is not impossible. In the past, visitors from the US arrived via a Foreign Gateway City in Canada or Mexico. For example, they would take two flights, one to Cancun, Mexico or Toronto, Canada and then from Cancun to Havana or one of the other airports in Cuba.
Trump’s Cuba travel ban changes have stopped all flights to Cuba bar those flying into Havana’s José Martí International Airport.
According to the New York Times, US citizens can still enter Cuba under the “support for Cuban people” permitted/reasons for travel category.
It’s assumed this means you vow to support privately-run companies (not Government-run) which you will do naturally anyway because it’s Cuba and they’ve crafty with their economy for decades. Privately-run accommodation options are called a casas particulares and privately-run restaurants are called Paladares.
This category does not permit you to visit for a vacation. See questions six of the frequently asked questions here.
→ Tip: Print out/screenshot all important information. You won’t have 4G when you land.
Cuba Tourist Card (Visa)
All visitors must have a Cuba Tourist Card to enter the country. Usually, your airline provides one for you and it just takes a quick filling out of the official form at the airport for you to gain access.
Check that your airline carrier does offer this. If it does not you need to speak with the Cuban Embassy in your area.
If like us, the embassy is in another country (London) it is worth shopping around for a flight that includes the tourist card to keep costs down and save time. There a Cuba Tourist Card form on the UK Government website but the last update is 2017 so we cannot confirm that you can use it to apply for a Tourist Card. Please tell us in the comments below if you have used it.
For UK citizens, the Cuba Tourist Card covers you for one entry and for 30 days and costs £39.00. Your passport must have at least two months left on it. We’d always advise applying for a new passport when you are close to the six months mark as many countries don’t let you in with less than six months.
Our experience was a bit of a nightmare as we were flying from Colombia and did not know about the Cuba visa and our last day in Bogota was a bank holiday so the embassy was closed. Craig spent the day trying to find an answer along with picking up currency at every bureau which I’ll talk about more below. Don’t leave your Cuba planning to last minute like us.
Conclusion, find an airline carrier that includes the Cuba Tourist Visa!
Airports in Cuba
There are 16 airports in Cuba in which visitors can fly into. The most popular, and only airport US flights can land in, is Havana’s José Martí International Airport.
Other popular airports are found at Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara.
Cuba Airport Tax
There is a mandatory airport tax in Cuba of 25 CUC which is often covered by your flight. Check before you leave or you’ll be sweating at the check in line like us with the ATM not working. No stress required, it was inclusive of the flight price.
Cuba Travel Vaccinations
It is advised to speak to your medical professional before your trip to discuss vaccinations for Cuba. Leave plenty of time for this. Tetanus is recommended and Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis B, Rabies and Cholera could be considered (UK).
The US offers similar advice here. Speak with your doctor before flying.
Medicines may not be available in Cuba so pack a sufficient supply of prescribed drugs. Always carry a copy of the prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining your condition, treatment, medication and dosage.
You should always travel with insurance. It is unlikely any providers through banking accounts will cover travel in Cuba.
According to the (OFAC), Cuba requires US Citizens to have non-US based medical insurance which may be covered by your flight.
Water in Cuba
Avoid water from the tap unless you are using a purifying and filtering bottle like Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off].
Taking a bottle with you will not only save you money as you won’t have to buy a plastic bottle every day, but it will also help prevent the plastic tide.
Che at Revolution Square in Havana
I don’t think I’d say this about any other country that I’ve been to, including Japan, but you have to learn some survival Spanish before going to Cuba or travel with someone who can understand and speak the language.
Only tour guides can speak English, your casa owners, taxi drivers and general members of the public don’t speak English. You are in their country, they speak Spanish.
Craig and I spent one week learning Spanish in Peru and still struggled. We were very lucky to have met a Brit who lived in Mexico who spoke for us most of the time. Probably not the best idea if you are trying to improve your language skills but it helped us out massively.
If you are planning to travel around Cuba independently and want to meet friends to travel with I recommend booking a hostel in Havana for a couple of nights as rooms in casas are private and not social. See the accommodation section below for more.
Cuba is currently undergoing currency reform. Our content will be updated as changes are announced.
There are two types of currency in Cuba, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which is known as the Cuban tourist currency. It’s used to pay for rooms, restaurants, tours, shopping, etc.
The other is the Cuban Peso (CUP), which you may use for street food but in all honesty, we could have lived without it.
Recently, there have been trial shops giving out CUP as changed, don’t be alarmed. They are testing it.
Exchanging money in Cuba is a source of pain for those from the US because the Government of Cuba charges a 10% fee on all cash conversion using US Dollar. You can see today’s rates here.
It is better to take British Pound (not Scottish) or Euros as there is no 10% charge. Make sure the notes are clean with no tears. Always take your passport with you to the Casas de Cambio sa (cadeca) and arrive 15 minutes before opening time to avoid waiting in long lines.
Honestly, the lines are super long in Cuba one of our tour guides said there is a joke that sometimes people don’t even know what they are waiting in line for.
If you are entering Cuba with large sums of money you will need to declare this, as with most countries.
You will find hotels in Cuba’s bigger cities and towns like Havana and Trinidad but they are more expensive than the local option, casas particulares. For example, the Iberostar Trinidad starts at $400 (U.S) for one night.
Casas pariculares are private homes where Cubans rent out a room. It is common practice to stay with a local and the level of engagement will very much depend on the host and you.
You can tell if a house is a casa because they have the symbol in the image below outside of their home.
The cost of casas depends on where the house is and what the rooms are like. The general rule of thumb is that rooms cost 10-30 USD per person. We mostly spent 10 USD per person and negotiated this price for every room after Vinales.
The price includes a bed for the night in a basic room, an ensuite, a fan or aircon. Some rooms will have fridges. Not all casas have WiFi for you to log on to, others go as far as to offer you a phone!
Breakfast, and sometimes, dinner is offered on top of the room price. Breakfast is usually around 4-5 USD and varies in quantity. We’ve had banquets to margarine running out and that’s what you have to embrace about Cuba.
Casa owners can hook you up with anything! Need a casa at your next stop? No problem! A taxi colectivo share ride? Their uncle does that! You want to hire bikes? Their neighbour can hook you up.
It’s a strange way of life for us to get our heads around at first but you have to remember that Cubans have been working in an oppressive economic structure and they’ve found ways around it.
When your new Cuban friend gets you another casa, a taxi ride or bike hire they receive a small amount of commission for referring you on. Clever eh?!
You can book casas before you go to Cuba if you’d prefer to see what you are getting use Booking.com. You can read reviews at TripAdvisor for example, La Villa Teresa in Havana. Gorgeous.
Paying before you go also means carrying less cash.
Although many casas call themselves hostals they aren’t hostels like backpacker hostels with social spaces. There is a handful of them in Havana though.
Hostels in Havana
Club 58: Outstanding reviews, friendly staff, very social, super central and safe
Ronaldo’s: This is the first hostel in Havana and a bit of an institution. Nice rooftop. Friendly staff
Paradise: This is where we stayed for two nights as Ronaldo’s was full. Nice rooftop. Hot rooms
Transport in Cuba
Cuba is pretty difficult to get around if you are short on time or tight on budget.
The most popular local bus service for tourists is, Viazul which has a website. It is advised to book buses for the journeys you know you want to take.
Screenshot the bus times too as you won’t have 4G/WiFi all the time. Be aware that businesses run on Cuba time which is not always the most efficient. Tranquilo!
Hiring a car is a good idea if you can spare a few days in Havana to wait on one coming in. Don’t always believe it when locals tell you roads are closed or gas stations have been shut down. It’s a scam an Aussie couple told us about. Oh, that charming Cuban hustle…
Taxi Colectivos are shared taxi cars which can be prearranged on the street, via your casa owner and outside of the bus stations.
These shared rides tend to match the bus prices but it don’t always get you there quicker. The cute vintage cars you see in the Havana guidebooks are genuinely the cars than Cubans use and while they are very good at fixing them, breakdowns do happen. Tranquilo!
It is not uncommon to switch cars halfway so don’t be alarmed. We did this getting from Playa Larga to Trinidad.
Moving between places starts to add up. Expect to pay around 25 USD per person and up between itinerary stops.
Other modes of transport in Havana include:
Hop on/off bus
And in Viñales, horse-drawn cart!
Maps.me and Galileo maps both works in Cuba. Download before you touchdown.
Our taxi colectivo
Internet, WiFi and 4G in Cuba
Does Cuba have the internet?
Yes it does! Contrary to popular belief there is internet access in Cuba but not as you know it.
Use the card to log on and use the internet at any of the WiFi points around the country. Remember to log off again to save your credit.
You’ll know the points as you’ll see lots of locals looking at their phones. Read the full guide to WiFi and 4G in Cuba here.
Hotel Sevilla Pool in Havana
Best Time to go to Cuba?
The best time to visit Cuba is in the dry season.
The dry season is between November and April but there are nice temperatures all year round. We visited in April and it felt really hot in Havana even then. Consider this when creating your itinerary and making plans.
Crime rates are very low in Cuba and you will have no issues walking around the cities at night.
However, I’ve mentioned above that Cubans have been crafty in their retaliation to a communist regime so there are a few Cuba scams you should be aware of such as a baby milk scam and cigar scam. Read the full details in our guide to scams. Independent travel to Cuba is totally doable and encouraged.
→Note: None of those scams are made up. It is not a sensationalist post. All ten either happened to us or the people we met in Cuba. Check the comments for others that fellow visitors experienced too.
Filter/purifying bottle like Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off]
Comfortable walking shoes
Cuba Itinerary: 1-10 Days in Cuba
Whether you have one or ten days in Cuba there is something for everyone in our Cuba travel itinerary. It is a relatively small island so if you have the budget and time you can easily tour the whole country in three weeks.
For what to do in Cuba, my best advice is to pick up a copy of Lonely Planet Cuba before you leave, make a plan, research the bus times online and print them out once you know which places to visit in Cuba. I don’t usually suggest that you need guide books but for Cuba, you do because WiFi is not readily available.
Let’s take a look at where to do in Cuba with 1-10 days.
Havana: 1-6 Days
Four days in ample time to see everything the city of Havana has to offer. Here is a sample of the highlights:
Havana’s Three Main Areas
La Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
Vedado’s Central Business District and urban residencies