Cuba is a relatively cheap country to enjoy an all – inclusive holiday in, but budget backpackers who are accustomed to the cost of travelling in say Bolivia or Cambodia will find Cuba expensive. We spent three weeks in Cuba, with the intention of travelling around 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, travel, and socialising (for two).
3 Week Cuba Itinerary
Like I said, our big Cuba backpacking itinerary was to travel around the island, from Havana to Santiago de Cuba and back and we were told that three weeks is ample time to explore the whole island. However, our reduced itinerary became Havana (vintage cars, salsa bars) – Viñales (mogotes, tobacco fields) – Playa Larga (diving in The Caribbean) – Trinidad (cheap rum, paradise beach) – Varadero (all inclusive hotel) – Havana (I could spend a week here!)
Check out our three-week Cuba itinerary.
We flew from Bogota in Colombia. Luckily, our flight company offered us the chance to buy our Cuba Tourist Card at the airport as the Embassy was closed due to a bank holiday. Make sure you have your card organised before flying.
Travel Budget for 3 Weeks in Cuba
Accommodation in Cuba
The most common type of accommodation for travellers in Cuba is casas particulares. This is when locals rent out their spare rooms. The most popular type of room is a double private room with a fan and a bathroom. We did experience a four bed (dorm like) room in Viñales so there are opportunities for solo backpackers to stay in casas. These casas are all regulated (you will receive a receipt) and identified by a sign with an upside down anchor outside of the property.
From our experience, there is no need to pay more than 10 CUC for a room (20 CUC for a couple). The Cubans which run casas are house proud, the rooms were always clean – it was a positive experience. Casa owners usually offer breakfast for a fee (around $2.50). We enjoyed eating breakfast amongst the flowers in Trinidad!
There is no denying it, it really helps if you can speak and understand Spanish. I would carry a phrase book with you at the very minimum.
There are hostels in Havana and it might be a good idea for solo travellers to start there and meet some travelling buddies / work out an itinerary from fellow backpackers! Dorm beds go as low as £7 and most dorms are not bigger than 4 person with a private bathroom. Some include breakfast, others add a surcharge. —> check prices and availability here.
By the second week of our three week trip, we were burning through cash – hitting double our daily budget (£45 for two) at times, so we did the unthinkable and booked a holiday within a holiday. We logged on to the WiFi (yes, Cuba has WiFi it is limited but evolving fast, there is even 3G roaming now) and arranged an all inclusive hotel stay for our final week – life is hard!
- Accommodation in Cuba Total: $489 (including one week all inclusive )
Food in Cuba
Other travellers ate with their casa owners for a fixed price however we were never offered dinner (only breakfast). There is no access to kitchens in casas or hostels. Restaurants in Cuba are extremely hit or miss. Be prepared to frequently see UK prices on menus for a plate of greasy mess. There is a big difference between government and private run restaurants but unfortunately you won’t know which is which until you are waiting an hour for food (that’s the government run one!) After a few culinary fails, we succumbed to buying a Wifi card and logging on to check out reviews on TripAdvisor Cuba. I would advise taking note of recommendations before you go. You don’t want to waste your backpacking Cuba budget or your holiday spends on poor grub. Our favourites were
- 304 O’Reilly (modern tapas and nice cocktails – 4 tapas / 2 cocktails $30)
- El Chanchullero (more tapas – 3 mains, 3 soft drinks, 2 coffees $17)
- Castas & Tal (nice decor, full plates)
- Taberna La Botija (nice atmosphere, live music)
- El Olivo (try the paella!)
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 in quality food in Cuba is! Executing Cuba travel on a budget? Don’t miss the ‘hole in the wall’ pizzerias which sell 1 CUC pizzas (accompanied with lots of oil)!
- Food in Cuba Total: $581
Socialising 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. Casa de la Musica in Trinidad and Havana is very popular with tourists, you will spot many jineteros dancing with foreign women and foreign men picking up local Cuban chicas. Don’t miss the 1 CUC cocktail man in Trinidad, excellent for budget travel in Cuba!
Please be warned: sex workers target travellers 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 know worker. Life is hard for many Cubans, easy money is be be made from visitors. Stay safe – check out this post on scams in Cuba.
- Socialising in Cuba Total: $342
Transport in Cuba
Viazul is the bus company which runs between towns and cities in Cuba. This is 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.
When we did investigate the bus times in Trinidad – the employee sold us two seats in his friend’s taxi collectivo (Trinidad to Varadero $25 each / same price as bus but door to door) – a taxi which you share with others. This might be an old vintage car but not out of romance – just because that’s what everyone drives!
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! If the bus is full, you won’t get on – it’s not like the chicken buses of Central America where they squeeze everyone and everything on for a cosy ride! So how does this compare to backpacking in Cuba 2017? Come back and let us know.
- Transport in Cuba Total: $205
Activities and Trips in Cuba
We went diving in The Bay of Pigs – check out our video footage! It was magical and highly recommend if you like to dive. Diving in Cuba is one of cheapest places in the world to to take the plunge! When we first arrived in Cuba, we partnered with Havana Tour Company and reviewed their full day walking tour which included lunch and a vintage car ride. Walking tours are always a great way to get your bearings and tap into to local knowledge. Our tour guide, Yaniel (no I’ve not misplaced the D), was an excellent and answered our questions on life in Cuba, past and present – no holds barred, surprisingly! Warning: there are mosquitos in Cuba. We were blighted with them in Playa Larga and Varadero. Avoid dusk and cover up. If you still want to see those famous sunsets (and you should) take some kind of mosquito repellent. We use Avon So Soft which does not contain DEET.
- Activities in Cuba Total: $167 (+ day tour $99 per person)
Cuba Backpacking Budget
Luxuries and Miscellaneous
It’s Cuba so it’s got to be done – we bought some cigars as gifts! The best advice we were given was – 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. Less tourists go to Viñales, and Viñales is the land of tobacco!
Now this will sound strange to us who live in the land of privilege but… we had to pay for WiFi cards too ($4.50 for one hour). We treated ourselves to a day at a fancy hotel where we could access WiFI (using our cards). Craig celebrated his 32nd birthday in Cuba. I shopped ’til I dropped in the all inclusive resort… Craig loved his Che Guevara bamboo cup, packet of crisps from the resort shop, and two 30 minutes WiFi cards. Ha! Where was your best birthday abroad spent?
- Luxuries and Miscellaneous Total: $162
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, Airbnb, bus times etc. It is mighty frustrating. I really regret not investing in a guide book. Don’t be me, be organised.
Fees in Cuba
Charges apply when using the ATM in Cuba at the rate of 10%. We did have British Pounds and Euros (after Craig spending two days in Bogota, Colombia, taking money out of ATMs) but not enough. Currency is tricky in Cuba. If you don’t know your CUCs from the CUPs or why you should not take American dollars read this Cuban currency help guide.
- Fees in Cuba Total: $33
- We were not charged for leaving the country as this was included in our outbound flight to Toronto
Travel Budget for 3 Weeks in Cuba: $1979 for two
($608 over budget – yikes!)
Going to Cuba?
Pin to Cuba board
So now you know how much money you need for Cuba! Our Cuba travel budget per day was $47 each. Do you think Cuba is expensive? Tell us your Cuba backpacking budget.
Have you been to Cuba?
Are you going? Any questions, fire below and I’ll get back to you.