Cuba is under sanctions and most foreign bank cards don’t work in Cuba. For most travelers to Cuba the cash they take with them is the only money they will have access to while on the island.
So how much cash do you need to take to Cuba? Well, the answer will ultimately be determined by the factors below. Here’s what you need to know when setting your travel budget for Cuba.
The factors that will affect your budget in Cuba
What Places in Cuba Are You Going To Visit?
Depending on where in Cuba you’re going to visit, the prices will change dramatically. The more local and less touristic the part of Cuba you visit, the lower the prices will be.
Resorts and resort towns predominantly price everything in foreign currency. And they often set the prices for goods and services ridiculously high. Big cities like Havana are also more expensive.
For example if you’re in Havana, you can take a $5 La Nave out of Havana to Guanabacoa. And visit places like Finca Vista Hermosa where you can have amazing food for 1/3 the price of Havana.
How Are You Going To Exchange Money In Cuba?
There are two exchange rates in Cuba. The official government rate provided via CADECA and the unofficial black market rate. The black market rate is the real exchange rate and it’s what everyone uses to price goods and services.
You should check where the black market rate is each day using the website ‘eltoque’. Here’s a full explanation of how the exchange rates work in Cuba.
Note: do not change cash on the street – this is the most common scam in Cuba and everyone will walk up to you offering money exchange services. These people pimp women and sell drugs.
You wouldn’t change money with a pimp or drug dealer in any other country. So don’t do it in Cuba. They’ll just run off with your cash.
Are You Staying In Hotels Or Airbnb In Cuba?
Hotels like Tryp Habana Libre and the resorts in Varadero or Cayo Coco will want foreign currency. Particularly Euro.
But as long as the hotel or resort is not Government owned you can book and pay online. Because hotels and resorts that aren’t Government owned use foreign payment processors based in Canada and Germany.
Casa particulars are booked through Airbnb. And Airbnb works just like it does everywhere else in the world. Except you do need a VPN in Cuba to access Airbnb. And most other mobile apps and websites will also require a VPN.
Learn about accommodation options in Cuba here.
When Are You Going To Cuba?
Shortages push up the prices for goods and services in Cuba. And Cuba currently has yet another crisis going on. They’re short of fuel and food.
Chicken for example has been cut from adult rations. Only children currently have access to meat. Fuel is in short supply and lots of local transport (including school buses) have stopped running.
Shortages affect tourists less. But they do make goods and services more expensive. Shortages in Cuba contribute to inflation and the devaluation of the Cuban Peso (CUP).
How Are You Traveling And Getting Around In Cuba?
If you’re going to be taking yellow taxi cabs around town they will be a huge rip off. Locals and expats won’t touch taxis in Cuba.
Using a local SIM card and the mobile app ‘La Nave’ (Cuban Uber) will save you a ton of cash during your vacation. And La Nave will make it easy to visit places tourists rarely see.
Where Do You Like To Eat And Drink?
Local food stands and road side beers for budget travelers are cheap. High-end establishments are much more expensive. Particularly if you’re getting the Government exchange rate.
With the government exchange rate and frequenting high-end restaurants, the prices in Havana can be on par with Zurich (Switzerland). It’s entirely possible to spend backpacks full of cash on a night out.
There is however a happy medium. With prices that aren’t ‘cheap’ but are also not expensive. And you can get a sense of the prices before traveling by checking the mobile app Mandao (Cuba’s version of Uber Eats).
Yet whether you’re eating at high-end establishments or on the street, the food is pretty average in Cuba. Cuba is not a destination for ‘foodies’. And you should probably learn how to sniff out cockroaches.
Also remember that it’s a legal requirement for establishments to clearly display prices in Cuba. If a venue doesn’t clearly display its prices its likely running scams.
Overall, I personally don’t find Cuba to be overly expensive. Yet I also know how to get around, avoid scams and price gouging, while visiting venues in areas tourists often never see.
Cuba is by no means a ‘cheap’ tourist destination. And for the money I can think of better places to visit. Like Buenos Aires or Bogotá.
Food And Drink Budgets In Local Cuban Peso (CUP)
Here is a rough estimate in local currency of what each type of traveler should budged per day for 3 meals in a restaurant. Yet the below estimate will vary depending on how much you eat and how many cocktails you might want to enjoy each day.
Always plan to take more cash with you to Cuba then you think you’ll spend. It’s better to be taking money home than not being able to enjoy your vacation.
|Budget Traveler||5,000 to 10,000CUP per person, per day (roadside food stands and non-touristic towns)|
|Mid level Touristic Traveler||20,000CUP+ per person, per day (mid-tier restaurants)|
|High End Touristic Traveler||50,000CUP+ per person, per day (high-end restaurants)|
How Much I Spend In Cuba (2023)
I usually take between €8k-€10k euro for each 3 month trip. And I return with anywhere from 20-50% of my cash still in my bag. But I travel with larger amounts of money as it’s extremely difficult to get cash in Cuba.
You’re better off taking more cash than you believe you will need. As opposed to being in Cuba and running out of cash. If you run out of money in Cuba you won’t enjoy your holiday.
Now, I do spend a lot less than the average tourist. Because I know how to navigate Cuba and Cuban society. I have the right mobile apps and know how to avoid the scams. And I understand Cuban ‘economics’. Cuba is the real life West World.
I use a CubaCell SIM card for my phone and internet. Which gives me access to La Nave and allows me to get around without being fleeced by taxis.
I stay in private casa’s prepaid on airbnb. I book all of my trips online to avoid local price gouging and I exchange money through my own cash guy who provides near the ‘eltoque’ black market cash rates.
For food and drinks I use the mobile app ‘Mandao’ to order in when I can’t be bothered going out to a restaurant. I spend my days in mid-level establishments and every couple of nights I will frequent the high-end establishments and nightclubs.
I’m also pretty careful where I eat. As I’ve had every type of food poisoning known to man. Compliments of the poor food hygiene standards in Cuba. So I’m definitely not a budget traveler when it comes to food in Cuba.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.
My Complete Guide To Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the most Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba here.