Cuba can either be one of the most expensive places you visit, or one of the cheapest. What you’ll spend in Cuba will be ultimately determined by the amount of research you do, before traveling to Cuba.
If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, I would highly suggest you read my Complete Guide To Cuba before booking your holiday. But with that said, here’s what you need to know about travel costs in Cuba and how I keep my own travel costs low.
Is Cuba an expensive destination to visit?
Do Cubans Live On A Few Dollars A Day?
This is a myth that just refuses to fade away. Cubans don’t live on $7 a day or $40 per month. All Cubans have at least one side hustle to bring in extra cash. And very often, a Cuban’s side job brings in more money than their official job.
Lawyers moonlight as plumbers. University professors run airbnbs. Hotel workers clean private rentals or work as bar tenders. Teachers make more money working as waiters, than they do as teachers. No Cuban lives on their government salary.
Cuba is more expensive than you’d think. The rent alone in Havana is often up to ten (10) times the average monthly salary of the people who live in the rentals. A can of local beer will cost 250CUP and nobody earning 1250CUP a day would be drinking a six-pack at night. But Cubans drink most nights.
How Much Does A Holiday In Cuba Cost?
Cuba is more expensive than Argentina or Colombia, but much less expensive than Uruguay, Chile or Peru. And it’s far less expensive than the United States, Canada, United Kingdom or Australia.
The first point to note here, is that if you’re finding goods and services in Cuba to be expensive, it’s highly likely that you’re being ripped off. Cuba is awash with scams and ‘gringo pricing‘.
You also need to be familiar with Cuba’s black market exchange rate that acts as the real ‘dual currency’ system in Cuba. The unofficial exchange rate operates along side the official exchange rate, much like the ‘dolar blue’ in Argentina.
If you’re getting the real exchange rate and aren’t overpaying for goods and services, Cuba is relatively inexpensive.
Excluding rent (Airbnb) which is comparable to Buenos Aires in Argentina, I could live very comfortably in Havana for around $25-$50USD per day. And by very comfortably, I mean eating all meals in restaurants, taking cabs everywhere and drinking all day long.
Example Costs In Havana Cuba
- 1.25lt bottle of water – 200CUP
- Packet of cigarettes – 180CUP
- 1kg bag of Cubita dark roast coffee (lasts a month or more) – 2500CUP
- English Breakfast (bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast) with 3 coffees – 1500CUP
- Entre, pasta and 3 ‘Crystal’ (beer) for lunch – 1800CUP
- Entre, enchilado de langosta (lobster) and 3 canchanchara (cocktails) for dinner – 2500CUP
- La Nave (Cuban Uber) from Vedado to Habana Vieja (return) – 600CUP to 800CUP
- A bottle of Gin with Tonic Waters – 1300CUP
- A bottle of good Argentinian Malbec – 2200CUP
- Bottle of Ron Santiago De Cuba (aged 8 years – the good stuff) – 1800CUP to 2000CUP
- Housekeeper 2-3 times per week – 1000CUP to 1500CUP per 3 hour cleaning session
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (Kilogram or dozen) – 20CUP to 50CUP
What I Spend Per Day In Havana Cuba
At the current exchange rate $50USD is 13000CUP. So, with $50USD per day, I can be eating out and drinking all day long and relaxing at night with a bottle of something good.
Obviously, if I was the budget conscious type, I could take ‘colectivos’ (shared taxis) or the bus, cut out alcohol and not eat lobster. And I could visit cheaper local restaurants. Which would cut my costs down to around $25USD per day.
I could also stay in places like Guanabacoa or Diez de Octubre. Because that would cut all my costs by about two-thirds. But I like being close to the ocean in Vedado. A highly popular area for foreign workers, expats and tourists.
Some (rare) days my costs will far exceed $50USD. For example, if I take 2 local friends out to the best restaurants in town and we each have entrees, mains, deserts and copious amounts of the best cocktails, the bill for one night out can exceed 30,000CUP ($115USD).
I’ve also been known to spend up to 50,000CUP ($200USD) in a night. But this is when taking a larger group of friends out for 5 star everything, and rolling home in the early hours of the morning. After we’ve tried every cocktail known to man, in all the best restaurants and bars in Havana.
Not Dining At The Best Restaurants And Still Finding Cuba Expensive?
If you’re not eating lobster, drinking like a fish and getting driven everywhere and you’re still finding that Cuba is expensive, you should take a closer look at the Cubans around you. They’re likely freeloaders or are using you as their own little cash machine.
Amongst some Cubans, there is a tendency to just want to relax, not work and rely on foreigners to pay for everything. Now this isn’t all Cubans. And I will always pay for my close friends, because they do earn far less than I do.
But what I won’t do, is pay for a Cuban who doesn’t feel the need to have a real job and their own sources of income, while just freeloading off others. Any Cuban who feels they can just live off the kindness of other people, to go to restaurants and drink all night, will get nothing from me.
And you too should look closely at who you’re associating with in Cuba, if you’re finding Cuba expensive. Particularly if you’re spending far more than $50USD per day for food, drinks, goods and services. Because you’ve likely caught yourself a Cuban parasite, who’s sucking money out of your wallet.
You should also take a closer look at the restaurants you’re visiting and the shops you’re frequenting. If the prices aren’t clearly marked, that store is breaking the law. And they are just making up prices on a per customer basis (i.e. gringo pricing).
If your Cuban ‘friend’ keeps taking you to a restaurant that has high prices but low quality, they’re likely getting a commission from your bill. Or, if they’re always getting taxis from WhatsApp and not La Nave (the ‘Uber’ in Cuba), then they’re likely getting a commission or kickback on all your trips. And people who do this aren’t your friends, they’re just scammers.
Learn To Negotiate Like A Cuban To Cut Travel Costs
You need to learn how to negotiate like a Cuban and pay cash in local currency everywhere, to cut your travel costs. If the prices quoted to you are always sounding expensive, you need to learn how to say some bad words in Spanish and walk away.
In the same way you would tell a shopkeeper to f**k off and walk away, if they quoted you a price that was ten times the normal price in any other country, you need to do the same in Cuba. Havana is a fast paced and often pushy city.
Be forceful in your negotiations, because you have the upper hand. Cubans won’t pay stupid prices and neither should you. Cubans won’t pay for every freeloader that smiles at them and neither should you. Don’t just hand out money to every person that walks up to you offering goods, services or is begging in tourist areas.
Instead, integrate into the society and act like all the other Cubans, while you’re here, and your costs will go down. Plus, you’ll find that your level of enjoyment will go up.
Havana is a fantastic, fun and vibrant city and yet, it is quite cheap. But it’s only cheap once you understand how it operates, and when you learn to say no and walk away from freeloaders and scammers.
Factors That Will Affect Your Budget In Cuba
There are a few key factors that will affect how much your vacation in Cuba costs. Chief among these are where in Cuba you’re going and the exchange rate you get when changing money.
You’ll find in Cuba that whenever you’re dealing with the Government or buying goods and services controlled by the Government, you spend more. The more often you use private companies and individuals, the cheaper your holiday in Cuba will become. With that said, below are some factors you should consider to lower your travel costs 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, by 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. 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.
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, food and medicines.
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). They also keep the black market called ‘Revolico‘ in business.
Reducing Transport Costs 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 to Cuba, 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 yet 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, it’s likely running scams.
Overall, I 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.
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 take more cash with you to Cuba than you think you’ll spend. It’s better to be taking money back home with you, 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)|
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.