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We spent 3 weeks in Cuba this January/February. While we were super excited and happy that we were able to visit Cuba there are definitely some logistical issues with visiting for three weeks. We wanted to give you guys an idea of what we did and what our basic itinerary, costs, etc.. we are here to help you plan better for your own trip.
Havana – 3 Days, 3 Nights
Vinales – 3 Days, 3 Nights
Trinidad – 7 Days, 7 Nights
Havana – 5 Days, 4 Nights
Personally, we think that 7 days is about 4 too many in Trinidad. In hindsight, we probably could have cut our trip down to save money by staying less time in Trinidad. Or we could have opted to go to some of the beautiful Caribbean beaches that we missed. (At least we saw them in Tulum!)
To get to Cuba we flew in and out of Cancun. This was fairly straightforward and economical and we definitely would suggest it.
Read here to find out everything you need to know to fly from Cancun to Cuba
Cost Breakdown for 3 Weeks in Cuba
The total we spent over 18 Days was: $1,591.00
This broke down to $88.39 a day which was about $20 more a day than we anticipated. (Maybe we are just bad budgeters?)
This does not include our flights from Cancun.
Here is the Breakdown of Everything We Spent in 3 Weeks in Cuba:
Accommodation for 17 days: $464
We booked most of our rooms on Airbnb and then we had just room suggested to us by our former place. We heard about a lot of people just arriving and then looking for casa particulares in their price range but personally, I like knowing where I am staying beforehand. I can’t handle the stress of getting somewhere new and not having a place to stay! Luckily, you can now book casa particulares on Airbnb!
Transportation in Cuba: $246.30
In Cuba, we used shared taxis exclusively. This was because we wanted to be picked up and dropped off at our accommodation. However, this ended up being overall costlier than the buses and it certainly wasn’t comfortable. There is nothing like being crammed into a converted 1950s Ford prison bus with twenty-five of your closest friends. Did we mention the plastic seats?
Eating Out: $465.54
We spent most of our money on food (per usual). Eating out in Cuba was tough because you are pretty much stuck going to the tourist restaurants. While it’s great that locals are now able to open restaurants it was a little disconcerting knowing that the locals, for the most part, can’t afford to eat at these restaurants.
This essentially was just cash tips for the musicians. It is great that there is live music everywhere in Cuba just make sure you have small amounts of cash for tips. If you run out of money like us and don’t have tips the musicians may get a little testy. Totally understand, but there was nothing we could do…
Yes, I spend enough on coffee to have it merit its own category….
Also, Don Pepe in Trinidad was my favorite spot for coffee and not just because they served it with alcohol. Here you could also sip on a delicious canchanchara, a delicious concoction of rum, honey, and lemon.
This was all the money we spent on drinks out. Most drinks were around $2 although the more famous places like Bodeguita and La Floridita charge $5. By far one of the cheapest places we drank (and the drinks were delicious) was also our favorite restaurant in Havana, El Chanchullero. They have a rooftop terrace where you can sip on their amazing daiquiris, mojitos, and pina coladas all night long.
Because of the economic situation in Cuba, we don’t really recommend grocery shopping per se. There is not a lot available so it’s probably better to leave the actual groceries to the locals. We did, however, buy a lot of alcohol, beer, and water at the “grocery” stores and also from locals who have small bodegas in their homes. If you want rum this is the best way to purchase it as it is a lot cheaper by the bottle than in restaurants and bars.
Also, if you find yourself running out of money head to the bakeries to stock up on fresh bread. I think we only ate bread the last two days in Havana in fact…
This was anything from the cost of the visa, wifi, bike rentals, horseback riding, cigars, and even the occasional bathroom fees.
I am sure most people would put bike rentals and horseback riding in entertainment but I didn’t. Sue me.
If you are an American visiting Cuba remember that you have to bring all your cash with you for your whole trip. You cannot pull money out of the ATM. Therefore you have to get really good at budgeting. We ended up having family book us Airbnbs while we were there because we realized it was much more expensive than we thought it would be.
Note – Even with internet access you cannot book an Airbnb in Cuba. If you want to book them while you are in the country you will have to have someone else do it for you who is not in Cuba. Also, even if you book online your accommodation will still need you to register when you arrive with your passport and your tourist visa.
The Cuban money system is also interesting because they have two currencies: one for locals and one for tourists. The tourist currency, CUC, is always 1 to 1 with the US dollar, however, do not convert US dollar in Cuba because they charge you a 10% penalty fee. We brought Mexican pesos with us and we have heard about people bringing Euros over as well. Whatever you do, make sure the bills are pristine. They do not take less than perfect bills.
Also, be sure to put aside cash for transportation so you don’t get caught. On our last day, we had just enough for our taxi to the airport (thanks to getting scammed) because I had hidden it away at the beginning of the trip. Don’t get caught without some money as a backup!
You may end up overpaying if you don’t clarify prices in the beginning. We ended up paying $40 for a shared taxi to Viñales when the bus would have been $24 total. We thought our casa particulares hosts said it was $25 for both of us but we should have reconfirmed. Also, we should have asked the price of our place in Viñales that they set up for us. We thought it would be around $20-$25 a night but it actually was $30 a night. Little things like this are basically what killed our budgets and why we ended up booking our stays on Airbnb.
Watch out for scammers. It is very common in Cuba for locals to try to get you to go to a bar or restaurant and then pay for them. We got caught in this scam and it sucked. They played the long con with us in Havana and this couple took us to a restaurant in Chinatown. In the end, we had to pay for their meal and our own (after a lengthy argument which ended when we wisely decided not to get the police involved). In return for a free meal, the locals also got some fee for bringing us there as well.
It sucks that this kind of shady activity exists but for many locals, they see it as a way to get a free meal from the rich tourists and also make some money on the side. In the end, we lost out of $40 and had to eat bread for two days. It could have been worse.
So just keep your wits about you and don’t follow locals to bars or restaurants. (Unfortunately, as this is usually one of our tips for finding local places)
Cuba was a very interesting experience for us. This was the first time we have visited somewhere where we have been so separated from the locals but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. We did have a great time on this trip. It just also made us think a lot about our role in tourism and the effects on the locals.
One of the biggest highlights of our 3 weeks in Cuba was the music. There was live music everywhere and you could always go and watch performances as well. In Havana roving bands of musicians, bar hop and entertain people with traditional Cuban music. This creates an infectious energy throughout the streets and I could happily walk down the streets of Cuba and just soak in all the music.
Listening to live music is always the best chance you will get to hang out with the locals. While we were in Trinidad we stumbled upon a giant party happening off one of the main roads. It was free to enter and it was 90% locals. There, all ages were partying and dancing to the music. Honestly, it felt like a big family birthday party that we had stumbled upon. The energy was frenetic, the beer was flowing and we were greeted with big smiles!
Also, the rum is great in Havana. If we hadn’t been scammed one of our fondest memories in Cuba would have been sitting on the Malecon in Havana, drinking rum and watching the sunset with the locals. We were there at the perfect time of year too because of the way the sunset was framed by the skyline of Havana.
Another highlight of Havana was definitely Vinales. While I was sick those few days (of course) Alex and I really enjoyed this small town. Alex was in cigar heaven especially when we stopped by and watched a local women hand roll them. Who knew you should dip the end in honey to sweeten and soften it? In addition, this is just a gorgeous area of Cuba. I wish we had rearranged our itinerary a bit to head to the beach just north of Vinales and explore the islands off the coast.
As I said, Cuba was definitely a destination that made us think about our role as tourists. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it definitely impacted the way we approached our travel over 3 weeks in Cuba.
Cuba honestly, felt like a Disneyland version of what it could be. There is a real divide between tourists and locals and it’s hard to break away from the confines of tourism. Perhaps if we were fluent in Spanish it would have been easier.
However, for us, we felt confined by the limits set upon the locals really. We had a hard time just blissfully slipping into a rum and music coma when we realized that a $2 mojito was 10% of the average Cuban monthly income. (In Cuba there is a maximum wage limit where they are only allowed to earn $20 a month)
When looking at it this way, I totally understand why we got scammed by locals for their $20 meal. Still not totally happy about it but with the wage cap, it is understandable.
In addition, we spent over $1500 in Cuba and we tried valiantly to only spend it at casa particulares, paladares, and directly from locals but how much of that really went to them? It is tough to see the dichotomy between the face Cuba is presenting to the tourists and what the locals live with.
Overall, I am extremely grateful that we were able to experience and immerse ourselves for 3 weeks in Cuba. The trip was definitely an eye-opener. It wasn’t always easy or comfortable but we don’t just travel to eat well we travel to learn about the world. And Cuba was definitely a learning experience.
Heading to Cuba soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance! Sure you may not use it but its always good to have. We recommend World Nomads which we have been using for years and have always made us feel secure as we travel around the world!
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