How to Enjoy Your Trip While Saving Money in Cuba
Don’t ignore the custom rule.
As with most countries, do not bring any fruits, vegetables, or otherwise unpackaged food with you. Customs made us throw out a full bowl of salad, and several bananas and oranges. 💔😭
Instead of living in a hotel, we highly recommend staying with local people in a hostel, called a “Casa Particular”. Cuba is very well developed in terms of the number of individuals hosting their own hostels, and the industry is strictly regulated to ensure safety and adequate accomodations. Every government-authorized hostel has a sign on their front door, which looks like an anchor as picture below:
Staying with the local Cubanos is the best way to know the country and how the people live from a closer perspective. Often, the owners run the hostel as a second source of income, so you’ll really be meeting regular folks who have
typical jobs and families for you to become familiar with. We always stayed in a Casa Particular, and never had a bad experience. They are also usually much cheaper than a traditional hotel, and are located in the hearts of the cities. So pack your backpack, and go make a friend with a true Cubano!
Don’t miss out the fancy breakfasts!
If you stay with the local family in a Casa Particular, be sure not to miss out on the breakfasts! They are usually 5 CUC per person, and are well worth the price. They are homemade and delicious, usually including a variety of food to make a great start to your day. Breakfasts usually include mixed fresh fruit (e.g. papaya, pineapple, guava), eggs, meat, cheese, toast with jam and butter, fresh juice, coffee, and tea. For comparison, a breakfast at a traditional restaurant will likely cost you at least double the price and will offer similar items. As reference:
Say NO to scams!
A common scam among some of the locals is to pretend to be a hostel owner and bring tourist to their place rather than the hostel the tourist actually booked. Called “jineteros”, these individuals may wait for tourists at airports, bus stops, or even sometimes in front of other hostels’ doors. When a tourist appears, they introduce themselves as a friend of so-and-so (the original hostel owner/worker who would be there to meet the tourist), and state that the hostel they booked had an incident or became suddenly booked, so instead they will be staying at a new hostel. These usually are other licensed hostels poaching business, not people bringing tourists simply to their home, but is nonetheless illegal in the country. This scam is especially notorious in Trinidad.
CUP vs. CUC
The first thing you may want to do after get to the country is to go to a Cadeca (money exchange place) to change your currency into CUC and/or CUP. Cuba uses two currencies, the CUC which is pegged to the US dollar and is intended to be the currency for foreigners to use, and the CUP which is the local currency. The locals use both, they usually get paid in CUP and change to CUC to buy more expensive stuff, like electric appliance, etc. The exchange rate is roughly 1 CUC to 24-25 CUP. As a tourist, you should be using CUC, and many places will expect you to pay in CUC if they know you’re foreign (particularly your Casa Particular or hotel, any tourist activities or tours, etc.). Nevertheless, if you want you can convert your foreign currency into CUP at a Cadeca, or request merchants to give your change to you in CUP. Many places, including almost any shop for food or groceries, will accept CUP without question, even if you clearly appear to be a tourist. For example, a pizza or hamburger could be either 5 CUC/CUP or juice 2 CUC/CUP depending on what you choose to use. On the other hand, you shouldn’t expect to use CUP at tourist souvenir stores, or tourist attractions like museums. Regardless, if you happen to find yourself with CUP to spend, you may want to consider paying with CUP, especially for food, as you’ll be paying 1/25th the price. And as several locals told us, if you want to live like a Cubano while you’re in Cuba, you should use Peso Cubano (CUP). As such, we were often encouraged to use CUP if we mentioned we had it. A sample Cadeca photo below:
Always use CUP if you can.
The sign for amounts in CUP and for CUC are both the same as a US dollar sign. As below:
This means the same item will cost that amount in either CUC or CUP, making items significantly cheaper if you choose to pay in CUP. So before assuming you need to pay with CUC, ask first and maybe you can save a good fortune! Having CUP on hand can save you soooo much money! Important places to keep this in mind include food locations, especially the Copellia (state-run ice cream parlors), and pay-to-use bathrooms. Whatever the price is listed as in these locations, opt for the CUP if you have it. We didn’t realize this option until halfway through our trip, and we were paying 25 times what we could have. This really adds up when you consider almost every bathroom requests $1 (CUC or CUP).
Say no to scams #2, Havana.
In Havana, there are many people around the city trying to scam you by saying that day is the monthly/yearly Cigar Festival, meaning that cigars and rum are half off if you attend the festival market. Don’t ever listen to them, there is no such thing as that! First off, they say it every day, which really hurts their “daily” argument. But moreover, you should be tipped off by the fact that the “market” tends to be inside someone’s house, albeit usually one of the larger, nicer houses. In reality, the scammers are selling counterfeit goods which claim to be high brands for roughly half the normal price. Also, occasionally, the items may come from the factories of the real companies they purport to be, but they are the unwanted, defected or low quality items which workers are either allowed to keep or otherwise take from the factory.
Enjoy your interactions with the friendly Cubanos!
Despite the earlier tips warning you of some common scams, be aware that most of the people are just nice and friendly, and they want to help tourists or simply want to have a casual chat to learn and to practice their English. Additionally, there are lots of business people who try to draw your attention and get a business. These people may come off strongly trying to gain your business, but they are not going to give you a bad deal and should not be mistrusted. Rather, they simply want to do business and are enthusiastic to take part in the country’s newly allowed entrepreneurial outlets. They too are friendly even after if you decline their offers. Nevertheless, as you’ll see in just about any part of the world, there are some people who will try to scam you. Yet, compared to some other high-tourism countries, these people are less aggressive and their scams are easier to spot. So enjoy your time in Cuba! Don’t miss out your opportunity to know the country and its people! Just maintain a healthy level of skepticism when a deal sounds too good to be true.
Viazul is your best friend to transport within the country.
The most economical and convenient way to travel throughout Cuba is by bus. Viazul is the biggest company, and it serves the entire country. The vast majority of riders are foreign tourists because the price of their tickets are higher than those of the state-run buses intended for the local people. Having said that, the ticket prices are fair, and considering the quality of the interiors and overall cleanliness of the ride, are actually quite a bargain. You can choose to purchase the tickets in advance through their websites or get the tickets in their offices in every bus station they operate. We highly recommend purchasing online as the lines can be long in the bus stations, and unfortunately not all people, locals and tourists included, follow the basic etiquette for forming lines. Bus stations usually have two different areas to accommodate in-person or online purchases, and we never had to wait when redeeming our online tickets. It should be noted, that the prices are the same online or in person.
For your reference: http://www.viazul.com/index.php
Is there any thing you think important but missing here? Tell us today! 😊