Cuba travel tips: everything you need to know to travel on a budget (part 2)

👉🏽Transports 

Getting around in Cuba is probably the most difficult thing you’ll need to deal in the country.

From the airport there’s no public bus, just taxis and tour buses, just ask around, negotiate prices, but is not easy to get a good deal, due to the lack of options. We got a place in a transfer mini van that was going to a all inclusive in Varadero that left us in Matanzas (our first stop) for $30CUC each. The taxis were asking for $80CUC each :O

To go from city to city, most tourists catch Viazul buses. They have schedules, but get fully booked very quickly. Booking and get your tickets at least the day before is highly advisable. We haven’t done that so that means we were only able to catch 2 Viazul buses during the whole month.

We end up traveling by taxi (taxi collectivo), and truck (camiones), most of the time.

Traveling by taxi collectivo involves always lots of negotiation, but we always stick to the price of the Viazul tickets, and said no to any other prices. A couple of times we paid less that the Viazul ticket. Locking in a specific price is the key. A collectivo is a shared private car.

The truck charge everyone on board a set price in MN (moeda nacional – Cuban Peso CUP). It is extremely crowded, hot and uncomfortable, but its an absolute bargain, just as a reference from Guantanamo to Barracoa (a 5h trip- around 150km) is 30 CUP (around $1.10 pp)

Inside the localities, using the guaguas (public bus) is a great option (1CUP /pp is the price across the country and doesn’t matter where you’re going) and again don’t ask for the price just give the 1CUP and keep walking.

Bicycle Taxis are another option, they normally have two fares, around 5 CUP for short distances and 10 CUP for long distances, but expect to be asked a price in CUC, specially in the more touristic cities.

When using cuban public transports don’t ask many questions, observe the locals and do what they do, and also works better if you always have change.

Renting a bike, is also a great option in some places like Barracoa and Trinidad, it costs 3-5CUC.  Boat, horse back riding and horse cart are also incredible common and popular among locals.

Renting a car in Cuba is possible, and probably the best option to discover Cuba. With your own transport you can easily get off the beaten path and visit places that see no other tourists.  But unfortunately isn’t cheap. When I looked up the prices for renting an economy car for a minimum period of 14 days was 60 CUC per day. So you will be always looking at a minimum of $50 CUC per day.

 

👉🏽Internet 

Just forget about it, that’s the best thing to do, but if you are like me that likes to have internet at least any other day, you can have it but it will challenge your patience. Internet isn’t available everywhere, wifi spots are normally available in the large public parks.

To get online you need to buy an internet scratch-card from ETECSA (1.50CUC for one hour). In the more touristic places we came across some scams, when you go to the ETECSA and the security person at the door will say that they run off internet cards (tarjetas) and there’s people selling cards in the street for 3CUC (the double). When this happen, you know you can’t really win, so we just didn’t buy the internet cards there. Its always a good solution to stock up some cards when you find them at the correct price.

The ETECSA office, is normally a blue building  near the plazas that have Wi-Fi, they will have definitely a queue  were you will wait in line for at least 20 minutes. Always ask who is the last person in the line because they don’t put themselves in order (qué es lo ultimo?) and wait for your turn. Cubans always queue outside.

👉🏽Challenges and Scams 

lack of internet = no Google Maps = no reviews from places = no answer to any questions

So do your research in advance, have a app with offline maps like Galileo Maps or Maps.Me (both have offline maps of Cuba) and a small guide with maps.

If you don’t speak Spanish, your journey will be incredibly more difficult, so start learning some basics and if take a small dictionary if you don’t speak any Spanish.

Cuba is a safe place to travel, but full with scammers (jineteros) 🙂 Especially around the more tourist spots, please, please do some research and make sure you read about the most common scams. Fortunately we didn’t end up in any, but I can’t count how many tourists we saw being tricked. Even though not much harm comes from them (despite losing some money) they can impact negatively your whole experience.

The disparity between the CUP (the Cuban peso) and the CUC (the tourist currency) is so big, that means that who makes money in CUC have a lot more comparing with the others. Taxi drivers and casa owners  make more money in a day than a doctor (the highest paid government position in Cuba). In the more touristic areas you will be approached constantly by people who want to offer you something, like taxi, restaurant, cigars, cases (rooms), drugs, tours, souvenirs, internet cards or lead you to a supposed good, authentic and cheap place for music, food or drinks. Ignoring is an option or say “no” politely, what can be annoying and time consuming because they don’t give-up easy. Remember that doesn’t matter how friendly they are it will be a scam.

Something else can be a challenge mostly for solo female travellers, cat calling looks like a ‘national sport’ in Cuba and I found it quite bothersome.  It’s overwhelming the harrassment and (bad) attention women can get from Cuban men. If you don’t want company you have to be  firm when you answer them, or just ignore and keep walking, (I know that sounds rude, but there are a lot of scam artists approaching women).

👉🏽When to visit Havana

In my personal opinion it’s better to visit Havana in the end of your trip, and two-three days are enough, out of the capital you can explore other less crowded, cheaper and more authentic towns. And also you will be prepared to all the tourist harassment.

👉🏽 Packing: 

Apart from the basics, like money, passport, light clothes, flip-flops, bathing suit, etc..  a few other things you can’t miss, because they will be practically impossible to find and even if you do they are extremely expensive:

  • shampoo
  • Sunscreen (plenty of it)
  • moisturiser and/or after sun
  • basic First Aid Kit
  • medicines
  • Toothpaste, Toothbrush
  • feminine hygiene products
  • wet wipes and/or tissues
  • hand sanitiser
  • Plug adaptor

👉🏽 Entertainment: 

If you understand Spanish going to the Cinema or Theatre can be a great plan for a evening.  Out of havana a ticket costs between 5 to 10 CUP. Concerts and performances are also a must see, and they do happen everywhere all the time.

Art galleries and Art studios are also not to be missed, there are many artists in Cuba, and they are happy to welcome you to their space and talk about their work. There are also museum but nothing memorable.

Cuba can be a frustrating, confusing and a challenging country to visit, but also an wonderful place at the same time.

If you’re planning a trip to Cuba I hope you find this post useful,  If you have visited Cuba already I would love to hear your experiences and stories, and let me know if you have any other tips that I missed 🙂 happy travels everyone 🙏 Lots of Love Ana 💚

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

🚌 Read – Part 1🚌

 

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Cuba travel tips: everything you need to know to travel on a budget (part 1)

For what I had read before going to Cuba I was expecting that a month there would be quite expensive, and definitely can be, but you can also travel on a tight budget.

I spent an average of 23€ a day, but I traveled with another person, so for solo travellers  this amount would be higher for sure, and of course everyone travels differently,  so no one ever has the same travel budget. I just put mine here as a reference, so you know that’s possible.

First tip, never take a no for an answer, it’s important to negotiate, and it’s normal to ‘argue’ and ‘get upset’, always always speak out, if the situation is not fair or reasonable. Other wise you will be paying more than in Switzerland or Norway.

Be prepared to sometimes be ignored in a cuban shop and to be always the last one to be served (but not in a touristic place) 😉

👉🏽 Money

Cuba has 2 different currencies – Cuban Peso (CUP) also known as moneda nacional MN and Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)  (25CUP = $1 USD =1CUC). Foreigners CAN (and should) use CUP it is not illegal, so don’t believe if someone tells you the opposite.

Probably the best tip I can give is NEVER ask the prices in Cuba, expect Cubans to give you always the prices in CUCs and to see other tourists using only this currency. When you ask they know you are not sure… Assume always that the prices are in Pesos Cubanos (CUP), and pay for it straight away, the only exceptions are the touristic restaurants and bars, long-distance taxis , hotels/casas and tour operators, but you’ll realise that they always write CUC in front of the price. So if you see a menu (carta) with coffee – 1, it means that the price is 1CUP (about 4 cents) and not 1CUC ($1 dollar).

You only need CUCs to pay for: long distance transports, accommodation, museums, touristic spots and water. (0.5L – 45CUC;   1.5L – 0.70CUC;  5L – 1.90CUC) for everything else use CUPs. We came across some upsetting situations in Trinidad and Havana when buying water, the staff from the supermarket didn’t have the prices in the water and despite the fact that we knew the price and gave the correct amount they asked for much more. Step your foot down and argue loudly so everybody now what they are doing,  they don’t just ask for a few more cents, they ask for a 1,5L 3 o 4 CUC.. what they are doing is ilegal and you can ask to speak with the manager or even call the number that is on the wall for the costumer service. Demand that they scan your product and give you a receipt like they do when serving a cuban.

Always choose places that have the prices displayed, it’s a current practice, so when they don’t have it, they will probably create a new price just for you. (check out the pictures below they all have prices displayed in CUPs and keep in mind that $1=25CUP)

The prices don’t vary much around the island, so having the average food prices in mind should help (all prices in CUPs):

  • sandwich  2-12 CUP
  • pizza  5-10 CUP
  • natural juice/milkshake 3-5 CUP
  • coffe 1-2 CUP
  • chocolate bar 5-10 CUP (depended on size)
  • small sweets 1-2 CUP
  • peanut bars / seed bars 5-7 CUP
  • ice cream 1-5 CUP
  • popcorn 5CUP
  • one paper cone with peanuts 1 CUP
  • 1 big avocado 5-10CUP
  • 3 big mangos 5-10CUP
  • 1 hot dish (rice with beans and salad)  – 10-25CUP
  • fried banana 5CUP
  • All snack vary from 3-10CUP
  • Piña colada 5-10CUP
  • mojito 10-12 CUP
  • pasta 10 CUP
  • beer (cerveja dispensed is the cheapest one) 5-25 CUP
  • soda in a cup 1-2 CUP
  • hot chocolate 5 CUP
  • churros 3-5 CUP
  • malt beverage 10-25 CUP

average price for local transports in CUPs:

  • bus – 1CUP (they call it guagua)
  • bici taxi – 5CUP – 10CUP

I brought cash to fund my whole trip so don’t really know how reliable are the ATM, but saw a couple in each capital district.

Exchanging money it’s easy but like everything in Cuba takes time and queuing outside. Ask for the CADECA the official place to exchange money and of course don’t do it in the street. It is possible to exchange U.S. Dollars, Euros, British Pounds, and a few others. But U.S. Dollar is by far the worst one, because it gets charged a 10% fee in addition to the exchange rate.

Exchange your money to Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUC) first and then some Convertibles(CUC) to Cuban Pesos (CUP). (Don’t forget to take your passport).

Paying in convertibles (CUC) and getting change in CUPs is the most popular trick so familiarize yourself with the money and always check your change.

👉🏽Where to stay 

The cheapest options are the casas particulares, a kind of airbnb or guest house. Finding a casa, is extremely easy, there are plenty available everywhere, we didn’t book any house in advance and was always easy and quick to find one. Simply walk around the area you want, knock on the door of a house with the blue sign and ask to see a room, then decide if you want to stay there or see the next one.

We always negotiate our price to fit our budget that was €20 per night and we found always a house that was willing to do that price for us, even in the more touristic areas like Havana, or Trinidad, so don’t get afraid when they start saying that is the high season, all the casas are full, etc.. Cuba truly has an huge offer.

Breakfast is normally not included and the price is between 5-6CUC, but to be fair you will eat exactly the same out for a fraction of that price, so we never ate at the casas.

👉🏽Eating and drinking 

Someone that I met there told me “we are not here to eat” when I was complaining about the food, and lack of options…. and that really needs to be the attitude, because cuban food is by far the worst I ever came across.  In the other hand its ridiculously cheap and why to worry about eating when you can drink 🙂 natural fruit juice of course 😉

The lowest-cost options are at street-side stores they normally have sandwiches, pizza, rice with beans, pasta, natural fruit juice and coffee, but not all the options at the same time.

They have two types of places, the state-run restaurants and the particulares, the last one is a bit more expensive than the other one but not really a big difference, it’s like instead of paying 1 dollar for your meal you will pay 2, only if that private restaurants (particular) serves locals.

Cooking your own food its not an option at all, but what we did to complement our meals was to buy fruits like avocado and mango and ask at the restaurantes to cut it for us.

Fresh juices are amazing and very cheap, if you have an empty water bottle with you, ask them to refill it with juice (1,2,3.. cups) it’s a normal practice between locals.

We never got sick from the food or drinks (only feed up😂)

👉🏽Being Vegan (or) Vegetarian 

Well where to start… to say the true, being vegan in Cuba can be very hard when you are traveling on a budget, and off the beaten path.

While you always have the option of eating at the casas particulares, that with your guidance will be able to cook something for you,  it’s not the cheapest option or any different from the things you can eat outside. Cooking is also not an option, because they will not allow you to use their kitchens.

Carrying a knife, is truly a life saver, you can just  eat some salad or fruit, when you want. Cubans sell seasonal fruit and vegetables using street carts, it is more likely to find them during the morning. Fresh fruit is by far one of the top foods you can eat, the most common are guavas, papayas, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, avocados, mamoncillo and coconuts.

Here are some names of the most common food, if you don’t speak Spanish it would be important to get familiarised with them:

  • arroz (rice)
  • ensalada (salad)
  • frijoles (beans)
  • arroz morro or moros y cristianos  (black beans + rice)
  • fruta (fruit)
  • maduros (fried sweet plantains)
  • tostones (fried green plantains)
  • Yuca frita or cassava (root vegetable)
  • pan (bread)
  • papas (potatoes)
  • Batido (milkshake)
  • jugo natural (natural fruit juice)
  • Cucurucho (desert with coconut and pineapple)
  • pudin or flan (pudding flan)
  • Pasteles dulces (bakery)
  • mani (peanuts)

More touristic places, like Havana, Trinidad or Viñales will have better option than the rest of the country, but not much..

So far, for me, Cuba was the hardest country to eat well as a vegan (sorry to say that if you are planning a trip to cuba 😆) You will definitely not to starve but you will get sick of the same food everyday, specially if you are travelling like me for a long time, by the end I couldn’t think about eating more of the same again 😫 the smile in my face holding the food was just for the photos  hihi 😂

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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