Before planning my trip to Cuba, I saw flights for $700+ and travel packages for over $1K. Then, boom – I saw a sale from American Airlines and bought the tickets a few hours later with two good friends. I ended up spending no more than $890 in total for my three weeks. This is how.
Pesos Convertibles CUC = $1 USD = 26.5 pesos nacionales MN or CUP. The asterisk shows in which currency I paid in.
- $261.76: Flight from September 7 to September 29, 2016
- $85: Travel Card license visa
Wednesday, September 7th
Day 1: After the currency exchange at the Cienfuegos airport (I got pounds before the trip because they take a huge % if the exchange from USD (do they even exchange USD? not sure but I think not), we trekked down the road for 5 sweaty minutes to find a bus stop. At this bus stop, we started our Cuba transportation education. We learned that camions are run with horses, guaguas are the local buses, and motoretas are motorcycles driven carts… not to be confused with sidecars (pronounced see-de-cars) which are also motorbike run but with the cart on the, wait for it, side. Also, maquinas are cars. I forgot what the bike run carts are called… oh yeah, bicitaxis. From here we tried to make our way to Santa Clara to meet up with my traveling buddy’s cousin who would host us for a few days. Little did we know how lovely and light on our wallets this trip would be…
- 10 CUP: Camion hasta Las Cruces
- 20 CUP: Comida at this restaurant called Cosmopolitana. El had this meat and I had a salad with steamed squash.
- 2 CUP: Guagua a Santa Clara
- 480 CUP: Restaurante for 5 people. El, her cousin, and two of his friends went to a restaurant near the center of Santa Clara. This is when El and I learned that habichuelas and frijoles are not the same thing. Steamed green beans are not the same as saucy red beans over rice.
Daily total in USD = $19.55
Thursday, September 8th
Day 2: After a long night of conversation, mosquitoes, sweat, and heavy sleep at El’s cousin’s, we wanted to visit the university where El’s aunt had studied and one of the best on the island- the University of Santa Clara. This began our Cuba university education. We learned that visitors are not as freely welcomed as we though (we were interrogated while walking around and checking out the campus) and when we went to security and the main office to ask if we could see a class, we got a flat no. Well, more like an exasperated, “You have to be a matriculated student to even step into a class!” As the rebels that we are, El and I roamed around campus and with awesome luck, found a class of tourism majors learning English… without a professor. We sat down, made some friends, and everyone ditched class.
- 10 CUP: Motoreta
- 10 CUP: Camion a la universidad
- 70 CUP: Almuerzo at the university. After we ditched class, we got lunch with some students with the class!
- 106 CUP: 1.5 liter of Cola
- 30 CUP: Helado for 3 people. One of the students stayed with us right before it started to pour. Transportation was so so tough, so we jumped on a crowded truck in our first of many hitchhiking experiences. Apparently, hitchhiking is very common in Cuba. There are even ‘puntos amarillos’ which are pit stops that drivers can pick up passengers aka hitchhikers aka people who just need a ride and can sit in your empty car space.
- 20 CUP: “Tour” with our new friend. He almost refused to accept this, but after long conversations about him wanting to get into tourism and being hard up on money, we wanted to show a bit of respect for his time and also pay for his transportation to meet up for some live music later. We repeated learned from this trip that giving Cubans money by surprise was not the most socially acceptable thing.
- 15 CUP: Guagua a la casa
- 2 CUP: Guagua
- 10 CUC*: Club Mejunje for 2 people. We tried to pass to get the Cuban resident discount but figured it would be better not to. Great place for live music and impromptu dancing.
- 2 CUP: Guagua a ?
- 30 CUP: Celidas Honestly, I don’t remember what this was. A restaurant? I’ll try to remember.
- 3 CUC* 76 CUP Maquina a casa
My daily total in USD = $24.13
Friday, September 9th
Day 3: This was a pretty relaxed day. I remember it was drizzly and all we did was roam and eat around the city center of Santa Clara. On this day, we learned that the pizza we had here tasted like cardboard and the dinners were much much much better. Too bad we didn’t keep better notes as to where we took the guaguas too, but perhaps we’ll meet again and jog our memories. On this day, we started our Cuba internet education and learned that people flock to the city center to get a wifi connection card- for THREE DOLLARS AN HOUR. This may have been the most (relatively) expensive purchase on our trip. The Internet is such a luxury here.
- 10 CUP: Motoreta
- 4 CUC* 100 CUP: Pizza
- $0.60 CUC* / 20 CUP: Chocolate
- 3 CUC* / 75 CUP: Cena at Cresta y el Molinillo
- 2 CUC* / 48 CUP Guagua a ?
- 3 CUC*/ 75 CUP: WiFi
Saturday, September 10th
Day 4: We headed over a couple hours to Sancti Spiritu and after some walking, we found the sweetest couple who owned a casa particular – our first to stay within Cuba. Ah, our Cuba casa particular education! What a varied, beautiful, different, etc. way of hosting tourists. It’s like Airbnb if almost every house had an extra room and it was more word of mouth than online. Some are actually on Airbnb, but they’re much cheaper in person. In our experience on this trip, a casa particular costs $20 – $35 a night. Also, they all have a sign outside their door and have to hand write their guests’ info to send to the government for compliance.
- 40 CUP: Camion de Santa Clara a Sancti Spiritu
- 25 CUC + 6 = 33 CUC for two of us with tip (we tipped?): Casa particular in Santi Spiritu… maybe that was for breakfast? Note to self, don’t rely on memory for a budget listing.
- 100 CUP: Almuerzo
- 20 CUP + 6 CUP: Helado
- 12 CUC* 312 CUP – Almuerzo
- 2 CUC* 48 CUP – Museo de la Guayabera. This is where El broke her bag and when she asked for a needle to help mend it, a lovely lady who worked there sat down to chat with us and started sowing her bag. It was heart warming.
Sunday, September 11th
Day 5: This was the first September 11th that I didn’t do anything formal in memory of September 11th. It was on my mind all day. I didn’t hear anything about it, nor were was it something that came up in conversation. Instead, we headed to one of the most touristy parts of western Cuba (apart from Havana of course) and I didn’t get a good impression. It was too touristy for me – too many cameras, slow walkers, and (relatively) overpriced restaurants. I’d give it another chance, but here, we learned quickly that it was much more entertaining to hang out with the hilarious couple (Pedro and Melba) at our casa particular (our second one!) and much more delicious to eat with them than to go to the restaurants with all the other tourists. Ah, we learned so much about Cuban tourism here. El even had the chance to drive a bicitaxi and joke around about picking up tourists.
- 1 CUC Coche a terminal de Santi Spiritu (not sure/forgot what the difference between coche and maquina are…)
- 100 CUP Maquina a Trinidad de Santi Spiritu
- 15 CUC* 260 CUP Guitarra Mia
Monday, September 12th
Day 5: Ah, what a fun day this was. Just when I was about to dismiss Trinidad, El and I saw some awesome views via bike to the beach and on the rooftop of a soon-to-be closing museum. It was still overpriced like the meager lunch at the beach of rice and salad and $1.50 for water. If only we had brought a filter or something to purify water. This would end up being our second (relatively) highest priced item – internet and water.
- 10 CUC* 240 CUP: 2 bikes to Playa Ancon
- 2 CUC* 48 CUP: 2 bike parking at Playa Ancon
- 5 CUC + 2 CUC*: Food in Playa Ancon
- 2 CUC: overpriced 1500ml water Bottle
- 1.5 CUC: 1500ml water bottle
- 4 CUP* instead of 4 CUC: Museum paid in cuban peso =D The person collecting the entrance fees said it was 4 CUP for Cuban students/residents and for non-Cubans it was 4 CUC. That’s a difference between 4 bucks and 16 cents. HUGE. We knew it was closing very soon and just gave four pesos. We didn’t feel guilty at all.
Tuesday, September 13th
Day 6: At this point, we felt great about being in Cuba, excited about our travels, comfy about our budget, and super safe in our skin. Why we felt so good? Honestly, it felt different there – the land was beautiful and people were sweet as crazy. At this point, we would be taking all we read from our trip guide – Lonely Planet – with a grain of salt. We also became well versed in the dual currency. El served as our pocketbook and I smiled and looked pretty. I started getting more into the actual math of what we were paying for so when we paid $3 for a watered down drink in a room full of over-toured bored Germans, I was irked. They weren’t even playing trova.. at LA CASA DE LA TROVA! Anywho, I was still loving life and looking forward to adding in our 3rd traveler – El’s boyfriend who doesn’t speak Spanish =)
- 17 CUC Lunch
- 6 CUC Internet
- 50 CUP: Tip for musicians at restaurant
- 26 CUC* 263 CUP: El’s vestido, cloth gift
- 6 CUC: damn Drink (casa de la trova?)
- 1.5 CUC: 1500ml water
- 88CUC: casa particular with Pedro and Melba
Wednesday, September 14th
Day 7: We woke up super early to catch a bus to the airport in Cienfuegos. We started our love affair with cheap delicious tortillas (fried egg in bread) and juice. Ah and the coffee. I think I drank coffee every single day. Who could say no to those nice tiny cups of sugary black coffee? =) Also, our budget got pretty blurry… literally. I was forcing myself to write sleepily at night or on a bus and we may or may not have had a cold water bottle condensate on the paper. At this point, we actually didn’t care about our budget. We knew we wouldn’t go over after doing the math. Deep down, I was torn as to either be excited about how far our budget would go or be deeply troubled by the monthly $40 salaries of Cubans. I wrote about that confusion and how much I couldn’t grasp the socialistic environment we were witnessing in a dizzying loss of words. I would spend the rest of the trip thinking about la revolucion, and Che, and all that is Castro. It felt like another world.
- 100 CUP Camion a Cienfuegos. Pedro did us a favor and took us down to where the buses were before the sunrise. We were slightly lost and waited on a few different corners, but when Cienfuegos was announced, we ran with our backpacks before it filled up with the crowd.
- 4 CUP 2 tortillas. Right when we got out of the bus, we found our favorite tortilla spot. 2 CUP?! It was perfect for breakfast. We then took a local bus to the airport. We slowly figured out that G wasn’t there – not on the flight nor at the airport. At the same time we were trying to find him, a guy was trying to figure our how he’d get back to Tampa after missing his flight. We ended up getting to know him and adopting him in as our third wheel. We also found out foolishly that not only had we mistakenly though G was coming on the 14th, but he did too… only to trek back home from the airport after a whole day ordeal and come back the next day, his actual flight day. Let’s just say we could laugh about it now… hah.
- 6 CUC internet for two cards We quickly realized that we should probably just stock up on these especially after the fiasco at the airport. Luckily the cards did work at the airport, but did they sell internet cards there? No siree. Nor could they contact American Airlines in the states.
- 20 CUP Water *the best place to buy water was at this chain store called… let me get back to you on that*
- 5 CUP Avocado. Looked fresh. Was not fresh.
- 28 CUP Tortilla and jugo, this time at a different spot after finding out our awesome tortilla breakfast spot was out of huevos. We had our avocado cut up and put in our egg sandwiches too. Seemed like a great idea, but we should have learned how to pick out a good avocado first.
- 1 CUC Taxi maquina from the Punta Gorda (we walked along the Malecon during the sun set for about an hour and didn’t want to walk
- 20 CUC Dinner for 2 at this nice restaurant by the city center.
Thursday, September 15th
Day 8: Today was the actual day G was coming. We woke up early and decided we would rework our original calendar and leave Cienfuegos to Havana that night. It ended up being the most epic transportation attempt we made. Poor G who was confused as to why we didn’t just take a tourist bus. We were intent on making it without depending on Viazul which is basically an all tourist bus. We (as in El and I) wanted to hitchhike and take local transport. I, personally, believe it was very worth it, but to say it was easy would be a grave understatement. After a long blurry day, we made it to Havana.
- $5.50/$2.25 CUC (75 cents each) 3 Postcards
- 4.80 CUP Bread
- 25CUC Casa Particular
- 15 CUP ??
- 3 CUP: ?? Airport a ??
- Coche from airport 9 CUP
- 90 CUP agua
- 40 CUP Paraiso (10 CUP pizza, 2×3 CUP jugo, y sandwich)
- 2 CUC Coche (horse) a punto amarillo
- 20 CUP maquina a pto amarillo a cuatro caminos
- gratis bus down road
- 45 CUP bus to Aguada
- 15 CUP coche with 15 year old
- 150 CUP musical bus to la Habana
- 60 CUP (mini?)car to taxi
- 4 CUC taxi to door
Friday, September 16th
—- blurry page—–
Saturday, September 17th also at Havana? The tour?
- 30 CUP desayuno
- 3 CUP guagua
- 25 CUC taxi to Matanzas with the antisocial guy. We waited at the bus at Havana with no luck. We would have had to wait for at least 3 hours for the next bus so we negotiated a 30 CUC taxi.
- 10 CUP guagua to the university
- 2 CUP guagua from the university
- 20 CUC books from — (Elyem)
- 6.40 CUC dinner
- 7 CUC for another dinner?
- 136 CUC Doctor and Nurse for G
- 30 CUC for Marta
- 11 CUC Brunch
- 30 CUP Guagua a Varadero
24 CUC Bodega del Medio
18 CUC Esquina restaurante
3.5 CUC Pool and bowling
30 CUC Hostel Varadero
30 CUP Membrillo sandwich
70 CUC cab to Las Terrazas
3 CUC lake and baths
11 CUC Eating in baths
40 CUC Vegetarian restaurant
42 CUC horse around the terrazas 1.5 hours
3.8 CUC water, cheese, mar(?)
$37 veggie restuarant #2
$52 House for 2 nights plus water
$24 bus to Vinales with Viazul
13 CUC nice restaurant?
40 CUC horses for 4.5 hours
7 CUC terrible lunch
$3 two big bottles of water
$14 CUC soveniers
$1.75 ice cream
4 CUC house drinks
2 CUC hat rental
5 CUC taxi mural
15 CUC tried to get a free coke which didn’t work
$50 + $17 casa + dinner
8 CUC taxi to pinar from vinales
$25 casa particular
3 CUC water x 2
32 CUP breakfast
15 CUC Pinar to la Habana
50 CUC Pinar to Giron
12 CUC Dinner at cocodrilo
7 CUC bike ice?
9 CUC Bikes
22 CUC hostel plus tucola(?)
35 CUP lunch tortilla (?) giron
6 CUC snorkeling
10 CUC Greg’s dinner in pinar?river? what?
20 CUC bus from giron to cienfuegos
10 CUC paladar
7 CUC museum bay of pigs (El only paid $1 for the movie)
1.75 CUC ice cream
1.90 CUC Huge 5L water
.7 CUC 1.5L water
18 CUC dinner at lagarta(?) punta gorda
10 MN tortillas
$2.70 bakery splurge
$3 CUC Ferry to fort
$10 Fort museum
21 CUC lunch at el botella
23 CUC dinner at Doña Nora
2 CUC tip for pianist at Doña Nora
- 4 CUC horse to airport
- 8 MN tortilla bkfast
- 10 CUC misc?
Heard this while I was writing. I laughed out loud… Communism jokes aren’t funny unless everyone gets them