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I love Cuba. Havana is filled with splashes of colour and life around every corner. The people are so friendly and contrary to what some might say, there is some great food! Cuba has maintained its integrity and is a world without big corporations. While some might think that the lack of golden arches is a bad thing, I loved it!
In Havana, you can immerse yourself in culture. It will help if you can speak a little Spanish (I like to think that I can) but, we didn’t have difficulty finding people who speak English for the most part.
We had no service or WIFI for our entire stay in Cuba. We knew that this would be an issue before hand so we had planned out everything. MAPS.ME is a great app for offline maps. This is another way that Cuba immerses you in culture and local atmosphere.
Take a break from the world and visit Havana on a budget.
Getting Around Havana
Once in Havana, the best option for getting around on a budget is the Taxi Collectivos. This is what we used to get from the airport to our Casa Particulare. Before getting in the taxi, negotiate the price. Since there is very limited Wifi, make sure that you screenshot your hotel name before you fly.
There are taxi ranks around the city to find a collectivo. Your accomdations will likely be able to help you find the nearest one.
The other option is to travel around in the old-style cars. Definitely, you should do this at least once during your trip! Since these tend to be in higher demand, the prices might be a bit more than a collectivo. We did a small portion of a pre-arranged tour in order to save money. Basically, we just drove up the Malecon and back.
Where to Stay in Havana
Many people stay in resorts while in Cuba. Not only is this not the budget friendly option, it is not the culture immersive option.
Casa particulares are essentially an Airbnb. You get to stay in the home of a local. This is the best way of finding budget accommodations while getting to experience culture. Airbnb does work in Cuba, so have a look there. Or, we found ours by searching online. I did hear stories of people showing up without having booked accomdation and just wandering the streets looking for casas. But, this is a bit too risky for my comfort.
Important things to pack
- After Sun
- Bug spray
- Walking shoes
I had a hard time finding these things, in fact the only place that I could was in a big, fancy hotel shop.
Know Before You Go
- Visas- I went to Cuba from Miami as this is where my friend and I met up. Even though neither one of us was American, we still had to pay $50 for a US visa simply because we were travelling from USA. We had booked a tour of Vinales before leaving and used this as our People-to-People interaction for the visa. Check to see if you need a visa from your country here.
- Money- We brought Canadian dollars as we had heard that they are easier to exchange. There are some reports that USD gets surcharged. Try to bring enough cash for your entire trip. Both of us had trouble getting our cards to work at ATMs. And you can exchange money at the airport.
- CUP is used by the locals. CUC is the tourist currency, so you’ll most likely be using this. While we didn’t experience it, we have heard that sometimes you’ll pay in CUC but get your change in CUP. So double check your bills if you are concerned about it.
- Don’t check a bag. Bags take so long to get.
- I know a little bit of Spanish but we didn’t have much trouble finding people who speak English.
- Get Travel Insurance – World Nomads is my go-to.
- Arrive early (3 hours) before your flights going to and from Cuba.
- El Floridita- Hemmingway popularized this bar with his bold statements about their dacquiris being the best in the world. El Floridita is understandably, a bit touristy, and the food was a bit pricey. However, pop in for a drink. The day we swung by, there was live music.
- Mojito Mojito- Again, another place with live music. The food was good and the drinks are always good in Cuba. However, I mention Mojito Mojito because I bought the most amazing painting from a local shop nearby. Eduardo opened his shop at 6:30 am to meet me to purchase it before my flight as I didn’t have enough cash on me at the time. If you’re in Havana, you should try and find his shop. He is talented.
- La Bodeguita Del Medio- Have a mojito.
Tastiest Food in Havana
While in Cuba, I refused to believe that all of the food would be bland. The embargo has made it harder to find certain ingredients but this will likely change. In the meantime, these places all served great food. All of these places were very affordable. With most food items being under 10 CUC.
- Hotel Saratoga- We went up to the rooftop pool and ordered Cuban Sandwiches. Not only were they divine but the view was stellar.
- Los Nardos- We waited a very long time to get in here. However, once inside the décor was rustic and the food delicious. This was the only expensive place that we ate at while in Havana (By expensive, I mean that it was more than $15).
- Café Paris- We found Café Paris to be a little hit or miss. The first time we went, we had amazing seafood pasta and great live music. However, we returned the next night and we were served mediocre Americanized food. They don’t actually serve all of the menu options every day.
- La Abadia is located on the Malecon. Come for dinner so that you’ll be here for a sunset one night. We got the arroz la abadia which was a delectable seafood dinner.
- We didn’t make it to Café O’Reilly 304 but it was highly recommended by a friend who said that the food was amazing.
- Sia Kara Bar- We had great food and great drinks for wonderful prices.
- Paladar Dona Eutimia- Go here for the enchilada de la casa and ropa vieja.
- Mediterraneo Havana- A family-run restaurant with amazing selections.
- You’ll find Peso Shops for snacks, here they use CUP. But you’ll usually see prices listed in both CUP and CUC. The selections are a bit sparse but you’ll at least be able to stock up on water.
Best Havana Activities on a Budget
- Stroll the Malecon at sunset.
- There is a Havana hop-on-hop-off bus that was approximately $5. I highly recommend taking advantage of it. It is a great way to see the main sights of Havana without breaking the bank on taxis.
- Hotel Nacional is an iconic Havana hotel. Here, you’ll find Cuban Missile Crisis Tunnels and a stunning garden.
- El Presidente Hotel allegedly has WIFI if you need it.
- Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña- This fortress will give you a view of the Malecon.
- Santa Maria Beach- This is a bus stop on the hop-on-hop-off bus, making it easy to get to for a beach day. Enjoy a coconut drink on the beach.
- Vinales- Vinales is located a little way from Havana. Here, you can do a tour, which will take you through the tobacco fields.
Cuba is ready to welcome you with open arms. It would be rude not to go! Havana stole my heart and I cannot wait to go back. Our food and accommodations cost less than $1000! Search the best flight deals now on Skyscanner
Have you ever been to Cuba? What budget activities did you do? Tell us all about your trip in the comments.