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How to Backpack Cuba on a Budget

Colorful buildings

Most buildings in Cuba are quite dilapidated, but some have been done up in beautiful bright colors

There is a mistaken belief that traveling in Cuba cannot be done on the cheap, with some sources even claiming you need at least $100 a day to survive there.

While it is true that Cuba is mostly interested in attracting upscale resort tourism to boost its fragile economy, it is in fact possible to backpack in Cuba on a budget. For example, I traveled in Cuba on about $35 a day.

But… if you want to backpack in Cuba without breaking the bank, you need to be a little smart about it. Here are the best ways to keep the cost down:

1. Avoid hotels; stay in Casa Particulares

Looking for cheap hostels in Cuba? You can stop looking immediately because hostels do not exist at all in Cuba (at least as we know them in other countries).

Travel guides typically list only the government-owned hotels, which aren’t cheap.

The solution is to stay in private homestays called Casa Particulares. These casas are privately managed but government-sanctioned, with rooms typically costing $20 – 30 per night.

You will be staying in someone’s house, but this is typically on a separate floor or section with your own room. Some casas have essentially evolved into small guesthouses with 2 or 3 rooms.

Casas can be found very easily: they are absolutely everywhere, and you just need to look for the blue sign outside. Locals will also often be waiting at bus terminals to find customers for their casa.

2. Pair up if you are solo

There is no dorm-style accommodation in Cuba (with only one or two exceptions in Havana), so if you are a solo traveller it’s best to pair up with another solo traveler and share the cost of a room.

Cuban comics

Che, Castro and the Revolution are ever-present, even in comic book form

3. Find ‘peso places’

Cuba has a dual currency system. CUC is the ‘tourist money’, and CUC places are more expensive. CUP (peso national) is the actual local currency. If you can find local places that accept CUP, you can eat and drink very cheaply.

A mojito in Havana can cost anywhere between $3 and $7, but find a local bar accepting CUP and you might be drinking a $0.30 mojito.

Small cafes and street food stands will sell sandwiches, pizzas or spaghetti for around $0.50. A glass of fresh fruit juice there will cost about $0.08.

Keep in mind that tourist-oriented places will be much more expensive. ‘Peso places’ can be hard to find sometimes, but keep looking!

(Note: there is a word the CUC may be phased out someday, but it remains in use for the foreseeable future.)

4. Eat dinner at your Casa Particular

Cheap dinner can be hard to find. However, most casas will offer home-cooked dinner for about $6 – 8. Portions are typically generous and you will probably be given more food than you know what to do with.

It’s a more affordable option than eating out in a restaurant, where basic meals often start around $12.

Classic cars

In Cuba you will see old-timer cars everywhere you go

5. Use local transportation

Tourists are expected to use official tourist buses, but if you are a savvy traveller you can cut transportation costs down by using local buses or by hitchhiking.

Cuba has a semi-institutionalized hitchhiking system; ask around for Amarillo points (“el punto amarillo”) where cars are required to pick up passengers.

Since it’s a little unusual for tourists to do this, it can help to say you are a student. If you know some Spanish, this will also help a lot.

6. Avoid bank charges

It’s best to bring foreign cash into Cuba and change it at a bank or exchange office. ATMs are very unreliable.

Avoid bringing US Dollars – while you can change them just fine, exchanging USD incurs an additional 10% penalty. Bring another major currency like EUR, CND or AUD instead.

Avoid having to use a credit card for cash advances or payments. The fees are usually quite hefty!

Cuba is not always the most convenient country for the budget traveler, but be a bit savvy and you can make it work for you. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to spend fortunes there; be sure to discover this fascinating country for yourself!

For more Cuba tips and info on the cost of travel, check out the guide I wrote at IndieTraveller.


About the Author: Marek Bron blogs at IndieTraveller, focusing on  low-cost travel in Asia and Latin America. Want to travel the world worry-free? Check out his in-depth Backpacking Preparation Guidebook.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Tuesday 28th of July 2015

Hi, Does anyone know about how to book a room with Rolando's Backpackers? Is there a phone number I can call? I can't seem to book this hostel through any websites. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Sam


Wednesday 16th of September 2015

Carmen B

Sunday 22nd of February 2015

Cuba is probably my favorite travel destination! Check out my blog for some inspiration and tips:


Tuesday 30th of December 2014

Thanks for the tips! How about outside havana? As easy and cheap as well??


Sunday 20th of April 2014

Cuba can definitely be done on the cheap! Great tips, the only thing i'd contest is the cost of accommodation and food in casa particulares. Depending on your negotiating skills you can find really good casas for $5-10 and meals for $2-3. In the month we spent in Cuba we were spending about $80 a week each. Magnolia's Hostel in Havana does beds for $5 a night, and she'll refer you to her network around Cuba where you'll also pay between $5-10 a night. At peso restaurants you can eat really well for $1-2.


Wednesday 8th of January 2014

So no cheap hostels in Cuba? Bit of a shame. Still a definite must-see destination on the bucket list though :)


Monday 13th of January 2014

I stayed at Rolando's Backpackers in Havana. It was about $9 US per night, so relatively cheap. Stayed there on 3 occasions for a few days each time in between renting a car for a week with some backpackers I met there, and heading to an all inclusive for a few days on Cayo Coco again with some backpackers I met at Rolando's.

His hostel is located in a non touristy area of Havana so you get a feel for the city, but at the same time it's only a few blocks from the Malecon, and about a 15 minute walk from the city center and El Capitolio.

I highly recommend staying at Rolando's Backpackers.

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