Friday, 30 March 2012

How to Travel Cuba as a Backpacker!

Here are some top tips on how to travel Cuba on a budget:

As the spiritual home of everybody’s favourite Revolutionary, Che Guevara, and one of the last Socialist nations standing, Cuba should be Backpacker gold!

So why isn’t it?

Cuba Travel Guide
Cuba Travel - Viñales Valley
One of the main pre-requisites of a popular Backpacker destination is cheap travel! While Cuba is a relatively cheap country, it certainly isn’t geared up for Backpackers. Fidel’s government makes mucho dinero out of their tourism program, and they want it to stay that way.

At the same time, as you might already know, Cuba operates a dual currency system: the Peso (CUP) for Cubans and the Convertible Peso (CUC) for tourists (affectionately pronounced “cook”). As might have been expected, this has created a situation where CUC is in high demand and the basis for a huge black market. In short, Cubans love the cook. For many, scamming tourists is their primary source of income. Others will simply bombard you with everything from horseback trekking tours to $40 boxes of cigars, and more.

All this combined is why the guidebooks say you’ll need $100 a day in least. Sadly, for the majority of people who travel Cuba, this is actually an underestimate. However, there is hope still! Just as the first backpack-toting pioneers found a way, so shall you. Be smart and follow these simple steps from someone who knows, and you’ll be able to fully enjoy Cuba without it breaking your bank:

·         Plan in advance! “Freedom” and “spontaneity” sound fine in theory, but as far as Cuba goes; it’s easier said than done.

·         Bring all the maps, addresses and directions you might need. Eg. tourist information, bus stations, accommodation, etc. It might seem stupid now, but once you land in Havana, with no clue where to go and nobody willing to help, you’ll be happy you took the time to do it.

·         Pack light. Cuba is hot. A light backpack, sensible shoes and some sun lotion will make walking around a lot more enjoyable.

·         Learn some Spanish before you go.

·         Avoid Hotels, which, if you’re reading this, are presumably over your budget. Though beware, once you do this you are on your own. You’ll find there’s little help and assistance available to those who aren’t patrons of the hotels.

·         Stay in Casas Paticulares, the Cuban equivalent of the B&B or Guesthouse, with the advantage of a genuine insight into real Cuban life.

·         Though this might not be the best or the safest advice, unofficial Casas Particulares can be much cheaper (since there’s no cut for the government) and you can also negotiate the price. Just be careful.

·         Ask to boil tap water to refill your bottles.

·         Avoid Internet. It is slow, costs $6 for 30 minutes and is basically non-existent anyway (only in some hotel lobbies)!

·         Avoid “Tours”!

·         Trust no-one!

·         Rum is (almost) cheaper than water! Even the big hotels wouldn’t rip you off for Cuba’s national drink!

·         Get your cigars handmade, from the source (eg.Viñales), for a fraction of the tourist prices.

·         Unfortunately, Cuban “supermarkets” are not for tourists, but be sure to pop your head in anyway. Honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve been in a Communist supermarket!

·         Though you’re not allowed to take the same intercity buses as locals, buses are still pretty cheap. (Still, prepare to pay ten times more.)

·         Despite what some people say, it IS possible to walk to Havana airport, or take a cheap bus some of the way. Otherwise it’s a $20 taxi ride, minimum.

·         Be open-minded and relax!

·         P.S. Don’t forget the $25 departure tax.

Or, if you don’t fancy all that, and you want to make the most of your time in Cuba, there are some new companies like Holiday n Adventure that offer considerably cheap Cuba tours. That way, everything is taken care of for you. It’s not really backpacking, but then what the hell, some people aren’t Backpackers.


  1. See my comments in reply to your post on Lonely Planet Thorntree.
    You might consider amending some of this to be more accurate.

  2. Thanks John. Feedback always welcome.

  3. Great content on your blog Ray, wish you were on Twitter.... -:)