Cuba Backpacking; A Simple CHEAP Guide
The largest island in the Caribbean and one of the most politically charged countries in the world, Cuba is most famous for Che, rum, cigars and and communism! Cuba has only been open to the modern world since the 90s due to their political ‘struggles’ and even now people from the US struggle to get in. But it’s opening more and more so let’s have a quick look at some of the key points to backpacking in Cuba:
Table of contents
- Cuba Backpacking; A Simple CHEAP Guide
- CUBA VISA INFORMATION
- Do I need to pre organise the visa, or can i get it on arrival?
- Is Cuba expensive for a tourist?
- CHEAP 1 WEEK CUBA BACKPACKING ITINERARY ON A BUDGET
- CUBA BUDGET PER DAY:
- THINGS TO SEE IN CUBA
- When’s best to visit Cuba?
CUBA VISA INFORMATION
I know, you’re asking yourself “Do I need a visa to visit Cuba”? Essentially, yes. You need a ‘tourist visa card’ and for anyone other than US citizens it costs between 15-50 Euro and can be applied for at any Cuban embassy or consulate. While you can get this card at the airport in Cuba, many countries require you to have the visa before they let you board your fly to Cuba so it’s best to get it before you set off.
Do I need to pre organise the visa, or can i get it on arrival?
Yes, in most cases, you can obtain a Cuban Tourist Card (visa) upon arrival in Cuba, particularly if you’re flying directly from certain countries. However, this option might depend on the airline you’re flying with and your departure country.
Many anxious travelers find it more convenient and less stressful to secure the Tourist Card before departure, either through their airline, a travel agency, or a Cuban consulate. I’ve never done this, it’s a waste of time in my opinion.
Can Americans travel to Cuba?
Yes, but it’s a hassle! That being said, more than 100,000 US citizens travelled to Cuba last year (although many enter illegally). Strictly speaking, the only way a US citizen can officially visit Cuba is with a valid license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
There are two licenses: a general license and a specific license. Traveling under general license is the easiest because you don’t have to ask the government for permission, but you can be asked for documented proof from your trip that shows you traveled under that category (unlikely). So Cuba holidays are definitely an option for everyone now!
BUT NOTE – THIS NEVER HAPPENS! So just fly via a 3rd party country like every other american and you’re all good. .If you want to enter without the license, you can book a flight to a third country (Mexico for example) and connect to Cuba, easy
Is Cuba expensive for a tourist?
It’s not super cheap. It’s not like Asia, that’s for sure. The exchange rate with the USD is 1:1, and the costs are pretty much the same too. A good way to look at it is that it’s much more expensive than central/south America but a lot cheaper than the even more touristy other Caribbean islands.
As a budget, a minimum of $30-$40 (traveling cheap) is possible, anything less than that it pretty tough.
Is Cuba gonna break the bank? Not necessarily! Cuba can be a pretty affordable destination if you play your cards right.
Staying in “casas particulares” (local guesthouses) is not only budget-friendly but also a fab way to soak in the local vibes. Eating at “paladares” (home-run restaurants) or street food stalls can save you some pesos while still tickling those taste buds with authentic Cuban flavors.
Transportation-wise, opting for shared taxis or buses over private rides will keep more cash in your pocket. Sure, tourist hotspots might have their pricey moments, but overall, Cuba’s got that sweet spot of being easy on the wallet if you’re savvy about where you spend your money.
CHEAP 1 WEEK CUBA BACKPACKING ITINERARY ON A BUDGET
Day 1-2: Havana – Dive into colorful streets, hit up the Malecón, and enjoy live music. Stay in a casa particular.
Day 3: Viñales – Bus to Viñales. Explore tobacco farms and stunning valleys.
Day 4: Viñales/Cienfuegos – Morning in Viñales, then head to Cienfuegos for evening vibes by the sea.
Day 5: Trinidad – Early bus to Trinidad. Cobblestone streets, salsa dancing, and beach time at Playa Ancón.
Day 6: Trinidad/Santa Clara – More Trinidad, then off to Santa Clara to check out the Che Guevara Mausoleum.
Day 7: Back to Havana – Return to Havana. Last-minute souvenirs, maybe a classic car ride?
Budget Tip: Mix of casa particulares, street eats, and local buses will keep costs down!
CUBA BUDGET PER DAY:
Alright, budget-savvy travelers, let’s talk numbers for your Cuban adventure. Your daily expenses in Cuba can vary widely based on your travel style, but here’s a rough guide to help you plan:
- Budget Travelers: If you’re all about that backpacker life, think in the ballpark of $30 to $50 per day. This covers staying in casas particulares, eating at local spots or street food, and using public transportation or shared taxis.
- Mid-range Explorers: For a bit more comfort without going all out, budget around $50 to $100 per day. This gives you nicer accommodations, more dining options, and maybe a few extra tours or activities.
- Luxury Seekers: Looking to live it up? Then you’re looking at $100 to $200+ per day. This includes staying in top-notch hotels or resorts, dining at the best restaurants, private tours, and maybe even a vintage car ride.
Remember, these are rough estimates and can fluctuate based on your activities, where you choose to eat, and how you get around. Cuba’s unique charm is that it offers a rich experience regardless of your budget. So, plan according to your priorities, and you’re all set for an unforgettable journey!
THINGS TO SEE IN CUBA
Endless sights, endless beaches and endless rum – sounds pretty good huh! I wrote an article on the top 5 destinations in Cuba here so feel free to check that out. 5 things not to miss though?
- Havana Vibes: Stroll through Old Havana (Habana Vieja) – it’s like stepping back in time. Don’t miss the classic cars and the vibrant street life.
- Beach Time: Hit Varadero for crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches. Pure bliss!
- Music & Dance: Catch live music and maybe even a salsa lesson in Trinidad. The city’s cobblestone streets and colonial architecture are a bonus.
- Nature Escape: Hike or horseback ride in Viñales Valley. Stunning limestone cliffs and tobacco fields await.
- History Dive: Explore the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara. A must for history buffs.
Youth hostels are yet to hit Cuba, so here are your options.
Stay in one of the casas particulares (private houses licensed to offer lodging services to foreigners) with the cheapest ones starting around $20 USD per night. It’s difficult to become a Casa Particulare so if you stay in an un-registered house, it may be cheaper (but illegal), expect to pay around $10-$15 per night for that but if you get caught, you’ll get a hefty fine.
Renting a car is expensive, minimum $70 USD per day plus gas (ouch!) so stay well clear of that, also official taxis are about 1CUC/km for short distance, less for longer distances so again much too pricey for our backpacking wallets. Local buses and hitchhiking are the way to go, they’re real, they’re fun and they’re cheap. The buses cost around $2 per hour for longer journeys. Also, make sure you do a 2 hour Classic Car Tour in Havana when you’re there too!
Hitchhiking in Cuba has quite a refined system actually. The Amarillo (yellow guy) will be sitting at a corner on a main-road, that means it’s an official hitchhiking spot where people are obliged to pick you up! Normally lorries so bring sunscreen and/or a coat because you’ll probably be punted to the back of the lorry! From city to city expect to pay between $10-$20 depending on your level of Spanish!
Navigating Cuba is an adventure in itself! First off, jump on the “Viazul” buses for the long hauls between cities—they’re affordable and pretty reliable. Want more local vibes? The “colectivos” (shared taxis) are your go-to for shorter distances and a great way to meet people. For the ultimate freedom, renting a bike can be epic in smaller towns or countryside areas. And don’t overlook hitchhiking; it’s surprisingly common and a cool way to immerse yourself in Cuban hospitality. Just remember, patience is key in Cuba—schedules are more of a suggestion. Embrace the pace and you’ll have the time of your life
When’s best to visit Cuba?
Wondering when’s the best time to hit up Cuba? Aim for the dry season, between November and April. Trust me, you’ll thank me later! This period offers up that sweet spot of warm, sunny days and cool, comfortable nights—perfect for beach-hopping, city exploring, or diving into Cuba’s vibrant culture without the worry of rain spoiling your plans.
Plus, it’s a fantastic time to escape the winter blues if you’re coming from colder climates. Just remember, it’s also peak tourist season, so booking in advance is your best bet to snag those hot deals and avoid the crowd
Remember, never travel without travel insurance! And never overpay for travel insurance!
I use HeyMondo. You get INSTANT quotes. Super cheap, they actually pay out, AND they cover almost everywhere, where most insurance companies don't (even places like Central African Republic etc!). You can sign-up here. PS You even get 5% off if you use MY LINK! You can even sign up if you're already overseas and traveling, pretty cool.
Also, if you want to start a blog...I CAN HELP YOU!
Also, if you want to start a blog, and start to change your life, I'd love to help you! Email me on email@example.com. In the meantime, check out my super easy blog post on how to start a travel blog in under 30 minutes, here! And if you just want to get cracking, use BlueHost at a discount, through me.
Also, (if you're like me, and awful with tech-stuff) email me and my team can get a blog up and running for you, designed and everything, for $699 - email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Do you work remotely? Are you a digital nomad/blogger etc? You need to be insured too.
I use SafetyWing for my digital nomad insurance. It covers me while I live overseas. It's just $10 a week, and it's amazing! No upfront fees, you just pay week by week, and you can sign up just for a week if you want, then switch it off and on whenever. You can read my review here, and you can sign-up here!