After only spending around $600 on my Mexico solo trip, I wanted to plan another budgeted solo trip. Cuba requires all travelers to purchase a travel visa to enter the country, so I knew this trip might be slightly more expensive but I was up for the challenge. My airline (United Airlines) sold travel visas at the gate for $75 however each U.S. airline sets their own prices for Cuban travel visas.
Let me start off by saying I do speak Spanish which made my solo trip to Cuba much easier. For example, in Viñales, I met some locals while I was out in town shopping, we started talking and made plans to meet up the next day so they could show me their favorite places. If I didn’t speak Spanish, I wouldn’t have been able to converse with them and would not have received the invitation to hang out. One of the highlights of my trip was when Cubans thought I was Cuban or Colombian because of my Spanish skills!
In Havana, I enjoyed wandering the cobblestoned streets, eating from food stands and dancing with a salsa band in the vibrant Plaza Vieja neighborhood. While Havana is still a developing city without some amenities such as Internet, it’s still more modernized compared to the Cuban countryside. So if you are looking for an authentic, cultural experience it’s recommended to spend more time in other parts of the island.
During my stay in Havana, I stayed in a casa particular. Casa particulares are private homes that people open up and invite guests to stay in for a small fee. Casa particulares are an economic way to stay in Cuba and it gives you the opportunity to interact with local Cubans and immerse yourself in the culture. Also, it helps the Cuban economy since the average Cuban salary is about 20-30 CUCs per month (1 CUC is equal to 1 USD). You can book a casa particular when you arrive or by emailing a hostel or hotel ahead of time and asking them to reserve a room.
While I was staying in Havana, I took a day trip to Varadero, a town mainly known for its beaches and clear ocean water. I felt a day was sufficient to spend on the beach so I didn’t plan to spend more than a few hours there. Note it takes around 1.5 hours to drive to Varadero from Havana so plan accordingly. I hired a taxi driver for the day to take me to Varadero and back which was quite expensive. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative to get to Varadero, you can take a “taxi collectivo” (shared taxi with other passengers) for 20 CUCs each way.
After a lackluster stay in Havana, I was pleasantly surprised by my “casa particular” in Viñales. Even though it was in the countryside, there were new appliances in the room and bathroom. I was greeted with a huge dinner upon my arrival at the house. Also, every morning the house owner prepared a delicious breakfast. I highly recommend the following casa particular (Casa Ernesto y La China: firstname.lastname@example.org) if you ever visit Viñales.
Viñales is a town with much natural beauty so there are many outdoor activities to do. There’s a Viñales Bus Tour that you can catch every 1.5 hours in front of the church located in the town square or at any of the other tour stops. The hop-on, hop-off bus tour takes you to different sights in and around Viñales such as Cuevas de Indios (Indian caves), Mural de la Prehistoria, and Parque Nacional. For only 5 CUCs it is a great deal. Walking is another great way to explore the natural beauty of this place and a horseback riding tour is a good way to see the town as well.
Like I mentioned before, while I was out and about in Viñales, some locals started talking to me and we eventually made plans to meet up the next day. We ended up hiking for 2 hours to reach a secluded natural swimming pool in the mountains. It was an amazing experience to be guided by a local who showed me one of their favorite places in Viñales. Some other activities you can do in Viñales are go on some of the farm tours like tobacco, coffee or potato to see how the crops are grown and harvested. You also get to taste the goods too!
Total Expenses for Cuba Trip
$280 – flight (round trip, nonstop)
$75 – Cuban travel visa
140 CUC – casa particulares for 7 nights (20 CUC per night)
380 CUC – spending money (for taxis, food, souvenirs/gifts, activities)
520 CUC + $355 = $875
Check out more pics from my Cuba trip below (click on the photos to view in full size):
Lola is a multimedia journalist. This blog is a space for her to share budget travel tips and her travel experiences.