First, let’s understand Cuban currency. There are two official currencies in Cuba – the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The cuban convertible peso (CUC) is the only currency visitors are able to use in Cuba. How to tell the difference? My rule of thumb is: the Cuban peso (CUP) has images of historical characters and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) has images of monuments.
It is very important to note that in Cuba, the ATM/Credit Card system is close to no-existent. When traveling to Cuba, cash is King! Plan carefully how much money you will need and bring it all in cash.
Currency exchange rates vary each day but in general, 1 CUC=1 USD.
Now, there is a catch. When you exchange US dollars to CUC, the Cuban government charges a penalty fee of 10%. This fee is only charged for US currency. To go around this, most travelers exchange their USD currency to Euros before arriving in Cuba. Whether is worth doing that, will depend on the exchange rate you get from USD to Euros. My advice is to do your research and the math in advance. You might be getting the same exchange at the end.
I am going to beak down the budget in 5 major categories – transportation, accommodations, food, entertainment and shopping.
I am going to exclude air cost since it varies greatly from city to city. The average taxi ride from the José Martí Airport to Old Havana is 30 CUC. Taxis around Havana vary but in average you will spend 10 CUC per trip.
When traveling under the Support of the Cuban People license, I recommend travelers to stay in casas particulares. The average rate for casas in Old Havana is 75 CUC/night. We rented an apartment in Old Havana and paid 90 CUC/night.
I recommend that you pay for accommodations before arriving since is less cash you need to worry about bringing. Airbnb is a great platform to book casas particulares in advance.
Food is inexpensive in Cuba, specially if you eat in local paladares. We spent around 5 CUC/person for breakfast, 7 CUC/person for lunch, and 20 CUC/person for dinner. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks cost about 2-3 CUC/drink. These prices are low compared to the cost of food in Washington DC area where I live.
Under this category I include any tours and shows. Those vary and you have to bargain for the price. We did a 2 – hr old car tour around Havana. The cost for that tour was 60 CUC. One night we watched a salsa concert and tickets were 30 CUC/person.
Ahh shopping! this is where the budget goes sideways. Cuba doesn’t have big malls or luxury brand stores for you to go crazy, but what it does have is great art. If you are an art enthusiast, bring cash because the art in Cuba is AMAZING. I ended up spending way more that planned in street art and don’t regret it at all.
As far as how much cash to bring, I recommend $120 per day per person. If you love art, bump that up as needed.
I hope some of your questions regarding how much money to spend in Cuba were answered. If you have additional questions please send me an email and I will be happy to help.