Backpacking is the most affordable and most authentic way to see any part of the world. You should never think of being on a menial budget as a hindrance, but instead, view it as an opportunity to experience and explore every nook and cranny, especially somewhere as fascinating as Cuba. While Cuba is a developing nation, with high rates of poverty, like much of the Caribbean, it can be quite cost prohibitive if you’re not careful. And while backpacking is certainly not a new concept to Cuba, because tourism is the country’s most significant economy, if you think you’re going to get around in Cuba on the same budget you would somewhere like South East Asia, you are sorely mistaken. However, there are a few ways to prevent those CUC’s hemorrhaging from your wallet.
There are two very distinct ways to travel in Cuba; You either arrive as a vacationer or as a traveler. A vacationer will book themselves into one of those massive resorts set on some tourist-only beach, and a traveler will opt for the more authentic experience of a Casa Particular.
Casa Particulars are generally located within the home of a Cuban family who is permitted by the Cuban government earn revenue this way.
These can range in price from CUC$30 to CUC$100 per night. The price will be reflective of both the season and the location.
They’re often located in the historic parts of town, and though they may look a tad dilapidated on the outside, never judge a book by its cover!
There are two (well three) types of dining options in Cuba. You can dine where all the tourists congregate (not out of choice), restaurants with below average food designed to pack you in like herds of cattle. You can dine at state-approved Casa Particulares, much like the one you’ll be sleeping at. And if you’re truly lucky, you may just earn yourself an invite to dinner with a local at their table! Meals at the the Casa Particulares cost significantly less than that of tourist restaurants, and to be honest, they taste better! You’ll often experience unique family recipes, complex flavor profiles and live music for less than CUC$10 a plate!
If you’ve been to Cuba before you know items like pharmaceuticals and toiletries are available only on a rationed basis, if at all. Because of visa restrictions, it’s very easy to come fully equipped for a backpacking adventure around the island, it’s not like you’ll be there for months on end. Be sure to stock up on personal items like feminine hygiene products, and bring plenty of soap, shampoo, moisturizer and any over-the-counter drugs you may require.
Cubans often joke that the National time pass isn’t baseball, it’s waiting for transport, and having experienced it first hand, they’re absolutely right. But the fastest way to blow through your entire travel budget is to hop in a Cuban cab. Read any travel forum and you’ll find myriad stories about being ripped off in a Cuban cab. Yes, you’ll be doing a lot of waiting, but just think about all the fascinating characters you’ll meet along the way. For a few CUC’s, and a little patience, you’ll get there, eventually!