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★ Cuba Travel Guide
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Cuba Travel Costs & Currencies
Cuba has the reputation of being a very cheap travel destination, but assuming you will automatically spend less on your trip than in other Latin American countries, would be way too naive.
The assuption of Cuba being cheap is short-sighted and can backfire. In some cases, the prices can be pretty high - as it will be explained in this article.
If you're planning the financial part of your Cuban trip, then this article is a great starting point.
Currencies in Cuba
Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), each functioning in parallel - as it will be explained below.
The national peso is most often simply called "peso", while the second ones is referred to as "cuc" or "chavito", but some even call it "dollar".
The latter (convertible peso) was introduced in 1994 as a currency equal to the US dollar, mainly because the foreign tourists kept using US dollars to pay for goods and services in the country.
Cuba required a convertible currency. Yet, the "CUC" was exchangeable in Cuba only.
The inflation rate of this currency is around 5 % per year and is not longer perfectly equal to the US dollar. And, exchangers often don't respect the 1:1 ratio, even if it would be the case at a particular date.
You cannot buy CUC outside of Cuba. So, in order to acquire it, you can purchase at the Cadeca (Money Exchange Bureau) at the airport or, at a bank. In addition, some hotels also exchange currencies.
As opposed to European airports, the Cuban Airports have probably the best exchange rates. It is indeed a good idea to buy CUC at the airport upon arrival.
In some cases, you will be able to exchange currency using a credit card/debit card, but you will most likely be asked to prove your ownership with a passport.
Always have your passport ready when exchanging currency in Cuba. It is often requested.
Don't rely on online currency exchange rate sites, as they will not give you an accurate picture of the actual rates on location.
CUP (Cuban peso) can be used by travelers as well. The current rate (at the time of writing this article) was 26.5 CUP for 1 CUC.
In order to find out about the latest exchange rates, check the Banco Central de Cuba. Note that you're likely to pay commissions (often as high as 10 %) when exchanging USD to CUC.
Other major internationally-traded currencies, such as the EUR, GBP, CAD can also be exchanged.
Bring plenty of cash, as it's the easiest way to exchange money in Cuba.
Please note that the "$" (dollar) symbol is being used widely as the symbol of the national currency (CUP). This may confuse many, but it's most likely it will refer to the peso rather than the US dollar.
Foreigners must pay major services in CUC: transport, accommodation included.
You can still buy food with the CUP and perhaps be able to spend less.
ATM's in Cuba
Only non-US bank cards are accepted by the ATM's in Cuba.
And, there are very few ATM's. Quite often, they're unreliable.
When using your card to acquire CUC currency, you will be charged a 3 % fee. Some travelers reported charges of over 10 %.
It's almost impossible to pay by bank card anywhere except the major hotels at resorts (such as some modern hotels in Varadero).
Prices of Services in Cuba and Budgeting
The average salary in the country is around 20-25 USD/month. Just don't get yourself fooled, believing that everything will be proportional to this amount, thinking meals will cost cents and hotel nights "peanuts".
As a matter a fact, locals know very well that visitors are supposed to "have money". So, quite often the travelers normally get heavily charged.
You'll have to be astute, precautions to know how to pay how much.
Cheap hotel rooms for solo travelers can cost as low as 15 CUC (really poor), but in the 20-40 CUC range you'll be able to stay in good, clean conditions (with private bathroom).
Meals can cost between 5-10 CUC.
A taxi ride from Havana's airport to the city centre costs between 20-25 USD.
Viazul buses require 0.40 CUC per journey (regardless of length or route). That's almost half a dollar!
Oddly, Cuba charges an Airport Departure Tax, also known as exit tax of 25 CUC when leaving the country and, that gets added to the 25 USD price of the visa.
The mentioned Airport Departure Tax has to be paid after you finished checking in. As soon as you pay it, a sticker will be placed on your boarding pass as proof of payment.
About the Author:
Escape Hunter, the young solo traveler in his early 30's explores the World driven by curiosity, thirst for adventure, deep passion for beauty, love for freedom and diversity.
With a nuanced, even humorous approach to travel, an obsession for art and design, Escape Hunter prefers to travel slowly, in order to learn and "soak up" the local atmosphere...