Do you want to spend your vacation in Cuba on a minimum budget… and still get to tour the most beautiful places on the Island, saving as much as possible? Can you do all of this, even with a limited amount of money, without being torn between seeing all the interesting places in Cuba or enjoying quality experiences? As unbelievable as it may seem, it IS possible. On this post I will give you my list of special places in Cuba and how to visit them all without having your bank account ask you for a divorce.
Well, I suppose if you’re reading this post, it’s because you’re a hands-on person who has decided to travel to Cuba and is looking for an authentic experience that is at the same time adjusted to the budget you have conceived, and you have probably discovered that Cuba is a constant struggle. But, have you wondered what the main factor that makes everything so expensive is?… Well, here’s a preview of what my research has taught me: that bad guy to blame is lodging.
Apparently, either if you buy a full touristic package or if you manage everything yourself for your vacation, lodging will still represent the largest part of your expenses. So, if you want to save on your trip, you need to minimize the costs as much as you can on this aspect when planning your tours, and that includes any city you might visit.
How can you do this, you ask? Without further ado, here go my recommendations.
Maybe I should start by saying that I’m a tour guide (and this way you can begin to get to know me), so I have the fortune of visiting most of Cuba on a monthly basis. This is a fortune that many tourists and very few of my fellow Cubans have had. Thanks to my job, I’ve been to all the cities of Cuba and slept under all kinds of bridges… I mean, roofs, so the recommendations I’ll give you here are based on my actual personal experience.
So, I guess you’re probably anxious to see what the tour would look like, right?… It’s actually very simple, because you’d only have 8 nights. Here I suggest that you go to 3 cities on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, discover the wilderness at 2 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, learn everything about Habanos (Cuban cigars), rum and sugar (which was for a long time the pillar of the Island’s economy), and feel very closely the history of a nation where the remains of people like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro rest, and that’s always in the midst of a Revolution.
If you have been planning your trip to Cuba for at least 2 days, you’ve probably discovered online by now that the best choice to stay in Cuba are not hotels, but the so called “casas particulares” (private bed and breakfast). I advise you to read a little more about how to book a rental house or casa, but if you don’t want to read too much, I can briefly tell you that the casas are the only way you’ll get to see how Cubans actually live, and the prices are often about 3 times less than what they would be at the hotels. So, if what you want is to save, this would be your saving grace. Remember that the prices you’ll see here are for the high tourist season (from November to April), but if you intend to come to Cuba from May to October, the fares tend to be about 5 EUR lower. As an average, you’d pay 25 EUR per night. Only in Havana you’ll pay 30, because it’s the capital and it’s also the most popular and central choice to start this kind of trip. In order to give you an idea of how much you could save just by staying in casas, let me tell you that just one night at a hotel in Havana would be easily starting at 150 EUR, almost the whole budget we will use for our suggested 8-day trip.
I’ll only recommend casas where I have actually stayed, some are real gems, but are still among the least expensive there are. If you can find a cheaper offer, please let me know about it on the comments, but if it is way too cheap, usually something’s not right, LOL. We definitely don’t want the equivalent of the cost of two beers to force us to spend our vacation at the shackh of the pervert hermit…
As I showed you on the chart, the tour I offer to you starts in Havana, the old Key to the New World, to then go on to Viñales, on the west, and little by little discover the natural and historical wonders of Cuba traveling toward the east. Of course, you can modify and extend your stay at any given city for as long as you want; there are always economical lodging opportunities, but if you want to use your vacation to its fullest and you don’t have that much time on your hands, here’s my idea of an itinerary, as well as how much money you’d need to stay in every place, together with my favorite places to visit in every city.
Traveling to Cuba and not visiting Havana is unforgivable, so at least 2 nights there are a must in order to feel the pulse of Cuba’s heart. From Hostal la Regente, a paradise of peace in the very core of the city, for only 30 CUC per night you’ll be able to experience the authenticity of the people in an area not so crowded by tourists yet. From here you can walk to the historical center of the city, the national Capitol, the Grand Theater of Havana, the Central Park, and the fortification system of the city. I could give you thousands of suggestions, but you specifically should take a look at the skyline of the city from El Morro fortress. For just 1 EUR you can take the Casablanca ferry at the pier and in 5 minutes you can cross the bay into the namesake town on the east of the capital. There you can visit the sculpture of the Christ of Havana and from there capture the most breathtaking image of the urban landscape.
Driving to the west of Havana for about 180km, we get to Viñales. This is the main tobacco growing area in Cuba, where you’ll see almost everywhere farmers eager to show you how to roll habanos (Cuban cigars), and of course, sell their healthy merchandise (OK, it might not be the nicest habit, but if you already have it, rather than buying from the government, I would definitely help these families instead. You can call me divergent). From Marisex and Juana‘s casa you can arrange for horseback rides and excursions, or you could even visit the Indian’s Cave or the impressive Mural of Prehistory on your own. Even if you’re not a big explorer, you’ll see the most remarkable landscapes of Cuba with the whimsical haystack mountains everywhere.
Our trajectory is now heading to the east and stopping at the center of Cuba. As we leave the national highway at km 142, we go deep into the Biosphere Reserve and largest wetland of the islands of the Caribbean, the Zapata Swamp. In this area you should not miss the boat tour to the Lagoon of the Treasure and the crocodile breeding facility at Boca Guama. Only a few meters away from Hostal Asiel Garcia and Hostal Mayito, is the museum dedicated to the Playa Giron or Bay of Pigs invasion, and from the casas you’ll even have the opportunity to organize diving expeditions to one of the top coral reefs in the Caribbean.
A city you cannot miss is Cienfuegos. It’s the only one founded by the French in Cuba and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fair exponent of neoclassicism in Cuba, this city is to many the most beautiful one in the country. It has all kinds of appeals (most of them on the Jose Marti Square), like the Tomas Terry Theater and the former City Hall, but it also has the largest botanical garden in Cuba. Sunsets are particularly beautiful from the boats that pour in and out of the bay. If you have your mind set on a central and economical lodging, you can find just that at Hostal Pura Vida and Hostal Ksaltos.
What could I possibly tell you about Trinidad that hasn’t already been written? The truth is I don’t know, but even if you decide to dedicate only one day to this gem of the colonial heritage in America, besides the historical center I would recommend hiking down one of the trails at El Cubano Natural Park, and enjoying the Valley of the Sugar Mills with a jump on the Canopy overlooking sugar cane plantations. You’ll find hosts unlike any other for only 25 EUR per night at Hostal Los Angeles and at La Esquina de Mary.
If you couldn’t jump on the canopy, it’s OK, let’s move on to Santa Clara, and on the way there we can visit Sancti Spiritus, one of the oldest cities in Cuba and with a very well preserved historical center. In Santa Clara, the biggest attraction is the mausoleum where Che Guevara’s remains rest, even though you could also visit Parque Vidal, a square that marks the very center of the city, and only 500 meters away from it, the Museum of the Armoured Train. If you still have some time left, it would be worth it to pay a visit to Remedios, which is only 50km away from Santa Clara. It’s the only city in Cuba with 2 catholic churches on the same square, and the place that celebrates the best parrandas (popular parties) in Cuba. At Hostal Ali and Hostal Javier y Katia you’ll find the most economical quality lodging in town.
Ohh!! But, what exactly is this Varadero?? Well, since you’ve made it so far reading this post, here’s an extra recommendation as a bonus just for you. After a full week of rolling around Cuba, you could be a little tired, and if you’re not blood-related to Superman, you might even want to relax a bit. So, you’re wondering where the best beaches in Cuba are??… They’re precisely in Varadero, and since we want to relax, but we still need to stick to our “saving money, deserving quality” slogan, I offer you Felipe y Maria‘s casa, to enjoy the best Cuban beaches, the Cuban way.
Well, it’s hard to get to know all of Cuba in only 8 days, but with these guidelines I’m leaving here for you, I’m sure you’ll fall deeply in love with my Island and, even better, the love affair will not be too expensive (and don’t tell me I’m not being romantic as hell here).
The truth is I would probably suggest you visited Cuba with more time, and that way I could recommend to unveil the secrets of the Cuban eastern region, as well as some more highlights of the western side that have been barely explored and are, hence, very authentic, but for that I would have to write another article and I’m really not sure if these posts have been helpful to you at all, so if you want some more tips, ideas and possible itineraries for your vacation in Cuba, you’re always welcome to motivate me by leaving a comment that’s both honest and flattering (LOL) and you’ll have me back here with fully charged batteries… See you next time!!