Havana, Cuba can be one of the cheapest destinations you will travel to. As long as you know where to go. And the best part is, you don’t have to skip out on anything in order to save money. You can take a tour in a classic Cuba car, try the cities custom dishes and take home beautiful souvenirs for much less than you originally planned for. How so? Try some of these tricks and tips I picked up from the weeks I’ve spent in this colorful city.
Right off the bat
If you speak Spanish, or are accompanied by a Spanish speaker, you are much less likely to get ripped off. However, it may come in handy to pretend you don’t know how to speak Spanish…. so keep that one in mind as well.
Before you get there, you should know the exchange rate and how the currency works. In Havana you can pay in United States Dollars (USD), but you may save money exchanging currency beforehand, and paying in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) instead.
Yes, it will cost you money to exchange currency, but if you pay in USD, the price will also be higher. For example, if you want to buy a hand drawn picture, in CUC is may be $5, but in USD it may be $7 or $8. This is because the locals you buy from will need to pay the exchange rate to change the money you give them into CUC. Thus, in the long run you will save money just exchanging currency right off the bat.
If you do not pay in CUC, you may also find yourself getting ripped off by being charged more, because they may tell you it’s the same as if you went to the exchange. That happened to me. Luckily, I did not believe the man and I went and exchanged my USD to CUC- it only saved me 5 CUC, but that can buy you a lot of churros in Havana.
Take a Ride in a Classic Cuban Car.
One of the biggest things everyone wants to, and should do, is take a tour of the city in an old fashion, classic, Cuban car. If you are looking to do this, but don’t want to break the bank, you need to follow these two rules:
1. Do NOT hop in the first car you see.
2. Pay in CUC!
I’ve gone on these tours a few times and wish I knew then what I know now. The first time I went it cost myself, and three friends, 40 CUC each, for two hours. Of course, we made the mistake of getting a ride from a driver right at port.
Instead, skip the place where all the other tourists are waiting to take a car, and head for the Capitol. Here you will find many people offering the same tours, if not better ones.
Next step: You NEED to haggle. Whatever they offer you, tell them the price you are looking for, or pass to the next person. We were set on paying 35 CUC for 3 hours. While that did not end up happening, we turned down several options, then had one of the drivers we had originally said no to chasing after us. We ended up agreeing to 20 CUC per hour. With four of us in the car, it only cost us 15 CUC each… for 3 hours!
And the car ride (which you can see the route on the map the drivers carry) was fantastic, and the driver was amazing. It was WAY better, and cheaper, than the first car we took.
This should be obvious, but if you want to eat on the cheap, then you need to stay away from the tourist areas, and the restaurants closest to port, because they will charge more.
Instead, enjoy your day and walk around until you stumble upon a really cheap place. And be sure to ask which currency they take so you do not get stuck. There are two places that we love to go to…
The first is called Sarra. Here, four of us each ordered the local dish, Ropa Vieja (which is a sweet, shredded beef with rice), had one or two glasses of lemonade and shared an appetizer for 38 CUC all together. Solo, the most I’ve paid there, for an appetizer, the most expensive main dish, and two drinks, was 13 CUC. (They do take USD.)
The other place we love to go to is called Creperie Oasis Nelva. It’s a really good crepe place and you need to order the pineapple juice! For lunch, plus two drinks and tip, it cost me less than 10 CUC. And it’s delicious!
For dessert, or just a snack, try some churros from one of the many carts you will see along the streets, or in the plazas. You can get them for .50 CUC, or with chocolate or condensed milk (the one I recommend) for 1 CUC.
You can also get some amazing coconut ice cream, frozen into an actual coconut shell for 2-3CUC. Thank you street venders! (Just be sure to check out the many carts in the many different plazas before you buy, since prices will vary.)
Three things to remember when it comes to buying souvenirs:
1. Never buy from the first vender you go to.
2. Don’t buy from the ones closet to port.
3. Be mindful when buying from a place where there are only a few stands/venders around.
The souvenirs can be dirt cheap, as long as you are willing to check out the different prices. There have been many times I have gone into one venders shop to look at something, only to find out I could have gotten the same thing for a lower price right next store.
The cheapest venders I have found are on Teniente Rey, a few doors down from Sarra restaurant and bar, if you are walking away from the capitol and toward the pier. The most expensive are the ones right along the pier, or in the main plazas.
What is nice about Havana is that you can explore the town on foot. You can stroll through shops, find restaurants and other sites just by strapping on your sneakers and going.
However, many larger sites you may want to see are further away. Thus, it would benefit you to get a tour in one of the classic cars, because Taxis are expensive. At the capitol you will also find a hop-on, hop-off bus to ride, but it is not cheap. Another option is the bike peddlers, though they only go so far.
Overall there is a lot to see in Havana, as it can be as cheap as you want it to be, as long as you are smart about it and pretend to know what you are doing. Let me know if you have any other tips and tricks for getting through Havana on the cheap, in the comments below.
* If you are looking more to do and see in Havana, stay tuned for more posts 😉