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Yes, you can travel to Cuba as an American. It is fairly easy to do, but does take a little bit of work because you cannot use American USD, debit, or credit cards. You can’t even use the ATM. While there, this did cause me a little bit of anxiety. I wanted to make sure that I had enough to eat and have fun, but I also didn’t want to take too much money.
First, you’ll need to understand that there are two different currencies in Cuba: the Cuban peso (CUP) and Cuban convertible peso (CUC). A CUC = 1 USD
As a tourist, you will pay significantly more money than a local. Not only that, but you’re paying in CUC, while locals pay in CUP. The CUC is pegged to the dollar and worth 25 times as much as the CUP! I tried to get CUP as a tourist and no one would exchange it with me, despite the CUC being worth so much more.
Getting to Cuba – Your Visa
I traveled from Cancun, Mexico to Cuba so I was able to purchase a non-US visa (the green one!) which is considerably cheaper than the pink visa given to those traveling from the USA (depending on your airline, the pink visa is over $75). This visa cost me approximately $29 USD and was purchased right from the Cancun airport before I checked in (you must do it in this order, otherwise they’ll send you back to get one).
When Should You Convert USD?
Ideally, you will arrive in Cuba with currency other than USD. The reason for this is because when converting USD to CUC, they will charge you 10% for doing so. Because I was in Mexico before arriving in Cuba, I had plenty of Mexican Pesos to convert into CUC, without that 10% fee.
I wanted to convert my Mexican Pesos to CUC before leaving the José Martí International Airport, however it was set up a lot differently and my host was waiting for me as soon as I exited the secure area. There is a place right in the airport to convert your currency. However, if you don’t do it at the airport you can do it once you are in Havana. You’ll just need to figure out a way to pay your taxi (25-30 CUC) if not pre-paid.
Your casa particular host may be able to exchange your money for you, but I wouldn’t count on it. Instead, you’ll want to find a bank. Please leave yourself plenty of time. I arrived at the bank to find a line extending out the door and around the block. It was over an hour that I waited just to exchange my money, so if you can – do this at the airport instead! It will help to know how much CUC you should be getting in exchange before the teller does. The teller tried to give me less money than I was supposed to get and she corrected it once I informed her that I was supposed to get X amount of CUC back.
What I Spent Each Day in Cuba – Cuban Budget Breakdown
$30 CUC for my taxi from the airport to my Casa Particular
$6.63 CUC on a daiquiri at Floridita (includes tip)
$3 CUC to tip the singer and band at Floridita
$12 CUC supper at Cafe Suiza (the best spaghetti I’ve ever had + smoothie)
$10 CUC to take a taxi to El Cristo de La Habana (the enormous Jesus statue)
$8 CUC to take a taxi back from Cristo
= $69.63 CUC
$3 CUC on drinks at my Casa Particular
$10 CUC for Hop-on Hop-Off Bus
$23.75 lunch (I spent way too much on this, but had leftovers to take for later)
$3 CUC drink
$1 CUC ice cream from street vendor
$3 Piña Colada at cafe
$2 cappuccino at cafe
dinner at my casa particular – FREE (and the BEST meal I’ve ever had!)
= $46.75 CUC
$5 CUC breakfast at casa particular
$1 CUC to pay the bathroom attendant at a stop during my tour
$1.50 CUC on ice cream
$2.85 CUC on chips (I know that I was overcharged but had to run and catch the rest of the group so I didn’t have time to think of how to tell him this in Spanish)
$8 CUC jewelry souvenirs for my girls
$20 CUC coffee from the plantation ($5 each for a 20 ounce bottle of coffee beans)
$20 CUC on cigars from the plantation
$20 CUC honey ($12 CUC) + drink + tip for the farmer
$3 CUC Piña Colada + tip of an amount I forgot to write down
$12 CUC for my meal
= $93.95 CUC
$5 CUC breakfast at my casa particular
$20 CUC taxi ride back to airport (host was able to negotiate this for me since I was running really low on CUC)
$5 CUC bottle of rum at airport
$4 CUC sandwich at airport
$1 CUC drink at airport
= $35 CUC
= $245.33* CUC for four days in Cuba
*note that on Day 3, I went horseback riding and took a trip to a tobacco plantation. I purchased this via Paypal through AirBnB the night before using a very limited wifi connection. I did not include this in my costs because I wasn’t paying in CUC I had on-hand, rather using my Paypal account in USD.
I spent all I had on-hand in CUC.
I do wish that I would have taken out more cash to spend on souvenirs and activities, but I didn’t necessarily feel deprived. I am a light eater, so a couple of meals per day worked out just fine for me. One of the lunches I had was gouged so high – if you run into this situation, feel free to just order a drink and leave without ordering food.
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