Ultimate Budget Backpacking Guide: Cuba
I had to represent my company for a business meeting in Cuba for 2 days and luckily, my boss gave me the rest of the week to travel. I attended the business meeting Wednesday and Thursday and used Friday to Sunday to check out the place. I enjoyed the weekend and I suggest Cuba as a destination for people like me that can't afford to be away for too long. Cuba is just a rough 4 to 5 hour travel from California and it wasn't tiring at all.
Cuba is known for its pulsating ambiance. You'd be hyped up the whole time you're there, I don't know if it's the people, the music, the color or the weather but I believe it's a mixture of all those elements!
Backpacking in Cuba was unplanned for me but as a backpacker, every business trip would always end up as a pleasurable one. What I look for in places I visit is how fascinating a particular culture is. And Cuba's culture was spectacular! Here are certain guidelines that you need to keep in mind before going to Cuba.
I stayed in a room in Trinidad which costs somewhere from $56.00 to $57.00. This place I stayed was out of the company's expense. I found a family who rented out two of the rooms in their home. They were very friendly and I don't regret staying in their home because it made my trip more meaningful to stay with a Cuban family rather than in a lonely hotel room with room service.
Conversely, if you are the type of person who enjoys the comfort that hotels can bring and if you have the budget to stay in one, then I strongly suggest that you check out the Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa. This was where our business meeting was held. The company paid for it so I'm not so sure how much it costs but it is a 5-star hotel so it must've cost a lot. There's a lot to be seen. There are beautiful hammocks, crafts shop, gift shop, a spa, diving center and more. Within there are 8 restaurants and 5 bars that is just so convenient.
Cuban cuisine is very mouth watering! A plate of flavourful Arroz Con Pollo (rice with chicken) costs only $11.00. I'm a real foodie so I made it a point to taste a lot of their delicacies. Aside from arroz con pollo, I also enjoyed a meal called Bunuelos which is a tasty fried dough whit anise glaze. I couldn't get enough of it that I ate 3 big ones in one seating. I also enjoyed a corn-based dough bread called Tamales which was Mexican in origin so it was a bit spicy. Over all, food costs about $9.00 to $15.00 per meal.
Don't expect fine cuisine though. The food is great, but you won't find so many elegant restaurants. But don't worry because this doesn't really matter. In fact, whenever I travel, I enjoy eating in the streets or in the local areas where I can really get the feel of their traditional food. Plus, it's a lot less expensive that way.
I was offered to rent a car upon arriving on the airport but the car did not have a third party insurance. You want to be covered even if you are really good driver because you are not familiar with the roads. I opted for scooters. If you will go for this option as well, you need to make sure that you are going to wear helmets all the time because it is in their local law to do so. Besides, it is also for your own safety.
Language and People
If you know basic Spanish, you will survive. I know a lot of Spanish that's why I enjoyed conversing with the locals. Their stories have a lot more juice if you speak to them in their local language.
There are no mandatory vaccinations required before you can travel to Cuba but you should know that Typhoid, Hepatitis A and Diptheria are the common diseases in the area. Just be up to date with all your vaccines to be on the safe side. Also use anti-bug or anti-mosquito spray whenever you are sleeping outdoors.
There are 2 currencies in Cuba the Cuban Convertible Peso and the Cuban Peso. You can exchange your cash at the airport before going forward with your trip. Don't exchange your US Dollars in local stores in the country because you will be charged at least 10% commission. You may utilize your credit cards as long as it's not affiliated with any American Bank otherwise it's going to be unusable in Cuba. Debit cards have the same rule. To be sure, just be ready with Cuban Currency cash. Besides, not every shop in Cuba would accept credit card payments.
Things to Do and Places to Visit
- Feel the Beat - Cuba is a place of beautiful and traditional music. The dancers and musicians performing at Santiago de Cuba are a sight to see! If you could schedule to see Afro-Cuban performers then that would just be perfect! It would be great if you could try on some of their costumes as well. I mean, you can never really leave Cuba without at least one picture wearing their national clothing.
- Horse Riding - Saddle up for a fun ride! This isn't your typical horse riding experience because it's going to feel like you're in a movie. Imagine riding with the wind in your hair in the middle of the scenic view of the sugarcane fields around Pinar del Rio and Valle de Ingenios.
- Dive into the Deep - Did you know that there are 30 dive sites found in Varadero alone? I did not have time to visit the place but according to those who experienced diving in the area, the coral reefs are beautiful and it's really life changing. I wish I could go next time.
- Hike on Mountains and Caves - This is one activity that I truly enjoyed because I'm a real nature lover! We explored Pinar del Rio which, on my opinion, is the most beautiful province of Cuba. The place is famous for their "mogotes" which are rounded limestone mountains that is covered with rich vegetation. Don't forget to visit the caves with stalagamites and underground rivers as well. This was the most tiring part of my trip but the most fulfilling.
- Santa Clara Museum - As mentioned above, I am truly amazed with the culture of different countries. That's why I don't ever skip visiting a local museum. I was able to see the monument and mausoleum of Che Guevara!
- Bay of Pigs - Yet another museum located at Playa Giron. I just love this one. If you have a background or some sort of knowledge regarding the "Bay of Pigs" invasion in 1961, you will enjoy this for sure.
- Soak up the Sun on the Shore - There are also lots of beaches in Cuba. I went to a place called Playas del Este which was picture perfect. I was able to read a book in the shore and the waves washed away my stress.
Good thing that I was warned about scams happening in Cuba before I went there. Some Cuban residents would abuse the visit of tourists by making small talk. It is perfectly alright to want to speak with locals but don't be too friendly. Some residents would tell you about ongoing festivals that you absolutely have no idea about. They would bring you to restaurants, charge you a huge amount for a band that plays every night. Of course you would feel festive because it's the first time you'd go to one but the prices are unreasonable when you find out how much regulars are paying. If possible, just do the research yourself and prepare an itinerary.
Another con that I have observed is the fact that I was hard up in looking for batteries, chargers, cords and the like for my gadgets. I wasn't informed that it would be so difficult to look for these accessories in Cuba. So if you plan to go there, make sure you have a lot of spares for your cameras and that you bring all your necessary chargers.
I have visited many places in the past and I must say that Cuba is a must in your bucket list. Never let your whole life pass without visiting this place. In fact, book it for your next family or friendly get together travel!
What was your backpacking experience in Cuba like? Let us know in the comments.