Havna
Travel On A Budget

Cuba

Amir and I decided to take a last minute 6-day trip to Cuba and we are so happy we did because it turned out to be one of the best and most relaxing trips we’ve taken.  In this post we will share details of time spent in Varadero and Havana, visa information, and cost of trip. I look forward to reading your feedback or questions via the comment section.

Varadero

Varadero Beach

 

Varadero is a small beach town situated east of Havana and is a quick 2-hour taxi ride away. According to several Havana locals, Varadero is the most beautiful beach in Cuba.

Currency Exchange

There is a currency exchange office at the Varadero Airport, however, the only way to access it is by walking outside the arrivals terminal.  Once outside, walk to the left where there will be three (if I remember correctly) small windows where currency can be exchanged. There is a list of the currency exchange rates; during our visit there was a 10% fee applied to USD plus an additional 3% fee (charged to all currencies) for a total of 13% exchange rate fee. Ouch! We tried to exchange USD to Euros at the Miami airport but after calculating the exchange rate from USD to Euros and then adding the 3% fee to exchange the Euros to Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) we determined that it was better to take USD. A passport is always needed when exchanging currency in Cuba.

Transportation from Varadero Airport to Hotels in Varadero

As soon as we walked outside the airport there were men approaching us asking if we needed a taxi.  We were given a $40 CUC price to Barcelo Solymar which is located in the “hotel zone”.  That was a bit expensive so we decided to try to search for a bus to “hotel zone”. A taxi driver approached us and propose we share a taxi with 2 other people traveling in the same direction.  We ended up splitting the cost of the taxi amongst 4 people for $10 CUC per person. The drive was around 20 minutes from the Varadero Airport to Varadero “hotel zone”.

Accommodation in Varadero

Since we were only staying in Varadero for 3 days, we decided to book a place with direct access to the beach.  We booked Barcelo Solymar, an all-inclusive resort.  We enjoyed the quick access to the beach, the all-you-can-drink bars, the friendly staff and definitely the party on the beach with a live DJ. Access to wifi was also a plus (Cost: $1.50 CUC for an hour).  However, we weren’t too impressed with the food or our room.  Amir got sick on our second night after eating a hot dog and I survived off arroz con frijoles (rice with beans). Needless to say, book Barcelo Solymar at your own risk.  I must say the clear, blue, beautiful beach made up for all the bad experiences.

Transportation from Varadero to Havana

We took a $5 CUC taxi ride from our hotel to the Viazul bus terminal to attempt to buy a bus ticket from Varadero to Havana for the following day.  The staff at the Viazul Terminal informed us that the bus tickets were $10 CUC but the bus route to Havana was sold out for the next 2 days. The lovely concierge at the hotel arranged a taxi to drive us to Havana for $80 CUC (2-hour drive).

Havana

Roaming the streets of Havana

Currency Exchange

While in Havana we exchanged money at a bank and, although it was a simple process, it was time consuming. Amir waited outside in the scorching sun for 1.5 hours since the line is formed outside with only 3-4 people entering at once. The day before we left we found a place inside the Almacenes San Jose Artisans Market where currency can be exchanged with no waiting line.  The USD exchange rate fee of 13% was the same at the bank and the market. Also, don’t forget your passport because it’s necessary to exchange currency. This place will also convert CUC to CUP (Cuban Peso) which is the currency used by the locals.  The exchange rate is 1 CUC = 24 CUP.

Havana Accommodation

In Havana we rented a small apartment through Airbnb.  It wasn’t anything spectacular but it was in an ideal location near El Capitolio, next to Hotel Saratoga.  It was a 10 minute walk to Old San Juan and 25 minute walk to El Malecon. Although the area seemed sketchy, Amir and I walked through the neighborhood after midnight and felt safe at all times.  Near our accommodation we found good restaurants and mini stores selling ice cream cones and refresco (carbonated water with sugar) for 1CUP (.05¢ USD).  The ice cream and refresco were very refreshing for those hot summer days.

Wifi Access

An hour of wifi cost $1.50CUC and it is accessible at most luxury hotels and at some parks. You will know which parks have the best wifi connection by the number of people hanging out at the park but focused on their cell phones/laptops or simply on facetime. Luxury hotels sale the prepaid wifi card to access their private wifi. Guest at the hotels can buy the prepaid cards.  We attempted to buy a card from Hotel Inglaterra but were told we must be guest or customers at their bar/restaurant.

Visa

We bought our visa at the airport for $100 per person instead of ordering it online for $85 because we procrastinated and were worried we wouldn’t get our visa in the mail on time before our departure.  The visa was super easy to buy at the Miami Airport.  There’s a pop up stand that’s placed by the departure gate about an hour before departure time.  American Airlines did not verify whether we had a visa when boarding. Once we arrived in Varadero there was a tourist help desk as soon as we walked in the airport. According to the immigration officer at the Varadero airport we could have bought the visa at that tourist help desk  for $75.  However, I forgot to ask whether it was $75 USD. I’m assuming it’s $75 USD since converting money to CUC isn’t possible until after passing immigration and exiting the airport.

See the post, Food and Booze, for our favorite restaurants and one-day barhopping itinerary in Cuba.

Cost of Trip of 6 Day Trip For 2

Total$1,867.05
American Airlines Flight ATL to Varadero ($153.60 per person)$307.20
Check-In Luggage Fee$25.00
Delta Flight Havana to ATL for one person$218.46
* One Free flight with Delta using Skymiles – tax fees$41.46
Barcelo Solymar – two night stay through Hotels.com$244.93
*Airbnb (after a $50 credit from American Express)$150.00
Visas at Miami Airport $100 per person$200.00
Money Spent in Cuba (591.60 CUC)$680.00

*Without the $50 cashback from AE and free delta airfare the cost of the trip would have been $2,094.05.

Breakdown of Money Spent in Cuba $680 (591.60 CUC)

  • Taxi from Varadero Airport to Barcelo Solymar (shared taxi w/ 2 other people) – $20 CUC
  • Taxi from Varadero (pick-up at Barcelo Solymar)  to Havana (drop-off at Saratoga Hotel) – $80 CUC
  • Rum Bottles – $129 CUC
  • Taxi roundtrip ride between Havana & Santa Maria Beach ($22 CUC and $25 CUC) – $47 CUC
  • Taxi from Saratoga Hotel to Havana Airport – $25 CUC
  • Tips, short taxi rides, food, and snacks – $290.60 CUC

Areas where we could have saved:

Staying in an Airbnb in Varadero instead of hotel $100.00
Purchasing the visa in advance online for $85 $30.00
Omitting the trip to Santa Maria Beach ($47 CUC)
$53.11
Omitting rum purchases ($129 CUC) $145.77
Total possible savings $328.88

 

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