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I went on a last minute (yes, the ultimate last minute trip) to Cuba. I booked four days in advance for an all inclusive (my first time ever on an all inclusive trip) to Varadero. Although I stayed on an all inclusive, I took advantage of some of the tours that were offered in addition to the all inclusive (I know, not very frugal of me) but enjoyed every minute of it because I got to see Havana, got to visit the countryside of Cuba, and got to see the beautiful cobble-stoned UNESCO city of Trinidad.
I am amazed at how large Cuba is. It takes 12 hours to go from one end of the country to the other end of the country by car.
Cuba is not a cheap country to get around or travel in. The CUC conversion is not cheap, and I estimated it to be 1 CUC to be about 1.1 Canadian dollar.
Here are a few ways in which you can enjoy Cuba on the Cheap:
Re-Evaluate Your Star Minimum
We stayed in a 3.5 star “resort”. The television didn't work that well, the room smelled a bit damp, the bath water was tepid most of the time, and the room was quite basic. However, from trip reports and traveler stories with people we met, some people stayed in 4.5 star or 4 star resorts and had the same issues (but were promptly moved to another room with no issues per their request).
Related: Overseas Adventures on the Cheap
The point is, even though it was a 3.5 star place, the views were amazing, the staff were still friendly, and we still got great towel swan decorations every day. I didn't care that it was 3.5 star, I saved $400 to $600 by avoiding a 4.5 or 4 star resort.
Opt for the Best Last Minute Timing
Obviously 4 days notice is probably a little tooooo last minute. According to Chris Meyers at YVRdeals.ca the best time to buy from the Canadian all inclusive operators (Sunwing.ca, itravel2000, and the like) is about 4-5 weeks before departure. Before then, the prices are all roughly the same and there isn't much movement in the prices. Avoiding Christmas time and the third week of February to get an all inclusive Canadian tour operator ticket is a good idea as well.
You could opt for last minute timing, or you depart from Montreal or Toronto. If you live on the East Coast, you are lucky and I am jealous (even though the West Coast is the best coast). I have a friend who got a week long all inclusive vacation package departing from Montreal to Cuba for $400 all-in.
Avoid Cheesy Super Touristy Stuff
Tropicana. That show cost at least 50-70 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos). Although I didn't watch it, I assume it is similar to something you would see in Las Vegas, for example. Most people I talked to said they didn't enjoy that show that much, but to each there own! Some people like watching performances (I do not) and would rather spend it on shows.
Free Beach Access
If you head to street number 30-ish (sorry my memory is terrible) there is beach access. In my opinion, the beach there is more pristine, more clean, and more beautiful than the one at the resort. However, you must bring your own towel as there aren't any chairs there. The great thing about Cuba I find is that there are very few people on the beaches! Paradise! I've only been to tropical beaches in Bali, Hawaii, and Thailand (Phuket) and I found the beaches in Cuba beautiful and so.. empty! Even though it was high season.
There is a double decker bus that runs all day and all evening until 9pm in Veradero and stops at most of the resorts along the strip. It is a hop on hop off bus and only costs 5 CUC's for an all day hop on hop off pass. I took the bus around Veradero and was about a 1-2 hour round trip. This is much more affordable than a one way taxi for 10-15 CUC's.
Don't Bring US Dollars
Although you might think that people want US Dollars because they may want to escape to Florida, it is very difficult to exchange US Dollars and you will get charged an extra 10% with the exchange. Canadian Dollars are exchanged in Cuba for CUC's (although this may change in 2014 as Cuba is currently switching to one currency only) and cannot be exchanged outside of Cuba.
Readers, do you have other travel tips for Cuba?
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