Day 228 – Become a member of SuCCESS: How to live cheap in Cuba

2009/04/25 § Leave a comment

I know, I have been talking a lot about how expensive it is in Cuba. And it sure all is relative. I compare with developing-world prices of course, not central European prices. However, everyone I talk to is aware that prices are higher than they expected. Surprising, since everyone warns beforehand. On the other side, it is one thing to hear about it and a completely different one to experience how money seems to simply diffuse into the environment from your wallet. Especially after traveling on the cheap for eight months a painful experience.

But then again, we pay these prices for a good cause, it is all to help Fidel and the Cubans (or maybe just Fidel?). Here are some prices so you get a better idea what to expect, in case you plan to come and become part of the “Support-team for the Survival of the Cuban Colony for the Experimentation with Socialism and Sugarcane-production” or in short “SuCCESS”!

1 Mojito (a staple food item in Cuba) – 2,5 to 4 CUC (1,1789 CUC equal 1 € as of 15/04/2009)
1 Double room for a single traveler at Casa Particular (private home) – 20 to 25 CUC
1 Beer (a staple food item in Cuba) – 1 to 1,5 CUC
1 Cheese Pizza – around 2 CUC (think: soft, mushy and thick dough, little cheese topping)
1 Chicken dish at a restaurant – appr. 6 CUC
1 Dish with seafood – appr. 10 CUC
1 Breakfast/Dinner at a Casa Particular – 3/8 CUC
1 Cigar from a farmer/ from a store (a staple food item in Cuba) – 1/3 CUC
1 hour of internet access – 6 to 8 CUC (!)
1 Museum entrance fee – 5 CUC
1 short taxi ride in the downtown Habana city – 3 CUC
1 Scuba Dive – appr. 40 CUC
1 Bus-ride in tourist bus (ca. 400 km) – 40 CUC
1 bottle of water (1,5 L) – 1 to 1,5 CUC
1 can of TuKola (Coke substitute) – 0,55 to 1 CUC (depending if you get ripped off or not)
1 portion of French fries – 1,5 CUC
1 Spanish style ham-croquetta – 0,10 CUC per piece

But if paying with “Pesos nationales”, the “real” Cuban money, not the monopoly-game type tourist cash, things get very reasonable:

1 Sandwich with chicken (and some hot sauce; I keep dreaming of mayonnaise) – 10 Pesos, that is 50 cents (one Peso is roughly equivalent to 0,05 €)
1 very filling breakfast sweet thingy with marmalade (think: soft cake with sweet thick paste with undefinable taste and thick creamy topping of unknown origin) – 1 Peso, i.e. 5 €-cents
1 Big portion fried rice with ham, soy-bean sprouts and onion – 15 Pesos, i.e. 75 cents
1 large portion of chocolate ice cream – 4 Pesos, i.e. 20 cents
1 Soft drink – 2 Pesos, i.e. 10 cents
1 Museum entrance fee – 5 Pesos, i.e. 25 cents (if you manage to pose as Cuban native without them asking for a passport- I personally failed, but at least I tried and confused them, for like five seconds. I still wonder what gave me away though? My accent, the light complexion of my skin? Or was it my Hawaiian shirt, or the fat-ass camera dangling over my big tourist belly? 😉 )

The places where you can pay in Pesos are not advertised by the locals (they will usually send you to the tourist places where you must pay with CUC) and you either stumble upon them coincidently or you have to get lucky to be pointed into the right direction by a compassionate Cuban or a fellow traveler. And even if you find the places, where you can in theory pay with Pesos, it does not mean they will let you.

In order to get these cheaper Pesos nationales prices you may have to be persistent. They often don’t allow you to buy in Pesos, or at least they try to make you pay a higher price in CUC. It is however not illegal to exchange some CUC into Pesos nationales and try to pay with them. Therefore, just be persistent, or better yet, just hand over Pesos nationales and see what happens. Usually they don’t care enough to argue, since the money goes to Fidel and not into their pockets, I guess. And if they do care, hand over the biggest CUC note you have. Chance are they have no change in CUC. 😉

Regarding the room: if you shop around you get them for 15 CUC (I hate the abbreviation “CUC”, reminds me of the Swedish “KUK” too much 😉 ). I have one right now for that price. It is spotless clean, with patio, roof terrace and the room comes with TV (not that any of the three state run stations were of any interest to me), fan, aircon and my own bathroom as well as a separate living room with sofa and little veranda (I know! How did I get that?).

It may be that the owner does not exactly tell Fidel that you are staying there, so it is not strictly legal. But that is not of my concern, since this is a part of the system here I should not intervene. I am not saying that you should perform illegal acts while in Cuba! On the other hand it was damn suggestive, wasn’t it…? 😉


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