While the top three ways to save money when traveling Havana, Cuba include, walking (as all main points of interest are one mile away from each other in Old Havana), eating outside of Old Havana (as Old Havana's restaurants remain the priciest, try Vedado instead), and renting a room otherwise known as Casas Particulares (as renting is priced far lower than state run hotels) there are still several other factors to consider while traveling Havana, Cuba.
Havana, Cuba has been a city of slow growth. It was only recently, in 2015, that Cubans (roughly around 5%) were allow internet access within the home. Let alone in 2008, Cubans were barely granted permission to own computers. Additionally, if you can believe it, 2013 was the first year Cubans were allowed to purchase and sell new or used cars since the revolution in 1959. As if all of this was not enough, prior to 2014, Cuban restaurants were entirely ran by the state government and Coca-Cola could not be sold or purchased within Cuba because of the U.S. trade embargo.
In short, Cuba still has a lot of growing up to do, so please show patience and restraint during your travels through Havana. Unfortunately, making contact with people back home in the United States is no walk in the park. Hotel phones will not dial out of Cuba, meaning you will have to change your cell service to work internationally for the week or two while visiting. There is wifi located throughout the city but its services are typically slow due to the high volume of traffic.
Souvenir shopping is another hill to tackle all on its own as credit cards have yet to be widely accepted throughout Cuba. It is in your best interest to contact your bank prior to travel and inquire as to whether or not your card is compatible for use in Cuba. If your card service is not accepted in Cuba then your next route is to pull out enough cash to sustain your entire visit. Keep in mind that several Americans have reported spending an upwards of $400 on souvenirs and over $100 on cuban cigars during the duration of their vacation.
Cuba only accepts two forms of currency; the traditional Cuban Peso aka CUP or the convertible Cuban Peso aka CUC. The only difference between the two forms of currency is that CUP is given to Cuban natives and CUC is given to tourists. Additionally, CUC is worth almost twenty five times more than that of the CUP. With this knowledge, understand that all restaurants and shops are not created equal, especially if you are a tourist who does not speak spanish. Another thing to keep in mind as well is that most cities outside of Havana either will not be able to accept CUC or will not have CUC change on hand as the locals solely deal with CUP. Presently, there is a 10% tax on all American Currency in Cuba. Thus is is ideal to order a different type of currency, like Canadian or British pounds to reap a better bang for your buck.
Vaccinations are also another factor to weight upon. While there are no actual vaccinations required to visit Cuba, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention advises that travelers stay current on all routine vaccinations and consider receiving a typhoid and hepatitis A vaccination for the trip as Cuba's water has show traces of both illnesses. Tourists should also follow the general rule of only drinking bottled water while in foreign countries including when brushing their teeth.
One fact that several travelers are unaware of is that Cuban food must be rationed as a direct result of Cuba's tricky and sticky history in trade relations. Do not be alarmed by this factor straight away as tourist's meals are never rationed. This factor mainly affects availability of meals on menus and the fact that tourists might stare at you if you do not finish the food on your plate. Please consider that the average Cuban local only makes about 471 CUP a month ($20 US dollars) and rations about 5 eggs for meals during those four weeks. Yes Dorothy, you are not in Kansas anymore.
The most popular cuisine in Cuba is Moros y Cristianos otherwise known as Congris. Moros y Cristianos is a dishes comprised of rice and black beans served alongside a meat of your choosing. Ropa Vieja, a stew consisting of veggies and shredded beef, is another popular Cuba dish as well as Suckiling Pig. One must-try sweet Cuban snack are the Fried Plantains with a small cup of Cuban Coffee. Understand that Cuban Coffee is made by brewing espresso with large amounts of sugar creating a very strong cup of jo, needless to say a little goes a long way.
Due to the heavy government regulation within Cuba, there are only two types of restaurants available; State - run dining or Paladares (privately owned establishments). State - run dining restaurants mainly serve locals and are known for offering the least tasty food along with below par service. Paladares, are on the other end of the cuisine spectrum, as they serve delectable meals with noteworthy service. Several well-known Paladares include La Guarida, a restaurant from the Oscar nominated film 'Fresa y Chocolate', and Le Chansonnier, a Cuban-Creole and Atelier food fusion.
Lastly, when it comes to cocktails, Cuba is no stranger. Not only is Cuba the inventor of the daiquiri and the mojito, the country has also cultivated world class rum. Needless to say, Havana nightlife thrives. Try the El Floridita bar if you are a fan of Hemingway and enjoy a signature daiquiri, the author's favorite drink. Or visit Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a block of multiple bars featuring a dance club, concert hall, and art gallery. In Centro Havana, La Casa de la Musica is a great club to visit solely for dancing and while the Tropicana may once have been a club, it is now a cabaret style show. El Malecon is another noteworthy located to end the night at.
Prior to traveling within Havana, Cuba make sure to do your research and you should be just fine. Enjoy your visit and make the most out of your stay.