Booking, travel and accommodation options and costs.

So let’s assume you have decided to visit and experience the real Cuba by living largely in a Cuban village. This section of the site is to discuss or offer 2 different options of getting there and saving money while minimizing complications.

Before demonstrating these two options, I will be up front and suggest that 1st timers to Cuba and/or those that are going to tempt to spend a week or two off an All Inclusive in a smaller village outside of Havana, should probably follow the “base camp” option which essentially means booking a low cost Havana 7 day flight/hotel room package (your base camp) and within a day or two (after discovering Havana) taking a taxi to Guanabo and booking a casa particulara with a Cuban family. Cost and benefits of this option will be described below, but essentially once you have done this, future trips will only require a flight as you will then be familiar and comfortable enough with basic Cuban words, banking, culture, transportation, accommodation essentials and practices.

Now to the description, analysis and modelling of the costs and benefits of the two major options. To begin what follows is a general explanation of these:

  • Getting to Guanabo by booking just a flight to Varadero or Havana only, and then making your way on your own to Guanabo by either taxi or bus. This approach will require you to find a taxi (a bus is sometimes available but you have to know the hours and be able to communicate in Spanish – the point being it is doable but a tad risky) which costs about $60 to $80 Canadian depending on how good you are at negotiating).

  • Or, the second alternative is using a base camp approach which means booking a low cost 2 star Havana based partially inclusive (only breakfast) hotel approach. This model may be advisable for those that are visiting Cuba for the first time and wish to go off-reserve. While at first blush, perhaps contradictory from all previous advice there are a number of benefits to doing so, especially if you are going to Cuba for the first time. These benefits include:

    • As will be demonstrated and explained below it can be cheaper than just taking a flight. The main reasons for this are: often taking a low cost Havana package is only $100 more; when you book a package your transportation to and from the airport to Havana is included which saves you almost $150 Cdn, if your single and $75 if your buddies or a couple; you get a large breakfast included which likely will save you $5 day.

    • The other major benefit is that you are guaranteed to get from the airport to your hotel quickly, without needing to find, communicate and haggle with taxies drivers. On your second trip, if you decide to go and once you have mastered this technique, the air only becomes cheaper.

    • You have more options. Given that everyone is different and taste vary, you can also then have the option of how many days and nights you can spend in a village setting or in the exciting hustle and bustle of Havana.

    • Lastly and important in understanding how this works economically and from a cost benefit perspective, unlike at the airport, both Havana and Guanabo have many, many taxies called collectivos that run almost 20 hours a day. These are non-government taxies that you share with other Cubans that only move from downtown Havana to downtown Guanabo, and only cost a $1 per person per way. These are a lot of fun, and a great way of meeting really friendly Cuban men and women.

The cost analysis was undertaken November 14, 2016. The model is for a hypothetical one week vacation that will take place beginning January 15th, 2017. The search engines/sites used include Trip Central, Air Canada and WestJet.

For the All Inclusive or the base camp model we have chosen one of the Havana downtown low cost hotels (2 star) called Hotel Islazul Caribbean (you may also take a look at Islazul Colina Hotel). While there are a number of other Havana hotels these are either more expensive (3, 4 and 5 stars and offer free breakfast, lunch and supper meals and alcohol) and/or located outside of the downtown area. For the week of January 29th the cost (Flight, Hotel Islazul Caribbean, breakfast, bus back forth from the airport) from Ottawa is $705 per person for a couples rate, and $785 for a single person (all taxes included). But again please note that I have seen these same one week packages for 5475 to $575 during other months such as in September and November. So it can be very worthwhile to keep a daily or weekly eye out or seek our assistance in monitoring and/or alerting you to sudden super deals. And it should be noted that these are not necessarily last minute deals but may indeed have a one month lead time before departure.

On the other hand, a flight only, return economy flights (all taxes in) to get to Varadero is about $480 in this example (average of sample prices below). It is useful to note that most of the time flying into Varadero is usually quite a bit cheaper by about $300 to $400 than going direct to Havana – however this is not always true. Sample modelling prices are as follows:

  • Sunwing Ottawa to Varadero Jan. 15th to Jan. 22nd is $475

  • Air Canada Ottawa to Varadero Jan. 15th to Jan. 22nd is $424

  • WestJet Ottawa to Varadero Jan. 15th to Jan. 22nd is $550

Therefore the difference in this case approximately $200 (I have seen times when the difference is only $75, depending on the season and the timing of your booking and many, many other factors beyond my understanding).

However as the costing model below tries to demonstrate these costs differences can evaporate quickly one you have landed on your flight only option and begin encountering additional costs and possible hurdles and confusion for first time travelers.

  • The first model is that of solely purchasing a flight only. As you will note the total cost per person is $935 the daily average cost (for one week) is $134 and the two week average daily cost is $89. Not surprisingly a two week holiday is both better for economic reasons, and also allows you just enough time to adapt and really learn and become comfortable. It is also important to note that it becomes even more cost effective if you go as a couple or buddies, as there would be economies in food and certainly lodging as the “daily casa or hotel price” below is per room and not per person. And the taxi as well is per ride not per person.

  • Now with respect to the hybrid or “base camp” cost modelling analysis, the following table highlights the cost divergence between the two. Using a “base camp” in this model results in a total cost per person of $930 the daily average cost (for one week) is $133 and the two week average daily cost is $112. However please note that the spreadsheet below assumes or incorporates that this individual will spend 2 nights in Havana (likely the first and last nights of their trip to sight-see Havana and to correspond with their airport taxi schedule).

The important take-aways from this exercise for the first time off-reserve traveler, a one week “base camp” approach provides the following benefits:

  • It is very cost competitive (at least for a one week trip), almost par.

  • It reduces risk, anxiety and complications by negating the need to find and haggle with a taxi, and make sure you have a safe place for your luggage and place to sleep for your first night. It is also important to note that it is far cheaper to rent a hotel from Canada, as part of a package then it is to do so once in Cuba, as hotel nightly prices are much, much higher to book once in country.

  • It provides you with two places to live and the ability to decide for yourself whether you prefer city life to village life, and accordingly whether you spend one, two, three or more nights in Havana or Guanabo. i.e. more flexibility.

Lastly, this exercise was simply to demonstrate an important point and choice. Price differences can vary significantly depending on what time of year you are planning when to go. However, if you are trying to decide which approach works best for you, please use the following links and any others you are familiar with to do your own analysis and booking. These are: