Every now and then you might come across a travel article that claims to be able to tell you how to travel for free. You eagerly click on the headline and then find that the article suggests you become good at writing so you can become a paid travel blogger. Or it suggests that you become a flight attendant or pilot. Technically, this advice is true, but it doesn’t offer the easy answers you were hoping for.
Free travel is practically impossible, but seasoned travellers know how to travel without spending a lot of money. With a minimal amount of hunting you can track down an amazing airfare and inexpensive accommodation. Now all you have to think about is saving money when you’re at your destination.
There are a lot of contradictory reports about how expensive Cuba can be. This amazing destination is like any other in that you can drop a huge amount of money and enjoy pure luxury, or you can have a sensational time without stretching your finances too far. This is why it can be rather helpful to know about all the unforgettable things you can do in Cuba for free.
1. Havana: A Stroll Through the Old Town
This one might seem a little bit obvious, but taking a walk around a new destination is a treat for your senses and doesn’t cost a thing. The only real cost is the cold drink you’re going to need at the end of it (and yeah, you’re in Cuba, so have a mojito). It you want to see the romanticised sights of Cuba, then you’re going to want to take a leisurely stroll through Havana’s Old Town. This is the picture postcard side of the city, where pristine beauty meets dishevelled chic. Start at Plaza Vieja and take some time to watch the world go by. Wander down Muralla and then turn right onto Compostela.
You will eventually reach the ornate Museo de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution). Take a rest here, and then take any street to the left. This will lead you to the Malecón, an oceanfront walkway. This walk is easy enough (despite the heat) and takes you through the heart of Old Havana.
2. Havana: Hotel Nacional
If you head further along the Malecón, you’ll come to another site in Havana that could be described as “cost optional.” The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a wonderful clash of styles that were popular in the 1930s, when it was built.
This is where the rich and famous of Old Hollywood came to play, back before relations between the US and Cuba turned sour. American mobsters also came here for private meetings, away from the prying eyes of US authorities. If you want to have a drink in one of the hotel’s bars to feel fancy, then feel free. But if you want to keep it free, just take a walk through the hotel’s lavish gardens.
3. Havana: View from the Top
Some of the best views in Havana can be found on the rooftop of Hotel Parque Central. Simply head to the top of the building, enjoy the view and then head off. If you want to linger, you will probably be instructed to at least buy a drink at the rooftop bar, and we’re trying to keep things free!
There are rumours that non-guests often sneak into the rooftop pool and pretend they’re staying at the hotel, but we wouldn’t recommend this, unless you want to be shown the exit while still dripping wet.
4. Trinidad: Valley of the Sugar Mills
The only cost involved in visiting the Valley of the Sugar Mills (Valle de los Ingenios) is getting there, since it’s roughly 12 km from the town of Trinidad, so not exactly walking distance. But get there you must, and you will be happily stunned as you walk through this lush green valley. It was once the centre of Cuba’s sugar production, largely achieved using slave labour. There are dozens of old sugar mills dotted throughout the valley. Some of them have been respectfully preserved, and some a little more than crumbling ruins.
Some of the key sites in the valley require an entrance fee, but it’s free to explore the valley itself. You should make a point to see the Manaca Iznaga Tower, which was once used to spot runaway slaves.
5. Santa Clara: Paying Your Respects
This rather precise geometrically heavy mausoleum is the final resting place of the one and only Che Guevara. His remains were not actually placed in the mausoleum until 1997, some 30 years after his death. His remains were discovered in an unmarked grave by the side of a lovely, remote airstrip in Bolivia, where he had been executed. Whether or not you agree with Guevara’s actions as a fighter in the Cuban Revolution, his mausoleum is certainly impressive.
Austere in nature, with views down onto the town of Santa Clara, it’s free to visit the memorial and museum, which is reminiscent of a shrine. You are not allowed to bring cameras, phones, or many other personal items inside. This is enforced so that Guevara’s final resting place is shown the respect it deserves.
6. Viñales: Explore the Tropics
The Jardin Botanico de Viñales (Viñales Botanical Garden) is one of those things that can be free, but you should probably offer a small tip if you take the tour. The tour generally involves sampling some of the fruit straight from the trees, so it can be well worthwhile. The only real downside to this quiet oasis is the fact that some birds are on display in uncomfortably small cages, so you should do your best to spot a hummingbird in the wild. The blossoms on the trees generally attract a lot of them. And this is Cuba, so there is a small stall in the gardens that sells drinks.
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