How to Take a Frugal Vacation in Paradise

Cayo Coco. Source: is a post by guest writer Amo Tango.

Sand, beach, heat…sounds like the main ingredients of a well-deserved vacation. Most would think that a vacation in ‘paradise’ would cost an arm and leg, but nowadays, flying is second nature in our society. With globalization and international business affairs everywhere in the world, flying is just another means to get from one destination to the next. Because there is more and more demand for flights, there are more and more companies that are being opened; many of these companies are privately-owned, which offer low-cost maintenance and thus low prices for clients.

Vacationing in Cuba

I have recently had the chance to take a week off from work to go on a frugal all- inclusive vacation to Cayo Coco, Cuba with Sunwing vacations. This vacation was well deserved; after nearly a year of being cooped up in an office with barely any sun exposure, this was exactly what I needed. What is so great about these types of vacation is that everything is organized for you; all you have to do is register online for the resort that you want, and then show up at the check-in with your passport on departure day. No need to search for a hotel, nor food, nor entertainment, nor transportation. An all-inclusive vacation in Cuba is wonderful if you are looking to just relax on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and to get a nice tan.

I am not saying that every vacation should be like this though; I am the type of person who would prefer to see/visit new places, try new foods and move around a foreign place to explore. Sometimes, though, you just want to do nothing but lie on the beach that is located only 2 minutes away from your hotel room and to have everything right in your surroundings without having to travel far. The best part is being able to have a drink at any time, since Cuba, since there is a bar at every corner of the resort, serving Mojitos, Daiquiris, Pina Coladas…or simply water. The buffet is scheduled, so there are moments in the day where you will not be able to eat all that you can, however, there is a 24/7 snack bar open near the pool with hot dogs, fries, sandwiches made upon request.

Tipping is optional, but much appreciated. Cubans are very happy to receive some sort of compensation for their services, whether it is at the bar, the restaurants, the reception, the garden, your room or at the pool. Personally, I will not tip every single time a Cuban does something for me, but I will exchange a decent amount of money at the end of the trip and tip those that gave me an exceptional service; this encourages them to work harder and to not just expect something extra just by doing their job. Another way to encourage them is to bring small items from back home, which are hard to get in Cuba; such as everyday products, school supplies, items of clothing, or anything else that you might find interesting. I had brought crayons, make-up, toys and other small products from home. I made little packets to leave for the maid everyday, and I gave packets to the gardener that spoke no English at all, but that had made me a hat out of palm tree leaves decorated with a leaf origami bird. It was amazing, such talent, making something so useful out of nothing.

A lot of people think that Cubans are so poor and are always looking for a way out; but from what I saw (albeit I only met Cubans working at the resort; apparently the richest among the rest of the Cubans) they seemed very happy and content that they even had a job. Also, since they’d never been out of the country, they have nothing to compare their lives to. Even if they live in a society where everyone is equal in material possessions, they also have the opportunity to get education and medical care practically for free, which is not so bad. They have all their basic needs and can live life very well. Of course, I don’t know enough to confirm this, but from the Cubans I met, this is the feeling I got.

A frugal vacation in paradise

I got back after a week of sun with a very nice tan and in a very relaxed state. My satisfaction level of the vacation was very high and I will probably go back eventually. Now you must be wondering how much all this really cost, well, it wasn’t a $100 holiday, but with taxes, everything cost about 725$ Canadian (with a whole day Catamaran trip for snorkeling at 2 amazing coral reefs). Since I have taken several vacations in my life, I know that this is a very good deal for the flight, 7 night’s accommodation at a 4 star hotel (maybe a 3 star in our terms), food and entertainment. Of course, I couldn’t help but buy some Cuban cigars at the duty free, and some small souvenirs which did increase the amount I paid, but this was because I am someone who gets sucked into buying souvenirs.

Overall, the flight was short (about 3.5 hours), well serviced with a welcome glass of champagne, a meal (that was not very good, but edible), snacks/drinks and a chocolate mint at the end. A shuttle bus was waiting for us once our flight landed. The hotel room I stayed in (at the Blue Bay Resort) was very clean and spacious. We were two in the room, each with a large twin size bed. We also had a living room type area and a balcony with patio furniture. Upon our arrival, we were given a large bottle of water, a large bottle of rum, 2 cans of pop and beach towels (which had to be returned at the end to avoid a fee of 20 CUC).

For what we paid, both my friend and I were extremely pleased and the beach was to die for. Even if everything else was horrible (which it was not; it was great!), the beach would have made it all worth it.

So if you are looking to take a vacation that does not require any planning or a hefty load on your wallet, take a week or two off and head to Cuba; there are many resorts both on the mainland and on the islets surrounding them, such as Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo or Cayo Guillermo. You just need to read up on the reviews and see if it is suitable to your needs, but I would say to consider something that is 4 stars and up to be comfortable.

Even though the time I went (beginning of September) was part of the wet season (low season for travelers), we did not hit any horrible weather. It only rained a couple of times the whole week we were there, and it did not really affect any of our beach time, so unless there is a category 5 hurricane hitting Cuba, pack up and go! The prices are even lower later on in the month and in November, however, in December, high season starts and the prices will easily double for the same thing.

So, what is your idea of a frugal vacation in paradise? I look forward to reading about it in the comments!

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  1. says

    Kevin, this sounds like a VERY nice vacation with some awesome deals. I’m glad it all worked out so nicely. IMO, a frugal vacation differs based on where you are in life and your priorities. If you love going to the spa, then it may not be frugal to go to a resort that doesn’t have one because you are not getting the value for your money (so to speak). I like doing a lot of things on vacation, but one leisurely activity I frequently do is relaxing on a float in a lazy river.

    • says

      That is true. For me, the vacation was not frugal at this point in time so that’s why I didn’t go, but Amo Tango had a blast with her friend over there. :)

  2. says

    What a great deal! I never even considered going to Cuba. Probably because I am the only person in America (besides my kids) without a passport. But that vacation sounds just perfect. I had no idea the flight was so short either- it takes longer for me to get to California!

    I am going to look into this! Thanks for the info.

    • says

      Get a passport! 😉 I forgot that it’s more difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba. That policy really just punishes the Cuban people…

  3. says

    I have never been on a vacation like that, but I have no desire to leave the United States. I could go for a vacation to Hawaii. I would love to swim in a warm clear ocean. Sounds like you had a great time!

    • Anne says

      Hawaii is also on my list of places to see, but it won’t be as inexpensive for sure! I have a lot of family members who have gone but they easily paid double, even triple of my trip. Maybe in a couple of years for me…

  4. says

    Never considered Cuba before. Sounds like a great vacation, I didn’t realize it could be this cheap. The only time I tried all-inclusive was in Mexico (Cancun). We split the vacation into 2 parts, the first part was busy, very busy, looking around sightseeing. We saw as much as we could and took a hotel to just sleep. The second part was just relaxing and we went with an all-inclusive. It was not cheap, but we loved it.

    • says

      The last all-inclusive I did was a cruise. It’s a very nice way to see the Caribbeans since there are so many small islands and also not that much to see on each island. The day excursion gives you enough time to see a few sights.

      It is limiting though in how you have to be back on the boat by a certain time…

  5. says

    I love a beach vacation. I don’t know how accessible Cuba is to us USA ers. My hubby and I love Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and have gotten some good deals there, although nothing to compare with that Cuba deal!!! (Kevin sorry about going to spam jail)

    • Anne says

      This is the problem with Cuba and the States. I think it is possible, but it is a lot more difficult than for Canadians. As a Montrealer, it is very simple to book a trip to Cuba. While I was there, most other tourists were either from Montreal or Toronto. Also, if you do bring American money, they will add another 15% of commission on top of what they already charge to convert to CUC (cuban convertible pesos).

  6. myfinancialobjectives says

    Very interesting!!!! I too love beach vacations and you have presented a very interesting point! I’m actually going on a cruise in November. I wrote an article in the past about why I think going on a cruise is one of the best vacation bangs for your buck – I think you may enjoy it!

    • Anne says

      Ya, cruises are wonderful too. I’ve been on a couple already in the Caribbeans. If you look for deals, it can be quite inexpensive too. I remember booking a trip for 8 days starting from Puerto Rico, then docking at St-Maarten, Aruba, Dominica and Grenada. The flight and the cruise together cost around 1100$ (all in). It is a bit more expensive than Cuba, but it is more luxurious and you do go to different places, so it doesn’t get boring.

  7. says

    I’m with Barb, I didn’t even know that Cuba was accessible to the U.S.

    Sounds like a pretty nice place though!

    That’s an amazing price!!!

    I don’t think I’ve ever been on a frugal vacation before, except backyardsville and camping at a local park.

    • says

      I hear you… camping is the ultimate frugal vacation! Last time I was in the states with Amo Tango, we camped out for one night instead of renting a motel, simply because we were too cheap to spend more money!

  8. says

    Thanks for reminding of what I need right now, a nice 1 week vacation in Cuba.
    I have to admit Cuba is one of my favorite Caribbean destinations, lots security and no beggars. Very nice and respectful people. Maybe that regime does have its positives?


    • says

      I wonder why that still is. It’s not like Cuba poses a significant threat to the US. Why not make an offer to all Cubans that they will be accepted with open arms, so long as they understand that they will not be able to use government aid and that the minimum wage will not apply to them for a period of X years.

      Sounds like exploitation to you guys, but I am not saying to hold their passports hostage or anything like that. I am saying, stop treating them like criminals if they want to leave their country so badly, and lower the bar for them so it is easier for others to hire them as maids, bus boys, etc… without them having to work illegally and without legal protection. They are humans, too, and should be entitled to the same legal protections as anyone else if they can work and contribute.

  9. says

    Personally I would get bored in about 3 hours…. It would seem great for a short while but I really do have an issue being cooped up and these all inclusives sound like hell to me! I guess I would be fine with my laptop but then that defeats the purpose of a vacation! My partner would love it though.

    What’s the deal with American’s going to Cuba? I thought it wasn’t really allowed? When I was in Canada Cuba was the most common country name I ever saw and everyone was going….. Must have been full of Canadians when you went?

    These packages can work out damn cheap. I am amazed at some of the deals from UK to Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt but I hear they get you with all the extras and I know some friends that got seriously ripped off with the prices of some of the excursions.

    • says

      I take it you prefer the backpacker’s style of vacation 😉 There’s a time and place for both, I guess. I really did enjoy pseudo-backpacking through Southeast Asia last winter, but visiting four countries in four weeks was a little rushed, to say the least.