Throughout my Cuba trip I stayed exclusively in casa particulars, and I cannot recommend it enough. While hotels are impersonal and relatively expensive for Cuba, casa particulars are basically homestays where you stay with locals and get to benefit from their knowledge and advice. It’s also a great choice for responsible tourism, as your money is going directly to locals instead of large hotel corporations.
While we’re talking money, staying in a casa particular is also cheap! We paid around 30 CUC a night (roughly £20) for a double/twin room with private bathroom and air conditioning, and a generous breakfast is added on for 3-5 CUC per day (£2-4). Included in this price are, in our experience at least, beautiful Cuban homes to stay in and amazing hosts who will go above and beyond to help you with anything you need, and see you off to your next city with a big hug!
Of course the casa particular system is pretty different to anything we have in the UK – in fact to my knowledge this system is unique in the world. So here are my top tips to booking and staying in casa particulars.
Book With Your Hosts
A lot of people we met on our travels had booked all their accommodation online through Airbnb, but we cut out a lot of research legwork by just booking our first stay in Havana online and asking our host there to arrange the rest of our accommodation for us. Most casa particular owners have a network of other hosts they know in cities across the country, and will be happy to book you in with one of their friends. We were sent off from Havana with nothing but a slip of paper with five addresses written on it to show to our collective drivers, and while this blind style of booking may seem risky, every place we stayed was fantastic.
Make Sure Your Casa is ‘Legal’
This probably won’t be a concern for you if you book through a previous host, but if you do turn up somewhere with no accommodation, make sure when you’re looking that the casa you choose is legal. This means the casa is of the required standard for the owner to obtain a license from the government. You can spot a legal casa from the sign all casa particulars have outside – a blue symbol that I think is supposed to look like a house but looks more like an upside down anchor.
Don’t Be Surprised If You Get Relocated
Out of the 5 places we stayed in Cuba, only two of them were the addresses we’d actually booked. A few days before we flew to Havana we got an email from our host informing us that her house was having plumbing work and we would be staying with her sister instead, and in two cities we arrived to find that our hosts were already fully booked and they’d arranged for us to stay with someone else. Good casa owners seem to always be connected to other good casa owners, so you won’t end up somewhere rubbish – just go with it.
Eat at Home
Casa particulares usually include breakfast as standard and we got some great spreads. Our breakfasts generally consisted of eggs, bread, fruit, coffee and a blended fruit smoothie, and some hosts also made cheese toasties (which were nothing short of life-saving on a rum hangover). Some of our hosts also offered us dinner and while we sometimes had restaurants we wanted to visit, a lot of Cuban food at restaurants can be bland and expensive and you’ll actually get cheaper and more delicious food in your casa. The home cooked meals we had were fantastic.
Know a Bit of Spanish
Most casa particular hosts speak a good level of English, but we arrived in Viñales with only a few words of Spanish to find that our hosts had about the same number of English words. This was the point where our Spanish vocabulary grew the most, because we were constantly referring to Google Translate to communicate. We still weren’t fantastic by the time we left, but we had memorised key vocabulary relating to breakfast, times and descriptions of activities and Cuban scenery. Even if your hosts speak English they appreciate efforts to speak Spanish, so I’d advise learning at least a few key phrases!
Have you stayed in casa particulars – what did you think of them? If you have any questions, ask me in the comments!