Casa Particulares: How to choose a homestay for your trip to Cuba
On your Cuba travel, you can either stay in hotels or in private run accommodations - so-called Casas Particulares (Casas). These private bed & breakfast are very common on the socialist Island. While most Casas offer rooms inside the property of the owner, you can also find more professional family hotels with several guest rooms or even completely independent apartments, providing guests with maximum privacy. In many cases, homestays are an inexpensive and authentic way of accommodation. This article will provide all important information about, especially how to avoid the typical issues and what to consider when choosing a good places for a perfect trip.
Nowadays, tourists can choose among Casas from all kinds countrywide. In larger towns you will find a suitable homestay for every need and budget. Depending on the season, location, type and equipment of the accommodation, the prices for a double room vary from ten to several hundred USD per night.
Wide variety of private guests houses
Demanding travelers have different options to suit any preference from the higher quality standards. There are penthouses, rooms in magnificent colonial buildings, lofts and suites in chic boutique hotels. If you search more independence, you will also find rooms with separate entrances and independent vacation apartments or even entire houses. Especially in Havana, you find a very extensive range of luxury offers.
In comparison with hotels, Casas offer in most cases a better price-performance ratio. While higher prices in hotels usually means a better standard, at Casas this is not necessarily the case. In the lower price segment, there are many well managed private accommodations. You can also find upscale guest houses that offer special services like hotels do, but with a plus: they are personalized. Even so, they are in most cases still far cheaper than hotels! Therefore, a price comparison can be worthwhile, especially if you travel on a budget.
Staying at Casa: What guest of Cuban homestays have to expect
Besides the level some Casas have reached, you should still keep in mind, that we are talking about Cuba - a socialist Third World country.
Therefore, most rooms are (very) simply equipped: A typical room offers a fan and / or air conditioning and a private bathroom with hot showers. Toilet paper, towels and bed linen are provided, sometimes you also find some soap, a small bottle of shampoo or shower gel.
Almost all rooms have a refrigerator that you will find in most cases filled with a few bottles of water and cans of coke or beer. The prices for those drinks are usually moderate: A can of Coke or a small bottle of water commonly cost 1 USD and a beer 1.5 to 2 USD.
In the low-priced segment, the additional equipment remains mostly functional. Many rooms have at least one clothes rail and a couple of hangers.
The pros and cons of Casas
Besides the very basic equipment, you can expect in general very clean homestays. Cleanness is definitely a big plus for Casas, at least in comparison to many budget Hotels.
Unfortunately, Casas often come with a few disadvantages: Many mattresses are from bad quality, quite narrow and, even worse, sometimes only 180 cm short. So mattresses are often not particularly comfortable.
Most mattresses are handmade in Cuba, but they are neither cheap nor of good quality. Travelers who need space or especially suffer from back pain, better take a second look, to find the right place to stay. In Hotels and some better Casa you find imported mattresses.
Another downside of Casas are often low quality bed linen, made of polyester, which is not very pleasant in high temperatures. If you want to ensure your comfort, take your own light - breathable - bedding. Most convenient are bed covers made from light cotton, line or in the optimal case silk (see the packing list article for details).
Another typical catch is low water pressure. Low water pressure an issue, because it makes the water temperature of the electric showers uncomfortable. In rarer cases it can also happen, that there only cold water or - fortunately not too often - even no water at all or.
Sometimes air conditioning are also problematic: AC’s can not only be very noisy, but also polluted with bacteria and fungus that contaminate the air.
Why the micro location matters
But noise is not only created inside the room. In general, noise is an issue in Cuba. It can get very loud inside your accommodation, especially if the room is facing a crowded street. In Cuba, there are a lot of street vendors and very loud vehicles. Most windows are thin, but due to the heat, you need to keep them anyways open at most times. Therefore, it’s important to take the location into account, while choosing a place to stay.
Besides the noise, a critical point of staying next to main roads is that exhaust gases from traffic can contaminate the air in your room. In addition, there are usually no mosquito nets, so it is advisable to bring your own. Mosquito nets are important for Cuba. A net not only keep the mosquitos away to facilitate your sleep, but also protect you against infectious diseases. Especially for children, infections with the dengue virus can be dangerous.
Internet in Casas
Even if the access to the internet has improved significantly during the last years on the socialist island, you won't still find free internet in most Casas. Recently, there are more and more private accommodations with fast internet connections. Homestays with a connection offer their guest the option of using it with the regular prepaid cards, which are also used for the public Wi-Fi networks. If you want to use the Internet, you need to ask the host for the password of the WI-FI router first. Connected to the router, you are able to enter the data of the prepaid card in the registration form, so the connection will be established.
Exchange with the hosts
Staying in a Cuban home provides not only an authentic insight into the country lifestyle but also opens the possibility to get tips on sights, restaurants or other recommendations. No doubts, staying in a Casa Particluar is a great way to experience the real Cuba!
A big plus is therefore, that travelers can receive valuable information from hosts. Most hosts are very friendly and always try to do their best, to ensure guests a pleasant stay.
In addition, the hosts help with the further organization of the trip with information about local transportation. If demanded, hosts often arrange also drivers for excursions or transfers.
It is often advisable to use this service, because you will not only save yourself the effort and time of organizing the trip, but also get usually a reliable driver. In some cases, guests from different Casas are transported together. If you share a ride, you also get a good price that you could hardly find on your own. The comparison with the usual prices gives information whether the requested price is within the normal range.
Eat & Drink
Due to the complicated supply situation and the limited amounts of acceptable restaurants, eating in accommodations can facilitate your travel. Despite the large number of recently opened snack bars and restaurants, eating out is not always easy. Especially away from the tourist centers, it is often still quite difficult to find something to eat, that is compatible with western stomachs.
For travelers with special diets (such as vegans), eating in a homestay can also be very worthwhile. Hosts usually try to meet their guests' individual wishes, at least as much as the shortage economy allows.
What services are usually offered in homestays
Almost all casas offer breakfast, that you can often take on a nice balcony or a terrace. The breakfast in private homestays includes typically eggs, cheese, butter, white bread, fresh fruit juices, coffee and seasonal fruits.
However also in casa you have to be concerned about food poisoning. Especially, you should make sure that homemade juices are prepared with purified drinking water. Unfortunately, not all casas are sufficiently sensitive about this topic.
The costs of the breakfast are usually not included, but is an additional service, that you will have to pay cash directly at the homestay. Generally, hosts will inquire upon arrival if you would like to take a breakfast. Prices for breakfast are in a range between 3 and 6 USD per person and day. It is often advisable to take advantage of this service, because finding a suitable place to have a decent breakfast is still very difficult in most Cuban regions.
Besides breakfasts, many casas will offer you other meals. The prices for lunch and dinner range from a moderate 4 to 10 USD per dish. If you want an exclusive dinner - e.g. the famous Cuban lobster - you may have to expect slightly higher prices.
Selection & Reservation: How to select the right place
There are different points to take into account to ensure a pleasant stay, when choosing a homestay. You should consider not only individual preferences, but also different circumstances:
Of course, the casa should be in a central location, but at a sufficient distance from larger squares and streets. If you book accommodation close to a main road, then you have to expect noise and exhaust gases in the room. Furthermore, as mentioned, street vendors and noisy neighbors can also keep travelers awake.
Most rooms have air conditioning. Although newer models are silent, you also find older ones. In order to avoid loud AC's, you should ensure that the room has a modern system with a separate inner and an outer part (look out for "split"). If the room has a fan, this is another plus.
In our travel guide, you will find the best recommendations in different price categories for all major vacation destinations in Cuba. If you wonder where to stay overnight in the Cuban capital, take a look at the article staying in Havana.
Airbnb and why you should better book in advanced
The most extensive range of Casas can be found at Airbnb. Alternatively, reservations can also be made on booking.com. If you want to stay flexible, you can also look for a casa directly in Cuba, but you have to expect slightly higher prices. Experience shows that the prices on the Internet are lower due to the direct price competition. If you knock a door and ask for a room, you'll often get one offered for the common price of 25 USD per night.
Beware if you plan to book accommodation online in Cuba. Because of the US-American Embargo, it is often not easy to make a booking. Sometimes it helps to go to another Wi-Fi network or to use another device (laptop / smartphone). If it doesn't work, a VPN can be a solution (see below).
The US Embargo: Travel Reasons & Occasions: Support for the Cuban people
The enduring United States embargo against the island also has an impact when booking private accommodation. For reservations, there is often no way around a US companies. It may seem paradoxical, but the accommodation market in Cuba is firmly in North American hands. The popular platform airbnb contains the most extensive range of casas.
In order to develop their business in Cuba, these companies have received special permission from the American government. However, it's an obligation to inquire about the travel reason when booking, because this determines for US citizens (only!) whether travel to Cuba is allowed or forbidden.
In this context, non-Americans travelers can use any reason for making the reservation. If you are still in doubt, choose "Support for the Cuban people" at airbnb, because every trip to Cuba undoubtedly supports the people.
Addresses: How to find your Casa
While hotels are usually centrally located and well known to locals, Casas may not be that easy to find. Finding addresses in Cuba can be a bit tricky. In order to solve the possible confusions when reading addresses, here comes an explanation.
Addresses are usually given first by stating the street and house number as well as those streets that define the section of the street where the building is located. The address Calle 12 # 123 entre A y B indicates that the property is in the house number 123 on 12th Street between streets A and B. With the additional information entre A y B it is easier to find your way around, because you can immediately locate addresses on the map.
What makes it more difficult is that few street names were renamed after the revolution. Some elderly Cubans still use the old street names, so that confusion is common.
For travelers that use maps, Google Maps won't provide the best solution, because it doesn’t work particularly reliably in Cuba. In this case, the free map service maps.me becomes a very useful tool. This app is much more reliable and makes navigation easier. The most recommended is to install it on your smartphone before starting your trip.
Therefore, you should make sure, that you have a precise address. This also includes the name of the homestay and in the best case the phone number and name of the host.