If you ever go to Cuba, here’s my number one advice: stay in ‘casas particulares’, not in hotels! They are much cheaper and are a great way to meet the locals and experience Cuban culture.
The basics: what is a casa particular?
As the name says, these are private homes of Cuban families, where you can rent a room. They come with shared- and ensuite bathrooms, depending on your budget. Usually you are offered breakfast for a small fee, so I’d say you can compare them to a B&B. They are found all over Cuba, literally on every street.
Why stay at a casa particular?
For one, the hotels in Cuba are mostly state owned and apparently not very good, yet prices are pretty steep. Prices at a casa particular are much better and the owners care about your review, so they make an effort to make your stay worthwhile. Don’t count on any 4-star hotel luxuries such as a pool or wifi, but your room will be clean, breakfast tasty and the owners usually very kind.
Which brings me to the next reason: meeting the lovely locals. Cuban people are so friendly and welcoming! At some of our casas we had drinks and converations with the owners, this way hearing a lot about Cuban culture and society. (Side note: Yes, this requires some Spanish skills, since most Cubans don’t speak English. But a basic understanding will do and be highly appreciated). Through these talks, we came to understand Cuba much better. One thing we learned is that people with all jobs earn the same. Meaning that jobs we consider paying well (lawyers, doctors), do in Cuba often not bring in enough money to support a family. So it is not uncommon for people to hold several jobs. By renting a room at a casa particular, the family will earn some extra money. We liked the idea of contributing a bit to these families.
And lastly, through staying in casas particulares you will have the opportunity to see some of Cuba’s amazing architecture from the inside!
How to find & book casa particulares
The first option is not to pre-book anything, but find your casa once you arrive. Lots of owners will be at the bus station or airport and you can also recognize the casas by a tile on the house, so you can just ring the doorbell and ask if there’s availability.
Personally, though, I am a control freak and always pre-book. Since availability of internet is low and the casas are not available on common booking sites, I used Tripadvisor. Search for a casa with good reviews in the area you want to stay, then Google it. Usually, this would lead me to either an intermediary website where you can contact the owners or in some cases to the casas’ own website.
Casa Abogados Leonardo y Angela. Great location, near the Malecon and right in the middle of Havana Centro. From the rocking chairs on the large balcony you will be able to watch daily life: classic cars driving past, neighbours doing laundry, etc. Leonardo and Angela (and their friends we met) are lovely people, very open, and they happen to make great cocktails!
Casa Colonial Sofia. This casa in Vedado was a bit of a gamble for us: it had only one review. We were not disappointed though! Friendly people, a super cute dog and beautiful colonial home with a massive balcony. The owner explained us how to use the ‘taxi colectivo’ so we were able to get to the center easily.
Casa Mauri. Not our favourite casa, as we had some bug issues and some electricals felt unsafe, but I would still consider staying here if we visited again. The house is a wonderful colonial place, with a matching quirky interior. There is a large courtyard garden with lots of birds, where a massive tasty breakfast is served each morning.
La Boca (15mins from Trinidad)
Villa Hermosa. This place was one of the highlights of our trip. It is located just outside a quiet beachside town, on its own plot of land. We were warmly welcomed by Maricela, who made us a mojito using limon and mint from her own garden. Our room was clean and comfy, and we had our own corner on the veranda with rocking chairs and a hammock. And the best thing? Maricela is not only super sweet, but also a wonderful cook, serving the best 3-course meals on the veranda, using fresh ingredients from the garden and fish brought in by the neighbour.
Hostal Lagarto Ciudad. This place is a true colonial gem. Our room was furnished beautifully, there’s a nice balcony and the location was perfect.
Let me know if you have any questions! We are happy to refer you to the lovely owners of these casas.