Casas Particulares are, by far, your best accommodation alternative while in Cuba. A typical homestay, where you will be living with a Cuban family, yet in your private room or apartment.
The Cuban government introduced this Airbnb concept idea back in 1997. Prior to that date, foreigners had no option but stay in expensive, government-owned hotels.
At first, running a casa might seem as a great opportunity for the local people to generate some extra income. Which is, indeed! However, there is also a catch behind this, because of the, complicated and hard to understand, tax system.
The owners of the casas must pay first for their governmental license, and then pay again for maintaining it. Later on, comes a monthly fixed fee (around 60 CUC) for operating the casa, regardless if the owner generates income or not. [Let me just mention here, that the average salary of a Cuban person is approximately 40 CUC]. Any food supplies served to the tourists in the casa are subject to an extra 10% tax. And last, but not least, there is also the annual year-end tax.
Beware of Illegal Casas Particulares
Despite the heavy taxation, most people will run their casas legitimately. Yet, there is also a high volume of illegal casas particulares throughout Cuba. Apart from the fact that illegal casas do not meet the minimum requirements, you might also face serious sanctions if you choose to stay there.
Normally, you will not find such casas on the web. But if you are planning to book your accommodation on the go, you better be aware of them. A legal casa will bring a sign similar to a blue anchor on its front door (see picture above).
An Authentic Experience
Setting aside the income aspect, local people have immediately embraced the idea of bringing tourists inside their own houses. Which makes it a great opportunity to get a first-hand experience of the daily Cuban life.
If there is one thing you should not overlook while in Cuba, it’s the time you will spend with your hosts. They are the best source of information about nearly everything you will need to know. Where to find cadecas (exchange kiosks), colectivos (shared taxis), internet cards, local restaurants/bars, inexpensive souvenir shops – you name it! You might even find out, that the best history and cultural exchange can be enjoyed over a cup of coffee!
Casas particulares are clearly the most authentic places to stay in Cuba, and therefore by far our lodging of choice!
How to Book a Casa Particular
You will need to perform a thorough research in order to decide on the casa you would feel more comfortable staying at. Start by thinking of the space that would better meet your needs. Is it just a private room or would you prefer an entire apartment? Are you traveling alone or with a group of other people?
Through Online Search Engines
Luckily, nowadays, there are plenty of search engines that will provide you with tons of lodging alternatives for different price ranges.
Τhe following international options would serve as a good starting point for you:
- Airbnb: It works like everywhere else in the world. You will pre-pay by card through the platform itself.
- Booking.com: It works like everywhere else in the world. You will pre-pay by card through the platform itself (unless specified differently).
As a heads-up, remember to always check on the facilities offered (private/shared bathroom, aircon, breakfast, etc). Read the reviews carefully to spot any inconsistencies from what advertised.
On the Go
- Cuba-Junky App: This is the favorite option for people who want to book their casas on the go. You will need to pay $5 for downloading the app on your phone. They promise that you will get greater savings as your future bookings through this app will be commission-free. Cuba-Junky provides instant availability of casas, as well as contact information οf the casa owners. You can then go to check the accommodation yourself and decide whether you like it or not. You will pay directly to your host.
- Walk around the city: You can easily spot casas particulares by the blue and white sign on the front of the house. All you need to do is knock the door, ask for availability (limited Spanish will still do the work), and agree on the price. Even if the owners don’t have a room, they will surely direct you to somebody else that could potentially accommodate you. This is the best way to have a look around different casas and pick out the one that you like the most.
- By “word of mouth”: It is very common that your current host can recommend you another casa in the next destination you are heading to. Same happens with other fellow travellers you might meet during your trip.
© Photos by Thaleia Ioannou
How Much Do Casas Particulares Cost?
Again, this will very much depend on the size of the space you will be renting. A private room, an entire apartment, or a villa! Then, another main element to consider is the location, and the season. On average, for a double en-suite private room, you should expect to pay something like 15-30€ per person/per night. Breakfast is sometimes included in the price, but additional meals always come at an extra cost.
- Always book your accommodation early in advance, especially if you are travelling during high season. The best casas will fill up first, while in small beach towns such as Varadero the supply does not always meet demand.
- If you are using an online platform, always prefer refundable bookings.
- Stay in contact with your host on a regular basis to confirm that you are going. Follow up your booking 24-48h before your arrival. If you have not paid already for your stay, and you do not confirm that you are going, your room might be sold to someone else.
- If you are travelling on a budget, then looking for a casa “On the Go” is by far your best shot. Cuba is full of casas particulares, so dare to take the risk. Fortune always favors the bold!
© Photos by Thaleia Ioannou
Hotels, Luxury Hotels and Resorts
Speaking about Cuban hotels, it might worth mentioning that the general advice is to remove one “star” in order to get a true reflection of their facilities and services.
Of course, you can find luxury hotels and/or all-inclusive resorts in Cuba, as well, mainly in Varadero and Havana. But I wonder if you really want to hear about them…
Let me remind you, this is Cuba! And I don’t find anything authentic in luxury lodgings to comment further on!!!
Hostels / Couchsurfing
If you’re strictly a hostel kind of person, you can look up some alternatives in:
Couchsurfing is not an alternative in Cuba, because government does not allow locals to host foreigners outside the casa particulares system. Your host will risk being fined for taking you in for free, so this is not something that you should be considering as an option.
© Photo by Thaleia Ioannou
Best Neighborhoods to Stay at in Havana
Havana Vieja (Old Havana)
Havana Vieja has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. It is the heart and soul of the colonial Havana and probably its most iconic neighbourhood. Here you will find the largest concentration of historic buildings, museums, galleries, colorful streets and cobblestone Most of your daytime you will be spending around this area. Not sure if it worth staying for the night, though. Too overwhelming, too touristic, full of expensive restaurants and with limited nightlife.
Centro (Havana Central)
Right next to Havana Vieja lies Havana Central. Vibrant, captivating and nonetheless authentic. Home to the iconic building of Capitolio (modelled after the White House in Washington) and the famous Parque Central.
Have you been dreaming of taking a ride on a colourful classic American car while in Cuba? Then, look no further. Have you heard that strolling along the Malecón seafront at sunset time is a once in a lifetime experience? Well, you are in the right place!
A blend of local charm and simplicity at its very best. Welcome to the real Havana! Welcome to Havana Central!
The “hipster” side of Havana. If you are a culture or nightlife lover, Vedado is THE choice for you. Most of the mansions of older days located in this area have now been transformed into upscale clubs and restaurants.
Yet, the highlight of Vedado remains the “Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC)”. A cultural venue housed in an old oil factory, aiming to support the free expression of contemporary Cuban art in the form of photography, music, dance, fashion and architecture.