The casas particulares system in Cuba is actually pretty simple. It’s basically an Airbnb, plus homecooked meals (if you choose). You can stay in accommodations where you have a whole apartment to yourself, where you stay in the room of a home with a host family, or where you stay alone in a private room (more similar to a hotel). During our time in Cuba, we stayed in all three of these types.
Before traveling to Cuba, I never tried Airbnb. I’m a huge fan of hostels (view my guide to hostel life here), which aren’t really available in Cuba. Airbnb was practically made for casas particulares. By booking your casa through Airbnb, you get the best of both worlds. You get to stay in authentic accommodations and put your mind at ease by booking ahead.
Staying in a private apartment-style casa particular
Pros: Privacy, kitchen access, independence
Cons: Fewer opportunities to get recommendations from host, less engagement with locals
During our first four nights in Cuba, we stayed in a private apartment in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Neither my partner nor I tried with Airbnb before. (If you haven’t created an account with Airbnb either, you can click here to earn a $40 credit on your first stay!) Airbnb made setting up a profile and getting started easy, though. After connecting our Facebook accounts, we were good to go!
For our first few days in Havana, we picked this private apartment in Havana based on its price. For only $48 per night, it offered amazing amenities like a kitchen and air-conditioning in the bedroom.
When you are digging through places on Airbnb, remember that the average Cuban doesn’t have access to a fancy DSLR camera so many of these places look even better in person than they do in the available images!
This place was better than it looked in the pictures, especially the balcony. Ours was the best one on the block and sitting on the balcony with a beer or cigar is the perfect Cuban pastime. Iliana kept the fridge well-stocked with beer so we could stay in and save some money by enjoying a few drinks at home. We learned a lot about Cuban city life just by sitting out there and people-watching.
Typical amenities found in casas particulares
Amenities are definitely what separate casas particulares from typical Airbnbs. The economy in Cuba is very slow right now and, for many hosts, paying guests are their main source of income. Therefore, hosts are willing to cater to almost any amenity you’d like, so long as you’re willing to pay for it.
Such amenities typically include:
- Breakfast, about 5 cuc
- Lunch/dinner, about 10 cuc
- Laundry service, about 1 cuc per item since laundry is washed by hand
- Cold beverages in the fridge, 1-2.50 cuc depending on the beverage
- Cocktails (if the host is present), 3-4 cuc
- Almost anything else you could think of!
Though we had the apartment to ourselves and did not see the main hostess again after check-in, she and the next door neighbors ran the casa as a partnership. One neighbor would check in to see if we needed more bottled water in the fridge or tidy up the apartment.
Cuban breakfast in casas particulares
Another would ask us each night whether we wanted breakfast in the morning. We took her up on this three out of the four days we stayed there. As Americans, the traditional Cuban breakfast took some getting used to. Cubans serve coffee espresso-style in little tiny cups. I normally drink plain, black coffee but, in Cuba, I drank mine with a couple spoonfuls of sugar. It was also sometimes served with warm milk, but I preferred just sugar.
When you order breakfast in Cuba, at your accommodation or at a restaurant, you can expect something along the lines of coffee, a tray full of local fruits, fruit juice, bread, pork, and cheese. It felt like a lot of food for 5 cuc. Because breakfast was so big, we usually didn’t need lunch.
Staying in a casa particular with a host family
Pros: One of the most authentic ways to integrate yourself with Cuban culture, many opportunities to practice Spanish
Cons: Lack of privacy, language barrier
After four nights in Havana, we opted for a much different style of accommodation. In fact, it might have been the exact opposite. We stayed in the country outside of the town of Viñales for three nights with a host family. I can easily say staying in this Airbnb was the favorite part of the entire trip.
Language barriers in casas particulares
Be prepared for a third party host from somewhere else making the arrangements. This was the case for two out of the three casas particulares where we stayed. Also, internet access in Cuba is very limited so they might not be able to respond to your inquiries right away. Nevertheless, we had great luck—especially with this host—getting directions to the place ahead of time.
This property was managed by a woman named Elle, who lived in another country. The homeowners and hosts living in the house with us, Marielis and Felipe, did not speak any English.
As I mentioned earlier, however, this made our experience so much more authentic as we had the opportunity to constantly practice our elementary level Spanish. They were kind enough to speak slowly and repeat themselves whenever we needed it.
Marielis made this casa my absolute favorite part about our entire trip to Cuba. I would recommend trying to book her place to anyone visiting Viñales. (You can book her casa here.) She had all kinds of cool little touches like drinks on arrival and random snacks!
This was the only one of the casas particulares we booked that was not in the middle of the city. Of course, the trade-off was, when we wanted to explore the town, we needed to take a taxi. But to be honest, we had nearly everything we needed out in the country.
Home cooked meals by the host
We ate almost all of our meals at the casa. Marielis’ cooking tasted absolutely fantastic every time. Plus, with her huge garden, nearly everything was grown right on the property—bananas, plantains, yucca root, taro root, mint, guava, coconuts, papaya, mangos, etc. She definitely served more food than we could eat! It was a true feast every time. And the piña coladas we purchased after the meal were the best we had in Cuba.
Being embedded in a real Cuban home itself was a treat. I enjoyed watching the hosts and their kids go about their days, just doing chores or getting ready for school.
Staying in a hotel-style casa particular
Pros: Increased privacy, more similar to a typical hotel experience, sometimes cheaper
Cons: Less engagement with the host, fewer opportunities to practice Spanish, less homey, often more run-down
Just like the other casas, the amenities the host could provide were extremely useful. Any given host has a handful of useful connections and our host helped us arrange a cheap taxi back to the airport. It sounds simple, but with our very limited knowledge of Spanish, this was extremely helpful. He was curious what we would be doing each day and whether he could help us arrange to arrange tours as well.
I have to say though, that this was my least favorite type of accommodation we occupied during our trip. While our stay felt much more private, I had come to really enjoy the presence and authenticity that real, private accommodations provided.
If you are interested in private accommodations, however, this style might suit you. Since Americans are not supposed to stay in the government-run hotels under the popular “Supporting the Cuban People” visa-type, this is the next best option.
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