Inside Cuba – The Casa Particular
Cuba’s answer to the B&B, since they became legal in 1997 “casas particulares” have become the most popular type of accommodation on the island. Why is staying in a local home your best option in Cuba?
Experiencing a Real Cuban home
A casa particular is a Cuban home that rents out at least one room to guests. The family usually lives in the property they rent out and will provide anything from breakfast to excursions for their guests. Cheaper than state-run hotels and far more personal, casas particulares are the perfect option for any traveller with an interest in contemporary Cuban life. Whether you stay in a private home on the beach at Varadero or deep within the national park of Las Terrazas, no one casa particular experience will be the same.
Being inside a Cuban home gives you a unique insight into the way Cubans live. You may be surprised to see that rather than state TV or a digibox, Cubans are more likely to plug a USB stick into their TV full of films and series they buy in bulk off a neighbour. You could also be taken aback to find a roost of chickens on your host family’s patio right in the heart of the city. When you stay in a local home you have the opportunity to understand daily life in way you couldn’t possibly watching from afar.
Doing it the Cuban Way
Staying in a casa particular is by far the best way to do things the Cuban way. Not only does it bring you closer to the real Cuba, it’s also a great way to contribute directly to the local economy. The money you spend in a casa particular stays with the family and gets reinvested in their community, making it the simplest way to practice sustainable tourism in Cuba.
A Home Away From Home
It sounds corny, but a Cuban casa particular can really become a kind of home from home for travellers. There is nothing like coming back to a familiar face after a long day of exploring Cuba’s busy and discombobulating streets. Unlike hotels who have staff on a constant rotation, your Cuban family will be there for you 24/7. Cuban hosts stay up to make sure guests get home safely, help ill guests to see a doctor or get to hospital and rebuff “jineteros” (a particular Cuban strain of hustlers). In short, your Cuban hosts become your surrogate family during your time on the island.
Besides a familiarity with the house you’re staying in, you will also find that after a few days you become just another part of life on your hosts’ street. Neighbours will recognise you and whether you can communicate with them or not, they’ll be sure to greet you. You’ll soon learn who has an internet connection, who sells mineral water and who likes to chuck dirty water off their balcony at inopportune moments.
A Personalised Experience
Over the last 22 years casas particulares have become more than just B&Bs. Nowadays you can find a casa particular to suit any predilection and any budget. There are casas particulares that function like boutique hotels, offering high levels of service and customer care. In Havana “casas” like JM7 Alameda, Casa Vitrales, and La Reserva Vedado offer luxury far beyond that of a normal B&B, even though they come under the same generic title of casa particular. These kinds of establishments have English-speaking staff, bars and room service; some even have their own restaurants.
At the reverse end of the spectrum, some casas particulares function like hostels. Large rooms are filled up with bunk beds allowing for overnight stays as cheap at 8 CUCs per person. Hamel Hostel is an example of this sort of establishment, perfect for the budget-conscious traveller or backpacker looking to make friends.
For those craving an escape and not wanting to step on a Cuban family’s toes, there is also the option of an independent apartment/house. Plenty of casas particulares now operate as Airbnbs where you have a point of contact but can enjoy complete privacy and the place to yourself. This is particularly popular in locations such as Varadero where you can rent an entire house by the beach, often with its own pool.
The most important feature that distinguishes a casa particular from a hotel is flexibility. Although casas particulares obey certain standards, they are not as wound up in red tape as hotels. This means more flexibility with booking and check-out, an active say in what you want for breakfast or a chance to help out in the kitchen. Flexibility also means going for a ride in a neighbour’s vintage car or visiting the local “babalao” (Santería priest) for a fortune telling. You’ll often find that beyond these impromptu outings many casas have a pre-prepared list of excursions, from horse-riding in Trinidad, to rum tasting in Havana or hiking in Baracoa.
It goes without saying that if you’re in Cuba to learn Spanish, staying in a casa particular is essential. Your casa is a comfortable, reassuring setting where you’re likely to speak the most Spanish outside of your classes. For those without Spanish, communication can be an issue, but you’ll find that Cubans are innately friendly and will do everything possible to have a conversation.
Something for Everybody
No matter what you’re looking for on your trip to Cuba you’ll find that there is a casa particular to suit you. Though it may be tempting to stay in a big hotel, we think going local is much more rewarding. Whether you want to be waited on hand and foot in a luxurious boutique casa or sweating over the hob learning to make the perfect “frijoles negros” in a small B&B, staying in a private Cuban home is a great way to contribute to the local economy, learn about life in Cuba and hopefully, make new friends.
Cubania Travel has excellent relationships with a whole host of casas particulares all over the island and we take pride in finding the right fit for our travellers. Why not get in touch and find out where your home from home will be in Cuba?