The renewed relations between Cuba and the United States are now encouraging eager American travelers to explore this vibrant and rapidly transforming country. Fifty years of isolation have resulted in the majority of Americans remaining unfamiliar with Cuban culture and tourism. Travelers interested in seeing a more intimate side of Cuba should consider booking their accommodation in the unique homestay experience of a casa particular.
What Is a Casa Particular?
Similar to a bed-and-breakfast, casas particulares are homestays with Cuban families that allow travelers to meet and socialize with the Cuban people while experiencing how they live. This exchange is beneficial for all involved: Cubans earn much-needed extra income and tourists get a glimpse of what life is really like on the island.
Who Should Stay?
Casas particulares have plenty of advantages, but they are not for everyone. Travelers who value a unique experience and want to interact with locals will enjoy their time at a casa. Those who value the comforts of home may not be as charmed. The bed may be a little harder than usual, or perhaps the shower will not heat up to the desired temperature. If traveling in a group, rooms, bathrooms, or even beds may be shared. It is important to remember that the hosts are often more affluent than the average Cuban, and the standards of living in a casa particular are often higher than what the majority of Cubans are used to in their own homes.
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What to Expect?
The hosts are welcoming and friendly, sometimes greeting guests with rum, cigars, coffee, or a snack. If everyone is getting along, there may be some music and dancing, or even a salsa lesson. Hosts are happy to recommend activities and popular tourist sights if necessary. The Cuban people take a lot of pride in their homes and their culture, so it is important to treat the hosts and their casa with respect. In many cases, the casa is their main source of income.
English is not commonly spoken, so it is worthwhile to learn some basic Spanish before your trip. Fluency is not necessary, but the ability to understand key phrases will vastly improve communication. Many casa hosts are eager to learn more about their guests. At this point in time, many Cuban people take a strong interest in Americans. American travelers are relatively new to Cuba, and Cubans often have ties to family and friends who have relocated to the United States.
Breakfast is offered for an additional cost (usually $5) and is a similar spread in every casa: eggs, tropical fruits, bread, butter, coffee, juice, and salad. Some hosts will prepare dinner as well, so reading the casa’s reviews or guestbook will help to determine whether to take them up on the offer.
How to Book?
Airbnb now operates in Cuba, making it convenient to find and reserve a casa. Be aware that the booking process may take a bit longer because of limited Wi-Fi connectivity in Cuba.
More adventurous travelers can find a casa upon arrival. There are many casas that do not post their listing on the Internet, and in places like Havana and Viñales, casas are everywhere.
Casas are relatively inexpensive for now, so if possible, take advantage of the lower overall cost and book a midrange casa instead of the cheapest available.
Casa features to look out for: a terrace or outdoor area to watch street life and enjoy cool evenings, a host who has proven culinary skills, and hot water. A larger casa can be a place for meeting other travelers to swap stories and gain a few insights on the area.
Things to Know
Be sure to have the correct contact information for the casa before arriving in Cuba. A casa host may not post their complete address online, which can lead to a lot of confusion. Street signs are not always visible, but as long as the address is exact, someone on the street can help with directions. Also, verify how best to contact the casa’s host while you are in Cuba. Mobile service is not dependable, but telecom providers have been steadily increasing their Cuba coverage.
Most important of all, keep an open mind! Cuba and the U.S. have been estranged neighbors for many years, so visiting a casa particular is a valuable opportunity to build friendly relationships for the future.
PLAN YOUR TRIP with Fodor’s Cuba Guide