What is a "Casa Particular"?
In a nutshell, it's a private home, similar to a B&B. When Cuba re-opened to tourism in the mid 1990's, there was a shortage of decent hotel rooms. The government's solution was to allow Cuban citizens to apply for licenses to rent out extra rooms in their homes. These houses are known as Casas Particulares. The Cubans say "particular" instead of "privada" when describing privately run (or non-government run) businesses because the word "private" carries negative connotations in a communist system.
Why should you stay at a Casa Particular over a Hotel?
- Experience Cuban hospitality. Renting a room in someone's house allows visitors to experience life in a real Cuban neighborhood. Cubans are super friendly so you'll likely get to know your hosts, meet the neighbors, and learn tidbits about the area known only to its residents. Your hosts may also know guides or drivers that offer a far better price than what you will find at downtown hotels. Our hosts, Pavel & Haifa, were wonderful and we really enjoyed getting to know them one evening after dinner. We were only their second guests from the US so I think they were as excited about talk to us as we were to them! You can read more about our stay with them in the second half of this blog post.
- For most US travelers, it's inexpensive. Our room cost about $30/night and we had our own kitchen, A/C, bathroom, balcony and separate entrance. The accommodations were modest, but clean and comfortable. Every morning our host, Haifa, made us a complete breakfast for $5. Compare this to the hotels that charge you hundreds of dollars for a basic, and often dated, room.
- Support the local people. $30/night goes a long way in Cuba where a typical salary is $12 a MONTH. Room rentals help families maintain their homes, buy food and medicine and communicate with their loved ones abroad (outbound telecommunications are VERY expensive for locals). If you stay at hotel, your money goes straight to the government and while theoretically that money should go back to the people, it likely goes to the upkeep of the hotel - a place that most locals cannot enjoy. Our host, Pavel, is a biochemistry professor at the university. He would teach classes on the front porch of his house and it was obvious that his students loved him. When he wasn't teaching or helping us, he was working on projects around the house and I'm sure that a large portion of our room fee helped pay for the materials he used to maintain his family's home.
- Enjoy home cooked meals. Around the world people enjoy the eclectic flavors of Cuban food. However in Cuba, the food at the big restaurants can leave a lot to be desired. That combined with steep prices leave many travelers feeling disappointed. When you stay at a Casa Particular, you often have the option of joining the hosts and other guests for dinner. Based on our experience, the food still doesn't compare to the delicious Cuban dishes you find outside of the island- ingredients are scarce so people have to make due with what is available. But you'll still get a good home-cooked meal for a reasonable price and, more importantly, you'll share your meal with new friends.
- If you are very particular about your room being impeccable and new then yes. These accommodations are basic, and while they are typically clean, homes can be run down and dated by US standards. Keep in mind that while hotels may be a step up in the decor department, they are certainly not luxurious, and you may be disappointed in the value you get for the price you pay.
- The more well-known and well-reviewed Casas might be booked far in advance. Don't fret! Email them anyway and ask if they have friends nearby that have an extra room. This happened to us with Ana & Pepe and they referred us to Pavel & Haifa who were amazing hosts! Plus, we still got to dine with Ana, Pepe and all of their guests.
Here are a few pictures of our apartment at Pavel & Haifa's casa. Knowing that our readers have very diverse tastes, some of you will find this appealing while others might ...well...cringe. Please keep an open mind, prioritize cleanliness (this place was spotless) and remember that the one of the major benefits of visiting Havana is getting to know the people (not a fancy bed).
- We found ours on Trip Advisor. There are now hundreds to choose from, many of which look pretty nice! When we were looking over a year ago there were far fewer options. It's just one of the many signs that Cuba is changing is quickly.
For more information about Cuba, check out the following blog posts:
Traveling to Cuba - Tips for Americans
Havana, Cuba Photo Tour
Meeting My Family in Cuba
Traveling to Havana, Cuba (via Mexico City)