Visiting Cuba has forever changed the way I view accommodations when I travel now. For one I was always a chain hotel kind of girl racking up my points and being loyal to said luxury chains. I had the option to book luxury hotels in Havana too, including the famous Hotel Nacional and NH Parque Central, but a friend highly recommended I stay in the Casa Particulares instead. I'm glad I listened to him.
A Casa Particular is Spanish for private accommodation or private homestay in Cuba, very similar to a bed and breakfast. In 1997, the Cuban government allowed Cubans to rent out rooms in their houses or apartments to tourists, providing Cuban families with new sources of income. Prices can be as low as US$10 per night for a room (I've heard it can be even cheaper for room share if you bargain well) but I like my comfort and found amazing Casas in a price range of US25-35 per night per room. Still a steal of a deal no?
After a month of exploring Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago and surrounding areas, I can safely say we've stayed in some of the best Casas there are in Cuba. We quickly learnt that there are several advantages to staying in these too. Guests can quickly develop genuine relationships and get a true sense of the culture of the country. It really is a home away from home feeling. So much so we remain friends with the families we stayed with and regularly keep in touch. They have changed my mindset of only staying in luxury chain hotels on my travels and have opened up my mind to other forms of quality accommodations. Sometimes it's not always about price but the value and the hardworking welcoming people of Cuba quickly teach you that.
Here is an insight into Casa living in Cuba that we experienced.
Casa Domec owned by Luis and Luisa Domec is perfectly located in Old Havana just off the famous Paseo del Prado and a few minutes walk from the equally popular Malecon. With two private air conditioned rooms, the Domec family was happy to welcome us, ensure we were comfortable and treat us like family for our week there.
Casa Los Delfines was a hidden gem out on Punta Gorda, the perfect relax after a week in energetic Havana. The owner Magalys Rodriguez and her family were amazing hosts. Her mother ensured we were well taken care off for our few days with them and cooked some of the best Cuban dishes for our breakfasts and dinners. There was no need to even leave the Casa with such attentive service and with home cooked meals at the Casas ranging from USD10-15 how could we go wrong?
By the time we made our way to Hostal el Tayaba in Trinidad de Cuba, we had high expectations from the Casas we had already stayed at. We were certainly not disappointed. Yoel, Maria, Iris and the rest of the family made us feel at home from the minute we walked in. It's centrally located and the spacious private air conditioned rooms had everything we needed. Again amazing food by the resident cook, the aunt in the family. Beware of portion sizes though, she like to feed you! And with a 24hr taverna across the cobble stoned street, what could be more perfect?
Villa Maria del Carmen was another treat in Santiago de Cuba, especially to discover their garden at the back, the perfect place to enjoy a delicious breakfast made by the family. It clearly showed they took pride in the service they provided. The Casa is located in the heart of Santiago so it's easy walking distance to the main square. Yanet, the daughter, and her husband would sit and talk to us about their future plans like we were their own. Villa Maria del Carmen was another Casa with that homely feeling which made saying goodbye that much more difficult.
There are hundreds of such Casa Particulares in Cuba but I truly believe we found some of the best on the island. I would return to any of these in a heartbeat and highly recommend them. These families welcome you and treat you as their own whether you're there for one night, a week or a month. They love practicing their English so are always up for a chat and lucky for me they encouraged me to practice my Spanish with them. They are proud of their hard work to offer such a service and welcome whatever you can teach them about your own culture and travels too. That's a lot of value for USD25-35 per night no? Definitely not the same experience had I chosen to stay in a hotel.