Where to stay in Cuba?
If you are travelling to Cuba, you can of course stay in a hotel, but who am I kidding, I don’t expect those people would bother to read our blog. To get closer to Cuba, its life and Cubans, for your accommodation choose casas particulares. A casa paticular is a Cuban home renting rooms for tourists. Staying in such a private home brings you very close to the Cuban people, since you are basically living with the family. Many casas are nicely decorated, often with a beautiful colonial touch. Usually a casa particular has only a few rooms to offer, we never saw more than three. The majority of casas that we looked at had a private bathroom, hot water and staying with a kid was not a problem. However, take into consideration that baby beds are usually not available, or if they are, their condition is rather questionable. Instead, an additional regular single bed can be put into your room. That is not a problem, because out of the matrimonial bed and the single bed you can easily make one big bed on which you and your baby can sleep in. Putting it close to the wall prevents the baby from falling down during the night.
There is a huge amount of casas in Cuba and every casa owner knows people around Cuba renting rooms as well. Therefore, many tourists book only the first two three nights in advance and then let the owner book the next homes. However, since we were travelling with a small kid, we wanted to be sure to have a good place to stay and also know a little bit in advance about the conditions. Apart from that, we don’t really speak Spanish, so we thought that it would be better to ask for help. We found a Cuban-Polish couple having a small travel agency called Andares that could help us organizing the accommodations. We read some good reviews about Andares, but personally we do not recommend them. After a few promising emails, we didn’t get any response to our messages anymore and only after a few weeks came an email with half of the information we asked for, without any explanation why they didn’t respond for such a long time. We were travelling with our small kid, so we could not just go with the flow and maybe have a place to sleep or maybe not, by trusting an unreliable “agency.” Therefore, Dario took the deal in his hands and started booking online.
There is really a great choice of casas particulares available on different websites, but only a few pages offer direct booking or reserving. We found that TripAdvisor has a great choice of casas and furthermore contains lots of reviews written by travelers around the word, based on which casas are ranked. However, TripAdvisor neither offers direct booking, nor any contact data of the house except the address. For each city that we planned to stay in we looked for the best 10-15 houses, searched the internet for the contact data, and wrote to them on our own. Knowing the internet conditions in Cuba, you have to be a bit patient while waiting for an answer, but eventually you will be able to “book” a casa (booking here means simply letting the owner know when and how long you will be staying).
Some of the accommodations we booked, were not real casas particulares but hostels. What is a difference then? Hostels are more businesslike accommodations, where you have a cleaning & cooking crew and the owner. Of course some hostels offer fancier rooms and food, but from our experience, it doesn’t mean that they are better. The food is usually overpriced and often beds in those “fancier rooms” smell like mold, which almost never happened to us in real casas particulares. Furthermore, if you are staying in hostals, you are missing the real everyday Cuban life and customs. So, if you have a choice, try booking only real casas particulares.
In case you are travelling through Cuba and therefore stay in more than one place, you should contact the next casa a few days in advance and confirm your arrival. The casa owners usually can do that phone call for you (free of charge). There are two reasons why you should do that. First, you let the casa know that you definitely will stay at their house. This is especially important, if you will arrive late. Because it might happen that if they do not hear from you and have someone looking for a place to stay, they rather give that person your room than waiting for you to come or not (some people do not cancel the reservation if their plans change, as something like booking provision or paying in advance does not exist). The second reason is, that the next casa will also organize a taxi that will wait for you at your place of arrival (usually the bus station). It makes things a lot easier because you don’t have to cope with the “jinteros” (people asking tourists if they need taxis, casas, restaurants…)
Reviews of casas particulares
What you have to know before you read our reviews: the casas we booked were one of the highly rated ones on websites like TripAdvisor. We as well met people on the road who stayed in the same casa and got there through reservations by travel agencies. In Trinidad we met a Serbian-Slovakian couple telling us horror stories about other casas they landed in (they did not book in advance). So yes, we stayed in one of the best casas in Cuba. Still, we somehow have to compare and rate them. One more thing to know: none of the casas knew we have a travel blog and that we are going to write a review about them, so there was no faking and no special treatment. How they took care of us, they will take care of you the same way.
IMPORTANT BEFORE BOOKING
We talked to many different casas’ owners and we found out that the majority of the price that you pay for the rooms on pages like booking.com is actually a provision for third parties – neither page nor casa owners but people who agreed to manage the accounts. Cubans cannot themselves register on booking, so they ask for favors the people from other countries, who take sometimes even 50% of what you pay for accommodation. So, if you want to save money, and make sure casa owner earns the proper amount for his service, please contact casa owners via mail etc. Booking directly with the owners is the same reliable. Cubans are honest people and they deserve to be paid fair.
Here are the casas we stayed in:
More about Cuba: