Cuba's Casa Particulares
During the last few years there has been a revolution of a very different kind taking place in Cuba. Of the private enterprises permitted by Raul Castro's socialist government in the 21st century, none have been embraced with as much enthusiasm by Cubans and visitors alike as much as the casas particulares - small bed & breakfast style guest houses in the cities.
We have stayed in and inspected many casas in Havana, Trinidad and Cienfuegos and have experienced first-hand the pride Cubans display in welcoming visitors into their homes and guesthouses. In one of the country's few competitive markets, their hard work, enthusiasm and attention to detail maintain high standards.
This stands in contrast to some of the most famous state-run hotels in Havana and other cities, with many living off of former glories during the pre-revolution days of Hemingway and US gangsters. Some certainly buck the trend and a small and slowly increasing number of foreign hotels provide a genuine alternative for guests in the capital. But in truth, whatever the state of Cuba's hotel market is, visitors to this Caribbean island are increasingly likely to opt for a casa particular not out of necessity, but on merit.
Hostal Luz 115 in Old Havana
Let's have a look at five of the principle benefits of Cuba's collection of homestays.
A warm welcome
One of the joys of the casas particulares is the fact that they are owned, managed and staffed by Cubans who take genuine pride in welcoming you to their houses, settling you in and providing an attentive service throughout. Whilst most know only a handful of English words and its rare to find any with any degree of fluency, communication is facilitated by patience and good nature, whilst Spanish speakers and learners will revel in the chance to converse with willing listeners.
Staying at a casa particular is therefore a great way to support Cubans in their ever restricted forms of private enterprise. Even if much of the money raised still ends up in government coffers, inviting foreign travellers into their homes and properties is a vital source of income and has sparked some much needed competition into the hospitality market in many Cuban cities. The hosts gain far greater independence and their desire to exceed the expectations of their guests enhances the experience in a way that cannot be expressed in photos or facility lists.
Location, Location, Location
Many of our favourite casas enjoy enviable positions in protected central areas, without disturbing the traditional urban landscape. High rise hotels are prohibited in some old towns, like in Havana and Trinidiad, leaving converted colonial houses and mansions as the most desirable locations.
In Havana, most homestays are found within a small radius of Plaza Vieja, close to an array of popular restaurants, shopping streets, museums, bars and live music venues. An alternative is to stay in the more residential district of Vedado, known for its lively and local nightlife, live music and sunset views along the iconic Malecon waterfront.
Trinidad's casas are dispersed throughout its gloriously seductive colonial old town, within walking distance of the best live music venues, such as Casa de Trova and Casa de la Musica. Those gathered on Cienfuegos' Punta Gorda peninsula enjoy sumptuous sunrise and sunset views across the bay on both sides.
Sunrise across Cienfuegos Bay from Zunilda & Raya
Spark new friendships (or seek some solitude)
When choosing your homestay, it is important to note that in some you will stay with the owner, whereas in many you will sleep in a house owned by them, but staffed by workers around the clock. In either case it is largely up to you whether you want to indulge in conversation with your host to, language permitting, find out more about their lives and the practicalities of running a homestay or instead seek solitude in your room or with a drink on the roof terrace after a busy day exploring. Hosts are always more than happy to find out about their new guests, but equally respectful of your right to anonymity during your stay.
The casas particulares revolution has breathed new life into Cuba's colonial housing stock, giving them second (or third) lives as bases for visitors from far away lands. This time the visitors don't just hold Spanish passports, but many of the features which the first European settlers adorned their homes with still remain, reviving their former glories.
Large wrought iron windows, wooden beams, immaculate marble flooring, mahogany doors and emblematic colonial arches highlight many properties. Throughout you might encounter antique lamps, dining tables rocking chairs and dresser units as part of the sympathetic decor of yesteryear.
Hostal Guido in Vedado, Havana
Facilities not to be taken for granted
Regular access to hot water, functioning air conditioning units and showers which provide good water pressure are facilities that most visitors would take for granted. In Cuba these are features which are not guaranteed from one day to the next in some of the famous iconic hotels.
In our experiences and those of our travellers, the availability of hot water and good pressure for showers are indeed reliable in our preferred casas, as is the access to hairdryers, safety deposit boxes and efficient air conditioning. Rooms are cleaned daily, 220 volt plugs are usually present and the fruit is always fresh at breakfast. The WiFi might be a bit sketchier than your average hotel of course, but visitors rarely lack for anything during their stays.
If you want to experience Cuba's homestay revolution for yourself, we invite you to browse our tours below to gain inspiration and get in touch with us by phone or email to discuss a tailor-made private trip to Cuba.
Suggested Itineraries View All
The Sombrero Tour
12 Nights from £2,532€2,012$2,545
Cuba projects a surreal mise-en-scene of classic cars, cyclists and derelict buildings, standing next to pristine, beautifully renovated colonial squares with cafes
The Havana City Tour
8 Nights from £1,797€1,167$1,516
Explore the fascinating and surreal city of Havana. Enjoy the Caribbean climate and relaxed pace of life, while learning about Cuba's dramatic history and its unique society
The Escambray Tour
12 Nights from £2,629€2,123$2,681
Explore Cuba's rich culture and history, admiring the colonial facades in Havana and Trinidad. And relax on a white sandy Caribbean beach