Staying in Casas Particulares is a great way to connect with locals and immerse yourself in Cuban life. For those of you who don’t know these are basically rooms for rent in Cuban households. You can find them EVERYWHERE and they are easily distinguishable as they contain a symbol on their door in blue with the sign “Arrendador Divisa.” During my last two nights in Havana I was able to convince my family to try something new and rent a house recommended by a local. It ended up being one of my greatest travel experiences and here’s why.
1. THEY ARE CHEAPER THAN HOTELS
Staying in a hotel is relatively pricey in Cuba, especially during peak seasons when the flow of tourists increases and everything becomes a lot more expensive. Casas range from CUC$15 to CUC$50 (£11 to £38) and in most places you can get meals for an extra CUC$5-10. To stay in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana for one night in October it costs around CUC$245 (£186) and to stay in the all-inclusive Iberostar in Varadero it costs around CUC$200 (£152). These are the standard prices you’d pay to stay in Cuba around this time so you’d be saving a lot of money by staying in a Casa.
2. THEY WORK WELL FOR TRAVELLERS WITH NO STRICT ITINERARIES
One of the issues backpackers and travellers with no fixed schedules often face is trying to find accommodation that is cheap and easy to book last minute. You might decide you don’t like the place you’re staying in and choose to pack your bags and go elsewhere. If you plan on finding a hotel last minute you will see that prices will be high and many of them will be fully booked and you will find yourself stranded with no place to stay or in a dodgy hostel. The absolute best thing about these Casas Particulares is their availability and fixed prices. You can walk down any street in the whole of Cuba and will find one of these Casas Particulares. As I mentioned in the introduction they are easily distinguishable because of the blue symbol on the doors and the sign “Arrendador Divisa.” You can just knock on the door and ask for the price (check for air-conditioning too).
3. THEY CAN GIVE YOU RECOMMENDATIONS FROM A LOCAL’S PERSPECTIVE
Because of the time warp Cuba is most certainly in, it lacks the technological advances necessary to properly promote and advertise businesses and things to do. When travelling elsewhere in the world you could easily create a list of fifty restaurants or shopping centres before you even reach there. In Cuba you rely on what you see while you’re there. By staying in a locals home the landowners usually make it a point to try catch a word whilst you’re on your way in and out to ask how everything is going and recommend restaurants and things to do. The advice they offer is knowledge you will not be able to get from the guidebooks. These people have an abundance of local knowledge which you can use to your advantage to ensure you find the best restaurants and spend your time in Cuba the best way possible.
4. CASAS ARE SAFE, CLEAN AND SECURE
The Government regulates these casas on a regular basis which is why the owner asks for your passport upon entry. They need to pay a monthly tax which allows them to rent their rooms and serve meals. Every new guest is reported every 24 hours and Government inspections occur on a regular basis to ensure these casas are safe, clean and secure.
5. IT ENABLES YOU TO SEE CUBA THROUGH A DIFFERENT AND LESS CENSORED PERSPECTIVE
All hotels in Cuba are run by the Government and therefore everything that you see and do is carefully controlled. By staying in a casa you live like a local; eating, doing and socialising the way the Cuban’s do. The owners enjoy chatting to guests because of the restrictions the Government puts on the media and so they like to speak about politics and enjoy learning about other cultures and places. These conversations are uncensored and will enable you to learn more about the locals. Some of the Cuban’s I met whilst in Cuba talked about the political situation of the present rather than the past, something that is rarely spoken about. For example, I bet you haven’t considered how badly Donald Trump will ruin Cuba if he came into power? They explained the politics of the past and present in a way I’d never been exposed to and I left Cuba with a whole new insight into Cuban life.
There are two websites I recommend when searching for casas beforehand, unless you just want to walk down any street in Havana and choose for yourself. These are Cuba Casa and Casas Particular. I’m not going to lie, for some of you this may seem unappealing and the idea of not having a pool or room service at your reach unimaginable. However, if you’re anything like me and enjoy the whole idea of living like a local this is without doubt the accommodation for you.