Our Experience of Staying in a Casa Particular.
Accommodation in Cuba broadly falls into two categories; hotels and casas particulares (private homes). As we booked last minute we had problems finding availability in many of the state-run hotels so instead opted for casas particulares.
What are Casas Particulares?
In the late 1990s the Cuban government allowed families to rent out their rooms to tourists as private B&B businesses. This legislation was in response to Cuba’s economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, a time of considerable hardship and tight rationing which Castro termed ‘The Special Period’. (After the US imposed their trade embargo in 1960, the markets of the eastern bloc had became Cuba’s lifeline).
Casas Particulares vs Hotels
Take a 30 second video tour of a Casa Particular:
There are many advantages to staying in a casa particular. For starters, they are a lot cheaper than hotels! The casas we stayed in ranged from USD $20-35 per room per night. In a hotel you can expect to pay around USD $100-300 per room per night. They also offer tourists the chance to spend time with a local family. The hosts usually live and sleep in a different section of the house or apartment block and give you a set of keys so that you can come and go as you please. You can find hundreds of casas in all sixteen provinces of Cuba so it’s often easier to find availability in casas than in hotels.
Casas particulares are also a great option for families as many have rooms with two double beds or rooms that are big enough to accommodate extra beds or mattresses. Some owners rent out entire apartments, complete with sitting rooms and kitchens. Families with babies are unlikely to find many casas with cots, as such, it’s advisable to take your own.
The disadvantages? The conditions are, as you would expect for the price tag, backpacker basic. Expect saggy mattresses with sheets so thin that you can see the flowery mattresses beneath them, flickering fluorescent light bulbs and an unpredictable supply of hot water. In some casas the owners handed us sheets and pillows on arrival and we made our own beds. And, unlike hotels, there are few casas that have pools. If you have time on your side, it’s worth doing a little research as of course they all vary in comfort, size, location, service etc..
Food in a Casa Particular
Meals are charged as extra (usually USD 5 per person for breakfast and around USD 10per person for a simple homemade dinner). For many owners, this additional income is much appreciated. Just remember to give them advanced notice if eating in.
If, like me, you are dependent on – nay, addicted to – a decent cup of coffee every morning you may wish you bring your own supply! Prior to the revolution Cuba produced 60,000 tons of coffee per year. After Castro nationalised the industry coffee production nosedived and almost came to a standstill following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Nowadays Cuba’s blooming tourist sector is placing more demand on the coffee industry. To make it go further you’ll find many Cubans mix their coffee beans with roasted peas. We did find the odd cafe that served a good espresso so coffee junkies need not panic but if you can’t walk out the door until you’ve had a cup, then you might want to consider an emergency coffee kit! (See our city guides for cafe recommendations).
How to book a Casa Particular in Cuba?
Booking a Casa Particular Directly
Book a casa directly using the app, Cuba Junky. This excellent app provides information on hundreds of casas that rent rooms, suites or apartments. It is made by Cubajunky.com (a handy online guide to Cuba worth checking out). Their directory includes photos and contact details (telephone numbers, email addresses, Facebook pages and website links, where applicable) so users can book directly.
The app is also designed for offline use as the Internet in Cuba is almost non-existent. Just remember to download it before you leave home! Casa owners pay no commission to Cuba Junky, nor do they pay to have their casa listed. The app costs USD $5, which is what third parties usually charge as a booking fee per casa per night. A friend of mine recently used this app when she travelled around Cuba with her kids and loved it! Unfortunately I only discovered her tip after I had booked our accommodation.
Disadvantages of booking directly: Double bookings are not uncommon in casa particulares. Sometimes a guest may extend their stay or a traveller may turn up before you and take your room. As the owners daren’t risk a ‘no-show’ they may give your room away. Don’t be too hard on the owner though! They have to pay extremely high taxes to the state (300 CUC per month) regardless of how many guests they’ve had and they will almost always have a back up option ready for you. It goes without saying that sending frequent messages of confirmation in the run up to your stay will most likely reduce the chances of this happening.
If you want to eliminate the risk of a double booking altogether, take a look at Mycasaparticular.com, a website guide and reservation portal dedicated to casas particulares. Although I have no first hand knowledge of this website, I did see a number of casas displaying its badge on their front door. The site is easy to navigate and offers the added advantage of guaranteeing your reservation with the prepayment. You can also use your booking confirmation to obtain a tourist visa, as well as being a useful document to have at hand when clearing customs on arrival.
There has also been an increase in properties appearing on the popular home booking site, Airbnb.com recently, particularly in Havana.
Book Through An Agent
The quickest, easiest and most hassle-free option is to book your entire trip through our excellent UK-based partner travel agent. This is what we did as we booked at the last minute and were short of time. Booking through a partner agent will cost more than if you book independently but it will save you a lot of time. If you would like to receive a quote please send us your dates and requirements. And Remember! You never pay more booking through globetotting than booking directly with any of our partner agents.
Where to Stay in Cuba with Kids: Our Recommended Casas Particulares
We stayed in six different casa particulares over the course of our 9-night tour. As they were booked at the last minute I don’t expect they were the best options in town, but I would still recommend them to families for their room configurations and friendly hosts. (If you have any recommendations to add that you have personally experienced with your family, we’d love to hear them! Please share them with our readers in the comment section below – thank you)
Note that the rates are subject to change and are to be used as a rough guide only.
Casa Doña Barbara: 2 bed apartment (2 queen beds, 1 extra bed), 1 bathroom). Also see video tour above.
We stayed 2 nights in this simple yet comfortable 2-bedroom apartment. The long and narrow rectangular space is divided into 3 sections: a sitting room with tiny kitchen gallery that leads into a small double bedroom, that in turn leads into a second double bedroom. A small bathroom is connected to the end bedroom. The second bedroom also fits an extra bed. Our hosts, Alberto and Maylin, were lovely and my children had fun playing with their adorable little daughter.
Address: Calle San Juan de Dios, #162 (apt 3, 1st floor) between Villegas and Aguacate, Old Havana
Tel: +53 7 8601358 / +53 52686402
Email: albertomaylincuba [at] nauta.cu
Rates: $40 per night for the entire apartment. Breakfast $5pp.
Casa Maribel: 1 bed apartment (2 twin beds, 2 rollaway mattress)
We spent 1 night in this spacious 1-bedroom apartment. The bedroom had two twin beds and they gave us two rollaway mattress for the children. The apartment also has a little kitchen gallery, sitting room, dining room, and one clean ensuite bathroom.
Address: Calle Villegas #210, between Obispo and Obrapia, Old Havana.
Tel: +53 7872 3548 / +53 5281 1786
Rate: $35 for entire apartment.
Casa Alina 2 Obrapia: 2 bed apartment, 2 bathrooms (2 queen beds, 1 extra bed).
A two bedroom apartment (1 double and 1 twin), each with an ensuite bathroom. The bedrooms are separated by a small dining area with kitchen gallery. Important: you can either rent the rooms individually or the apartment as a whole. If you only take the rooms, a member of the host family sleeps on the floor of the kitchen gallery. Be sure to be clear about your preferences when you book. The owner also told us that she has another room with 2 queen beds that is possibly a better, and cheaper option for small families (although I’m not certain if the bathroom is shared with other guests).
Address: Calle Obrapia #460, between Calle Villegas and Calle Aguacate, Old Havana
Tel: +53 7 8621533
Rates: Rooms only $35
Casa Leyanis y Jesus: A room with two double beds.
This casa was fairly basic and yet clearly popular with backpackers (we had a guitar strumming 20-something in a neighbouring room. As we booked through an agent they had reserved two rooms for us to ensure there were enough beds for us all, but as one of the rooms had two double beds in it we all slept in one room, and besides the two rooms were not adjacent to each other.
We spent one night here and found the hosts very friendly.
Address: Calle Adela Azcuey Norte, No20e (after baseball field)
Tel: +53 48 796336 / +53 5 8040325
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Hostal Cienfuegos Centro: A room with two double beds.
We spent one night here in this casa and found it very comfortable. The owners are experienced in looking after guests and know what families want. In our case a mojito at the end of the day once we had put the kids to bed! Evening drinks and morning breakfasts are served on the little roof terrace.
Address: Avendia 50 #3320, between 33 and 35, Cienfuegos
Tel: +53 43 519370 /+53 5 3380622
Casa Acela y Carlos: a house at the edge of town (about 10 minutes walk from centre) with 2 separate bedrooms on the first floor, one with a double and single and the other with 2 twin beds. Note that the bedrooms are not adjacent to each other.
Address: Calle Manuel Fajardo #155, between Frank Pais (Carmen) and Miguel Calzada (Borrell)
Tel: +53 53 12 83
Have you stayed in a Casa Particular with your family? We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comment section below.
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To view all our blog posts in the Cuba with Kids series see our Family Guide to Cuba.