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Accommodations in Cuba (Part 1 of 2): What’s a Cuban Casa Particular?

(A casa particular in Cuba)

If you go to Cuba, there are only a couple of main accommodation options: hotels or casa particulars.  I’m sure everyone knows what a hotel is, but have you ever heard of a casa particular?

What is a casa particular?

Casa particulars are homestays with local families.  The locals rent out their spare bedrooms to travelers in exchange for a small amount of money. Typically, these arrangements provide a private bathroom and breakfast as well. Some casa particulars will also provide dinner for an extra fee. For some homeowners, their livelihood depends on running their casa particular so they treat it like a business and run it like a bed and breakfast.

What is it like staying at a casa particular?

For our trip, we stayed almost exclusively at casa particulars. At all the casa particulars, we had our own entrance to the room, our own bathroom, and breakfast included (although it was possible to save a little bit of money and opt out of breakfast as well).  Depending on the casa particular, they may have one room available for a traveler or a lot more. Most of the ones we stayed at had two rooms available.

(We liked the two rocking chairs outside our entrance.)

(Breakfasts at the casas consist mostly of bread, jam, fruit, cheese, and sometimes an egg. This breakfast spread in Trinidad had a bit more on the table than our other casa particulars had.)

The rooms are barebones and tiny.  They fit just the bed or beds.  The quality of the bedding and sheets were also barebones. I think we got simple fleece blankets at some of them. Likewise, the mattresses weren’t the most comfortable – at least not if you’re used to staying at hotels in the U.S. – but we didn’t expect them to be so it was fine.

(A typical room consists of a bed and not much else. At this one, they brought out a cot for Traveler #3.)

The bathrooms were sometimes in the room and sometimes right outside the room but they were ours exclusively. Some casa particulars provided hand soap and shampoo, but some did not.  We did, however, get bath towels at all of them, although the towels were old. The toilet paper is also rough. The water pressure from the showers was often lacking.

(Bathrooms are really simple.)

There isn’t normally a luggage rack or a desk so we often left our luggage on the floor.

In practically all the casa particulars, there were mosquitos or flies in the room, too.  We usually spent the first few minutes in our rooms trying to get rid of the flies or kill the mosquitos.

I don’t know if the situation would have been better in a hotel, but the reality is that staying in a casa particular is like getting a glimpse of what it’s like to live in Cuba so don’t expect any luxuries.

What are the benefits to staying at a casa particular?

None of that makes a casa particular sound like an attractive accommodation option, but if you overlook the space constraints, there are some benefits to the casa particular.  For one, every casa particular is different and staying in them lets you see what a real Cuban home looks like.

(This is the dining area and kitchen of one of the casa particulars we stayed at.)

(This casa particular in Matanzas has a backyard with a view of the ocean.)

Since it’s run by locals, it’s also a great way to meet real Cubans and get their take on any travel questions or recommendations you may want. At one of our casa particulars, the owners had dogs, pigs, chicks, and chicken running around in their backyard and they were super welcoming of sharing their pets with Traveler #3.  She loved being able to meet these animals up close!

(Traveler #3 got to meet this family’s piggy!)

Casa particulars are also a great way to meet other travelers to Cuba since you’re already in an intimate environment when you’re all travelers staying in the same host’s home.  For those who are budget conscious, a casa particular is also way cheap! Rooms are typically just $25-$35/night.  Hostels around the world cost more than a private bedroom in a casa particular!

Why I chose to stay at casa particulars in Cuba

When I first read about casa particulars being homestays, I was kind of put off.  We were planning to travel as a family to Cuba and I’d have Traveler #3 with us so the thought of a “homestay” just didn’t sound like a good fit for us. When I searched for sample casa particulars, the mismatched and tiny looking rooms just reaffirmed my preconceived notions.

The alternative to staying at a casa particular, however, was to stay at a hotel.  While a hotel would normally be my choice, the hotels in Cuba are not up to the quality we’d be used to elsewhere in the world. That is, the rooms are outdated, the amenities are sparse, and the service lackluster.  And when you compare rates, the hotels way more expensive than a casa particular.  I didn’t want to pay upwards of $200/night for a hotel room and experience that I was sure I’d regret.  Lastly, hotels aren’t available outside of the big cities in Cuba so in some places I just didn’t have a choice. Casa particulars are the most popular accommodation option for travelers to Cuba so I accepted that if we were going to travel to Cuba, part of our experience would be to stay at a casa particular.

Do I recommend casa particulars?

Now that we’re back from Cuba, I would totally recommend others to stay at the casa particulars.  As long as you do your research, you can find ones that are run professionally and with wonderful and personal service. The food at the casas are also quite good, and who doesn’t like a homecooked meal when on the road? If you’re going to go this route, go into it with an open mind and think of it more as staying at a local B&B instead of a homestay. That frame of mind would have eased my qualms prior to the trip so I’m passing that along as advice to you!

If you’re planning to go to Cuba, I’ll give you the run down on the places we stayed in my next post – where we stayed and which ones I’d recommend.  I did extensive research prior to going to Cuba and am pretty selective about our accommodations when we travel so you can use my list as your starting list for places to stay!

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