I was a luxury chain hotel addict who always wanted the comfort of my Hyatts, Hiltons and Marriotts (a definite side effect of being a serial business traveller in my past corporate life).
Cuba changed all that.
I had the option to book luxury hotels including the famous Hotel Nacional and Parque Central in Havana, but a friend highly recommended a Casa Particular he had stayed at. On a whim I decided to give it a go and contacted this particular Casa. Yoel, the owner of Hostal El Tayaba in Trinidad de Cuba, was so enthusiastic to have us that he offered to book us Casas he was affiliated with in all of our Cuban destinations, sending us more information about transport etc than we even needed. I happily let him take that bit of planning from me. He was also overly excited to have visitors from one Trinidad to his Trinidad.
A Casa Particular is Spanish for private accommodation or private homestay in Cuba, very similar to a bed and breakfast. In 1997, the Cuban government allowed Cubans to rent out rooms in their houses or apartments to tourists, providing Cuban families with new sources of income. Prices can be as low as US$10 per night for a room but I like my comfort and found amazing Casas in a price range of US25-35 per nite per room. Still a steal of a deal no?
After a month exploring Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago and surrounding areas, I can safely say we’ve stayed in some of the best Casas there are in Cuba. We quickly learnt that there are several advantages to staying in these too. Guests can quickly develop genuine relationships and get a true sense of the culture of the country. It really is a home away from home feeling. So much so we remain friends with the families we stayed with and regularly keep in touch. They have forever changed my mindset of only staying in luxury chain hotels on my travels and have opened up my mind to other forms of quality accommodations. Sometimes it’s not always about price but the value and the hardworking welcoming people of Cuba quickly teach you that.
So which are my favourite Casa Particulares I’d highly recommend in Cuba?
HAVANA: Casa Domec owned by Luis and Luisa Domec is perfectly located in Old Havana just off the famous Paseo del Prado and a few minutes walk from the equally popular Malecon. With two private air conditioned rooms, the Domec family was happy to welcome us, ensure we were comfortable and treat us like family for our week there.
CIENFUEGOS: Casa Los Delfines was a hidden gem out on Punta Gorda, the perfect relax after a week in energetic Havana. The owner Magalys Rodriguez and her family were amazing hosts. Her mother ensured we were well taken care off our few days with them and cooked some of the best Cuban dishes for our breakfasts and dinners. There was no need to even leave the Casa with such attentive service.
TRINIDAD de CUBA: By the time we made our way to Hostal el Tayaba, we had high expectations from the Casas we had already stayed at. We were not disappointed. Yoel, Maria, Iris and the rest of the family made us feel at home from the minute we walked in. It’s centrally located and the spacious rooms had everything we needed. Again amazing food by the resident cook, the aunt in the family. Beware of portion sizes though, she like to feed you! And with a 24hr taverna across the cobble stoned street, what could be more perfect?
SANTIAGO de CUBA: Villa Maria del Carmen is a treat, especially to discover their garden at the back, the perfect place to enjoy a delicious breakfast made by the family. It clearly shows they take pride in the service they provide. The Casa is located in the heart of Santiago so walking distance to the main square. Yanet, the daughter, and her husband would sit and talk to us about their future plans like we were their own. Another Casa with that home feeling that made saying goodbye that much more difficult.
There are hundreds of such Casa Particulares in Cuba but I truly believe we found some of the best on the island. I would return to any of these in a heartbeat and highly recommend them. These families welcome you and treat you as their own whether you’re there for one night, a week or a month. They love practicing their English so are always up for a chat and lucky for me they encouraged me to practice my Spanish with them. They are proud of their hardwork to offer such a service and welcome whatever you can teach them about your own culture and travels too.
Definitely not an experience you would get in a hotel (which btw are great for wifi services albeit expensive).