Since 1997 the Cuban government has allowed private homes to rent out rooms to travellers. Some houses let out a single room. Others have been converted so that numerous travellers have can stay and each have private entrances. These private houses are known as casas particulares. In general we found the smaller they were, the warmer and more personal the welcome. One we used in Trinidad was perfectly good, but we only saw the owner at the beginning of the stay to hand over the keys and at the end to hand over the money.
Families open their doors in much the same way as a bed and breakfast in other parts of the world. The prices are very reasonable, but be aware that they only cover the use of the room. Meals cost extra, as does anything else.
Vinales is a small farming community with a widely spread out population of 10,000. If there is a hotel we didn’t see it, but we had the pleasure of staying with a local family.
Maria and PiPi only have the one guest bedroom, but it’s decorated in a vibrant, some would say shocking, red. The room had everything we needed and a lot more, such as air conditioning and plenty of power sockets.
They also had a great patio at the front of their house where we could sit on rocking chairs and watch the cattle-drawn carts delivering groceries and building supplies.
Restaurants in town were limited to Italian, but we opted for some home cooking. Dinner was a choice of chicken or lobster. Despite not being that close to the sea we opted for the lobster. It arrived cooked to perfection, and the accompanying sauce was warm and complex. The side dishes of tamales were better than any we had in Mexico, including those at the World Tamale Fair in Mexico City. The rice and beans put to an end my hatred of them after being fed nothing else for 8 weeks in Costa Rica. The rice was fluffier and the beans full of texture and flavour.
Chatting to Maria afterwards she was proud that it was all naturally flavoured (and secretly knew she was a really good cook). The father used to be a teacher, but now manages a Pork Processing Plant.
All of the home cooked meals were very good, but quite pricey relative to the room. The only slip up with the first home-stay was that they keep plying us with drinks: a welcome Cuba Libra, a shot of rum, some of the local soft drinks, and you might think as we did the first night that they’re just being hospitable, but on leaving we got an itemised bill for somewhat more than we expected.
Our casa particular in Trinidad was one of the larger type – our host seemed to own most of a row of houses. As a result we got a small apartment to ourselves, with an accessible rooftop and a shady balcony. Very pleasant and peaceful, but not much different to staying in an impersonal hotel.
The home here was clearly less wealthy, so had far less facilities. Despite this the welcome was friendly and we were well located for wandering round the city.
The final home stay in Havana was a mixed bag. We were right in the down town streets near La Floridita, so had everything on our doorstep, but the whole house was built from uncomfortable concrete blocks. We had a shared bathroom and a host who clearly wasn’t an enthusiastic cook.
Worst of all the casa particular had a long-term resident who took it upon himself to tell us everything that was wrong with the world, for hours on end. Somehow he’d been living illegally in Cuba for the last two years, according to him on an adventure, but as far as we could tell he never left the house.
Finding a Casa Particular
There are many online directories, or most tour agents and guides have their favourites. Due to the restrictive international money transfer rules you have to pay in cash, usually at the end of the stay so that any extras can be added.