There’s a lot of buzz these days about Cuba’s casas particulares — travelers want to know what the casas are, who runs them, and what they’re like. This authoritative guide on Cuba’s casas particulares will answer all of these questions and more. It will help you decide when, where, and how to stay in these excellent, homestyle accommodations.
Casas particulares means “private houses” in Spanish. In 1997, the Cuban government allowed homeowners to rent rooms in their houses to tourists. This represented a huge step in Cuba’s self-employment economy, and offered Cuban homeowners a real chance to increase their income.
Not surprisingly, casas popped up all over the country. These days you’ll find them everywhere, from the most bustling urban center to the tiniest rural village. They are a fantastic option for travelers who are interested in staying with a Cuban family and learning about local culture.
What They Are
A casa particular is a room-for-rent in a home or apartment. It might be set within a family’s house or be a freestanding studio with a separate entrance. Most casas are fairly small and only have a handful of rooms.
The rooms in casas can vary significantly in size and quality. Most rooms, however, are equipped with several standard amenities, including air conditioning, fans, a private bathroom, and hot water shower. The bathrooms may come with towels, soap, and shampoo.
Rooms may also have closets, reading lamps, alarm clocks, and TVs, which usually have a limited selection of channels. Certain rooms are also equipped with a refrigerator, and these may be stocked with bottled water, beer, and even snacks.
Before eating or drinking anything from the refrigerator, be sure to ask your host how much things cost. Beers and water are usually CUC1-2.
The majority of rooms are doubles, although triples are available as well. Rooms are usually cleaned every few days. The owners may also offer laundry service for guests.
Guests are typically given a key to their room and may also be given a key to the house. If you’re given a key to the house, you can come and go as you please and return late in the evening. However, if you’re only given a room key, you’ll want to talk to your hosts about what to do if you return after bedtime. Usually they will just have you ring the doorbell and will come let you into the house.
In cities, you may be able to find stand-alone apartments or studios. With these, you’ll usually have access to a fully furnished apartment that’s equipped with a bedroom, living room, and kitchen. These may be independent or part of a larger house.
Most homes serve meals. Breakfast may be included in the price of a room or offered for an additional CUC 3-5. Breakfast usually includes fresh fruit, bread, ham, eggs, juice, and coffee. Dinners are offered in some homes — these typically include chicken or fish, rice, beans, and salad, and cost CUC 5-10.
The casas also vary in how much the family will interact with you. In some homes, you may become a temporary member of the family, hanging out with the kids and talking with the parents in the evening. At other places, you might just be given a key and left to your own devices. However, in all casas you are usually provided as much privacy as you want. If you show your hosts that you’re open to talking and learning about their culture, they’ll usually spend time with you. The owners can also recommend restaurants, bars, and activities for guests.
Where They Are
Casas particulares are found in nearly every town in Cuba. They can literally be anywhere that someone owns a home, so you’ll find them along main streets, side alleys, and rural highways.
Legally licensed casas can be identified by the blue Arrendador Divisa sign, which typically hang outside the home. These signs look like an upside down anchor or a sideways “h.” There are also red Arrendador Divisa signs; however, these signify rooms that are only rented to Cubans and paid for in pesos.
If you’re interested in a casa, simply go up to the house and knock on the door. The owners will show you the room, and if you like it, you can agree to stay there.
On most island destinations – including Cayo Coco, Cayo Levisa, and the Cayos de Villa Clara – there are no casas particulares. These islands are home to all-inclusive resorts and lack actual towns, hence there are no casas for rent. If you want to visit these destinations but don’t want to stay at a resort, you can usually find a casa in a nearby town and make a day trip to the islands. Most resorts will allow you to purchase a day pass, which provides access to the hotel’s facilities and stretch of beach.
Other destinations in Cuba may lack casas, including Las Terrazas, María la Gorda, and Pinares de Mayarí. This is mainly because these are remote destinations that are only served by a single hotel. Finally, Guardalavaca and Playa Santa Lucía do have casas, but the options are limited and the houses are outside the main beach area.
How it Works
If you want to stay in a casa particular during the high season in Cuba – which roughly lasts from December through March – then we advise making reservations in advance. During the off-season, and in less popular destinations, you can usually show up and find a room in a casa without any problem.
Many casas are part of associations and can easily recommend rooms in other cities. If you show up at a casa and it is at capacity, the owner will usually call around to find you a place to stay. The owners often have business cards and are happy to hand them out to guests, with the hope that you’ll pass them on to other travelers in need of a room.
In certain cities you’re likely to be approached by street hustlers known as jineteros. These jineteros will offer to take you to a casa—if you accept, they will usually be given a commission from the owner of the house. In some cases, jineteros can help you find accommodations and be quite helpful. However, they might also lie and tell you that a certain casa is full or closed, when it is actually not. They can also be quite pushy and aggressive, and may follow you around on bicycle. If you don’t want their service, simply say “no, gracias,” and go on your way. If they persist, ask them to stop following you.
After arriving at a casa, you’ll be asked for your passport. The owners are required by the government to record all guests. Honor this request, as the owners will be in serious legal trouble if they fail to register your stay. Your passport will be given back to you in a short amount of time.
The price for a room in Havana is higher than other places in the country. Typically, rooms go for anywhere from CUC20–40. In Havana Vieja, expect to pay a minimum of CUC30 per room. Outside of Havana, rooms usually cost CUC15-35.
The owners are subject to extremely high taxes (anywhere from 50 to 90 percent). They are required to document everything related to your stay, including the number of nights and all meals. High taxes on all earnings leave significantly less money in the pockets of homeowners. Even so, Cuba’s self-employed casa owners still make more money than the average Cuban, who typically receives a monthly salary less than US$20. The business is typically the family’s sole source of income. Members of the family often staff the casas; however, more affluent families tend to hire workers to help them cook and clean.
If you enjoyed your stay at a casa, please tip the family and workers. As previously mentioned, the government taxes the owners out of the majority of their earnings. As tourists, you have the ability to improve the financial lot of the people you stay with. Passing along even CUC5 is tremendously helpful.
Cuba’s casas particulares offer travelers an affordable and culturally inclusive place to stay. They are available virtually everywhere you go and are an excellent choice for all kinds of travelers. When you stay at one of these casas, you’re helping support self-employed Cubans and are encouraging a more privatized Cuban economy. As you make your way across the island, you’ll enrich your cultural understanding by staying in the homes of Cubans.