Cuban Casa Particulares
Cuba is a bit tough to plan out accommodation wise. Because of strict laws, traditional hostels are basically non-existent. And can I just say, thank god! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good backpacker hostel. But after your eighth consecutive month of sleeping in yet another disgusting dorm bed you really need a break. The Cuban accommodation system is a breath of fresh air.
So how does it work?
Instead of traditional hostels, families are allowed to rent out rooms in their homes to travelers, Cuban casa particulares. Families with registered casas pay taxes to the government and they can be identified by the little casa symbol- a white square with two blue triangles. Of course, not all the casas are registered and unregistered ones tend to be a bit cheaper but you can get in trouble with the police if they find out.
Some casas are fancier and more expensive, others simple and more budget friendly. We stayed in the cheaper ones, which were still lovely. We started our trip in Havana and stayed at Hamel Hostel. This was the only “hostely” spot that we stayed at but it was a perfect jumping off point. The dorm beds are only $5 and Magnolia and her husband, the owners, it will sit down and help you figure out where you want to travel/how to get around, etc. They’re part of an unofficial network of hostels throughout Cuba. She’ll hand out business cards for the casa of any destination you want to head to and call ahead to your next spot to let them know you’re coming. Since you won’t be using the internet in Cuba (unless you want to pay $8/hr) this is the best way to reserve your accommodation.
How Much Are Casa Particulares?
Hamel Hostel was the cheapest place we stayed but it’s not hard to find budget casas. $15 was the “going rate” for most of the rooms we stayed in, but after some haggling we ended up paying $10 between the two of us. The prices are negotiable and staying longer in one house will obviously get you a cheaper rate. At one point we had an older European man paying $25 for a comparable room next door to ours while we paid $10 for our room. Be honest about your budget with the owners and they will generally try to work with you on it.
Most owners will offer home cooked meals for their guests. This is a really fun way to explore Cuban cuisine and eat delicious food. Because Cuban street food is so cheap, we didn’t take advantage of these meals that often. But when we opted for a home cooked meal, it was totally worth it. The prices for the food are negotiable as well. We haggled down the prices of our breakfast (letting them know we only needed a bit of food) and dinners (explaining that we’re vegetarian) and ended up paying about 50 cents to $1 for breakfast and $1.50-$3.00 for dinners.
Overall we found that the owners took pride in their casas and enjoyed opening their homes to travelers. Hostels can be a great place to meet other travelers but if you want a taste of local culture, you’ll love the casas. All of the casas we stayed at were run by an older couple with a few extra rooms in their houses. One couple insisted that we call them ‘mama’ and ‘papa.’ Most couples were keen for a drink and a chat during the evening. We loved hearing about Cuban history first hand and sharing stories from our respective home countries. It was lovely experience and perfect for budget traveling.