Like they say, you can’t knock it till you try it!
When I started planning my first trips abroad I spent a lot of time trying to find reasonable accommodation for travelling on a budget. I had stayed in a hostel before, and really enjoyed the social atmosphere of being with other backpackers. The idea of Airbnb seemed really cool, but I never really considered homestays until I started planning a trip to Cuba.
One of my favourite shows of all-time, Departures (woo Canadians!), introduced me to the network of homestays in Cuba called Casa Particulares. Locals are able to register through the government to host foreigners in their homes as a source of income. Now, travellers are lucky enough to stay with local Cuban families as well as enjoy a fulfilling cultural experience!
If you are thinking of backpacking through Cuba, you MUST stay use Casa Particulares during your trip. Many of them can be found on Airbnb, but we recommend the traditional method for navigating through the Casa Particular network, a.k.a word of mouth.
In this guide, we will share with you with why we loved these homestays so much, how to travel through Cuba using them, and offer recommendations on places to stay!
HOW TO USE CASA PARTICULARES
The best part about the Casa Particulares is that they are fairly easy to use as long as you know what you’re doing. And it’s simple! There is no need to call ahead and book a spot, unless you know it is a really popular one. If anything, the most fun way to find a Casa Particular is just to show up to their door.
Yep, that’s right! Just walk on up like the old days!
We started off by referring to the recommendations from the guidebooks we had purchased for our trip (love you Rough Guides!) For our first destination, Havana, we knew we wanted to stay in the Centro Habana district so we narrowed our search to addresses in this neighbourhood. Centro Habana is by far the coolest area of Havana with its antique cars and crumbling buildings! Read more about these adventures in our Havana highlight post coming soon!
To begin, we gave the street address to our taxi driver and after some miscommunications and confusion on directions, we made it!
A sweet old lady opened the door for us and brought us into her home. It was absolutely stunning! She had her own open courtyard with a rock garden, and some lovely rooms. She soon informed us that she had no more rooms available for us.
We were a little discouraged at first, but then she offered to contact nearby friends of hers to see if they could take us in. We felt so welcomed by this Casa owner, and we were not even staying with her! It was a great introduction, and we knew straight away that the friendliness and hospitality of the Cuban people meant that we were in good hands.
Sure enough a room was found for us and one of our hosts Maggie picked us up from the home. She walked us through the streets of Centro Habana for a mini-tour on our way to the Casa. Our room in Casa Ricardo was amazing, Ricardo and Maggie were incredibly generous hosts and great resources for what to do around the city.
This is the magic of Casa Particulars! If the one that you initally arrive to does not have a room available for you, they will refer you to their neighbor, closest friend, aunt, you name it!
Hosts will even have recommendations for people to stay with in your next destinations too. For example, Ricardo referred us to a family in Santiago de Cuba. When arrived, our new host Frank gave us the warmest welcome, and asked us about our stay with Ricardo. A few times we were met at the bus station by our hosts, or had a cheap taxi hired for us to get to their Casa. Absolutely amazing service I must say!
It all felt connected together like family, and we were welcomed with open arms.
THE PERKS OF CASAS
When you stay at Casa Particulares it is the best opportunity to genuinely experience first-hand the lives of Cuban people.
To be welcomed into the homes of locals is special in itself. We always took time to sit down with our hosts and talk with them about our travels and they would share stories with us about their lives. As the hosts opened up to us they would share their favourite places to go with friends, the best restaurants in town that only locals know, and sometimes they we take you out on the town themselves. Or for a quieter night, maybe you can enjoy a glass of rum while watching a baseball game with your host! Thank you to our Viñales host Luis and his father for that!
Not to mention they can catch you a good bargain on the tourist things as well. Luis and his wife Dunia bargained a great deal for us the very same day we arrived. Next thing we know, we were off horseback riding through the VIñales valley for the entire afternoon all for roughly $25 CAD.
And if anyone has ever told you that Cuban cuisine is bland, they could not be more wrong! All of our homestays offered to cook us breakfast and dinners for relatively small fees (usually $2.00-$3.00 for breakfast, $5.00-$9.00 for dinner). To be honest, the food we had in Cuba were some of the best meals in my life. Our Santiago host Frank must have been a chef because th
e Slow Roasted Honey Lamb he cooked was incredible. The food was great, and the conversation was even better.
If you prefer to go out for dinner, make sure to ask your host about nearby Paladars they recommend. Similar to Casa Particulares, Paladars are registered restaurants run out of people’s homes where they serve delicious local and personal recipes.
Spending time with these families was an eye-opening experience. To see their homes, the neighbourhoods they live in, and having the opportunity to meet their families gives you a unique travel experience you could get no other way. The generosity of the Cuban people made us always feel at home. I left Cuba feeling like I made genuine connections with the locals.
For every other trip I plan in the future I will always look to stay with locals. My experience with Casa Particulares in Cuba is possibly the most special, and cherished travel experience I have had to date.
Here is a list of all of the Casa Particulares we stayed at including their addresses and phone numbers. Like I said, you do not necessairly need to reserve ahead of time. Phones may be inconsistent, so it is best to just show up and ask! Let us know if you are interested in some and we can help you out further.
Havana: Casa Ricardo – Calle Campanario No.363, between San Miguel & San Rafeal. (+53) 5265-11 58. https://www.facebook.com/casaricardohabana/
Viñales: Casa Dunia Aleman y Luis – Calle Sergio Dopico Norte No. 25, between Salvador Cisnero & Limite Urbano. (+53) (048) 793360. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Santiago de Cuba: Frank Perez Monserrat – Calle San Felix No.121, between San Antonio & San Ricardo. (53) 736061, email:email@example.com
Baracoa: Casa Reina y Rebeca: Calle raul Cepero Bonilla No.17, between Marti & Rodney Coutin. (+53) 21- 611164. firstname.lastname@example.org
Trinidad: Hostal Katia: Julio Antonia Mella (Guásima) no.352, between Agustin Bernaz (Paz) & Colon. (+53) 41 993090
Have any questions about casa particulars that we did not answer? How about any recommendations or stories about the places you stayed? Feel free to leave a message below!