Casa Particular Ultimate Guide – how to find and book casa particulars in Cuba


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Visiting Cuba is a unique experience and there’s no better way to make it even more special than by staying in a casa particular.  These “private houses” are the homestays of Cuba.  They’re an opportunity to stay with locals while retaining your privacy and they’re an opportunity to contribute to the local economy and still save money on a hotel stay.  A stay in a casa particular will give you a local insight and a connection to Cuba that will give you memories for years to come.

What is a Casa Particular

The term Casa Particular, or the plural Casas Particulares, translates literally as Private House, although when it first came into general use in Cuba, in 1997, it meant “private accommodation”.    While the term casa particular is used generally to describe private accommodation rented out by private individuals in Cuba, there are a variety of descriptions as to what this actually means.

By specific definition, a Casa Particular must belong to a private Cuban citizen who has obtained a licence from the Government allowing them to rent their property out to tourists.  The license can only be obtained if certain quality standards are met.

Today, in Cuba in 2019, staying in a casa particular could mean that you’re staying in

  • A private room in a Cuban’s house.
  • A shared room (AKA a hostel room) in a house/hostel.
  • A house or apartment that you have to yourself.

90% of casa particulars in Cuba have one or more bedrooms available for rental inside the same property that the landlord lives in with their family.  It may be, though that you are renting facilities on a different floor. Rafaela in Havana does just this.  While the apartment that she rents out is on the second floor of her building, she lives with her family on the ground floor.  You have a separate entrance to the apartment and while she will bring you the most amazing breakfast each morning if you want, the space is yours in its entirety.

Casa particulars can be similar to a homestay, or a bed and breakfast, a vacation rental or Airbnb apartment, depending on the casa particular that you book into.   If you are booking online, then the description is key to understanding what you will end up with.  It is not always obvious as to whether your booking will be a place that you have to yourself (including a kitchen for instance) or whether this will be shared with the family that you are renting from.

Some casa particulars will provide breakfast and other meals for an additional cost.  Our experience is that this is well worth it.

You will often find the term casa particular shortened to casa.

Cuban casa Particulars

Why You Should Stay in a Casa Particular

There is no better way to experience Cuba than to stay with Cubans.  A stay in a Cuban casa particular will let you interact easily with your Cuban hosts and contribute to their income, rather than to the Government in their state-run hotels.  Choosing casa particular accommodation will give you the inside track on where you might want to go to see more of the real Cuba, it will help get your laundry done for less than a king’s ransom and you may even get to stay in some stunning buildings too.

Cuba makes it difficult if not impossible for her citizens to leave and travel the world, not least because of the financial straits most are in, staying in a Casa Particular helps the Cuban people interact with people of the world without leaving their own home.

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Cuban casa particular guide pin 1

Are Casa Particulars Legal?

Official Casa Particulars obtain a license from the Government to rent their property out to tourists.  In order to get this licence, the property must have air conditioning, hot water, a TV and a fridge.

You can recognise casa particulars by the small sign they have on their door.  Two blue triangles (representing roofs) against a white background indicates that this is a legal casa particular for foreign tourists.   You may also see this sign but in red.  A red sign means that the casa particular is only for Cuban tourists.

Casa-Particular-Divisa

Source Wikicommons

These signs can be displayed once the license is obtained and after owners pay a monthly tax. The fee is the equivalent of US$70 per month for up to 2 rooms.  If there are more than 2 rooms to rent out, then this fee rises.

You can read more about the history of Cuban casa particulars further in this article).

Travel insurance is mandatory in Cuba – be sure to get your insurance sorted now!

 

Why is a Casa Particular different to a hotel or hostel?

A casa particular is, as we’ve discussed owned by a private Cuban citizen.  They tend to be cheaper than hotel rooms, which are particularly expensive in Cuba.   Hotels in Cuba are state-owned and usually in need of refurbishing. Casa Particulars, tend, as they are privately owned and maintained, to be better maintained and scrupulously clean.

The service that you’ll get in a casa particular will also tend to be much better in a hotel.  Your Cuban host wants good reviews, a strong motivation for great customer service.   Cuban hosts of Casa Particulars also have the ability to add to their income by providing extra services.  They’ll offer you breakfast and sometimes dinner.  Want a taxi to the Viazul bus station? Or the airport?  Want to book a tour?  If your host can’t accommodate you, you can GUARANTEE that they know someone who can.  And as Cuba is primarily a cash society once you’re there, it can add significantly to their income.

In contrast, the staff at Cuban run hotels are paid a low monthly salary, with little to no way of increasing this.  That surly service you’re receiving, it’s a lot to do with the fact that the average monthly salary in Cuba was 777 CUP (the equivalent of USD$29) in 2018 (source Trading Economics).  That’s no joke.  US$29 a month.  That’s a lot of surliness you can forgive.  But it’s also a reason to stay at a casa particular and help the local economy.

Is it safe to stay in Casa Particulars?

Crime rates are low in Cuba.  Gun crime is virtually non-existent.  And while crime is on the rise, and you should take all the usual precautions with your valuables, we never felt unsafe at all in Cuba.  We felt that our belongings were safe, as individuals we felt safe and that the security of the casa particulars that we stayed in was of a comparable level to the rest of the world.

You will have to provide your passport when you check into your casa particular, it’s a requirement that your host registers you with the local immigration office.

We always travel with a “portable safe”, and lock our valuables into when we don’t have them with us.   We used it a lot in Cuba, but mostly when we were snorkelling and diving from the beach and where we wanted to all snorkel at the same time and secure our valuables on the shore (attached to a tree!).

What can you expect in a Casa Particular?

It’s not always obvious from descriptions of Casas online whether you’re getting the entire unit or apartment to yourself or just a room, so be sure to read them carefully.    Some mapping sites are not particularly accurate, so look for an address or cross street reference to confirm that the casa is in the location that you want.

Some casa particulars have ensuite bathrooms, some have kitchen facilities, and others have balconies and living rooms.  Any fridge in the casa particular will usually contain bottles of water, or beer all of which are available for purchase at the rates stated.

Do Hosts speak English in Casa Particulars?

Not usually no.  You are unlikely to find casa particular hosts who speak English. Despite the increase in uses of Cubans renting their Casas through Airbnb, booking.com and other sites, where the well-crafted descriptions might make you think your host speaks great English you are unlikely to find that your hosts will chatter away to you in English.  We had one stay, in a small village near to Varadero, where both our host and his wife spoke great English, but this was because they had both worked extensively with international hotels.

Do you need to speak Spanish to stay in a Casa Particular?

No, not necessarily.  You will have a better experience if you do.    The Cuban accent is significantly different from the Spanish speaking countries nearby, so you’ll need to listen hard and adapt.    If you don’t speak Spanish we recommend learning a few basic words of Spanish (please, thank you, yes, no).  However, at the end of the day, the Cuban people have had decades of making do and making things work with very little resources.  A smile goes a very long way.

Do you get an ensuite room in Casa Particulares?

There are many ensuite bathrooms available in Casa Particulars if you’re booking online (and if your time is limited, we certainly recommend this), then it should be clear in the online descriptions.  If you are a “walk-in”, then you’ll learn to ask for a baño privado (private bathroom)

Are casa particulars private?

Many casa particulars are simply separate bedrooms (and the focus is often on more beds in each room rather than less) with bathrooms inside a private house.  Others will separate off a floor for visitors and you’ll get that floor to yourself, especially if there are 4 or more of you travelling together.  As your budget goes up, so too does the amount of privacy and the facilities that you can expect. We seriously recommend staying with Rafaela.   She rents the second floor in her house, provides an incredible breakfast (both in terms of quantity and quality) and found us a room with a friend when we returned to Havana unexpectedly.

Will my room be cleaned in a casa particular?

Your hosts will be very considerate of your privacy.  They will likely ask if you wish to have your room cleaned, or your towels replaced.  If nothing else they will empty the toilet bins each day, but they will always ask if it’s possible to enter your room.

What facilities are available in casa particulars?

You should expect a clean bed, air conditioning (where stated) and a bathroom (shared or private as stated).  Depending on where you are staying you may also get access to balconies, sitting rooms, and a kitchen.  Most hosts will offer a laundry service, ask for the price before you hand over your clothes.  < That’s not because you will be ripped off, but it’s a good practice all round!

Is there Wi-Fi available in Casa Particulars?

The general answer to this is no.  Internet access in Cuba is generally provided in hotspots around the country, although some casa particulars have Wi-Fi, they are very, very few and far between. Read more about internet access in Cuba here. 

Is it worth getting a casa particular with a kitchen?

Kitchens in casa particulars will include a fridge.  They may also have a cooker, coffee machine and some utensils.  You need, however, to be realistic.  This country has had rationing since 1962.  Foodstuffs are NOT readily available in stores – go to a shop and look for yourself.   When this is the case, there is no person better equipped to find food and provide it to you than the native Cubano.  The equivalent of US$5 for your breakfast should fill you up for most of the day, and the money that your host will make contributes to the local economy significantly more than if you spend your day schlepping around shops trying to figure out what to buy for tomorrow’s breakfast.

That said, we took some staples to Cuba with us (we carry them as a standard when we travel) – our hot water boiler, our travel mugs and our coffee ensured that we never suffered caffeine withdrawal.  Get used to powdered milk too.  You’re unlikely to find pasteurised or UHT milk in stores, but you will find bags of powdered milk.

Can you get meals in Casa Particulars?

Absolutely, yes.  The best meals that we had were in casa particulars.  The breakfasts from Rafaela in Havana were simply enormous. The dinners on the rooftop of our casa in Playa Buren were stunning, incredibly tasty and made by our host, an ex-chef of one of Cuba’s top hotels.    There are standard prices for breakfast and dinner.  Expect to pay (in 2019) in local Cuban CUC the equivalent of US$5 for breakfast, and US$15 for dinner.   Ask when you first arrive, although your host will no doubt beat you to it, if breakfast is available and if dinner is available.  It’s always best to agree a time for breakfast there and then too.

How are meals in Casa Particulars?

We had amazing breakfasts in Havana, in Hostal Playa Buren near Varadero and on the coast near Trinidad.  We had one ropey breakfast in Baracoa, but there seemed to be a distinct lack of food available in the town at the time, so don’t blame the host.  I suspect we ate more than she did that day.

We ate dinner only at two casa’s and that was because we’d specifically decided to stay there because of the food.  If food is your passion we recommend taking an in-depth look at the reviews from casa particulars and picking one that gets amazing food reviews.

You can get some GREAT Cuban cocktails from your hosts in Casa Particulars – check out these four Cuban Cocktails that chart part of Cuba’s history.

How much do casa particulars cost?

The cost of casa particulars in Cuba depends on the facilities and the location.   You can get a room in a casa particular for US$15.    A room with a shared bathroom will cost a little less than a one with a private bathroom.  Want living space to yourself, then add a little more.    At the top end, if you want a villa with a pool, please do use my link here to book it, so that I score the commission from it 😉

The Malecon Havana

What other services do casa particulars provide?

Your casa particular host will be able to arrange tours if you haven’t booked already.  We’d already booked a day trip to Viñales online, and a classic car tour of Havana, but our host in Havana offered that.  Her neighbourhood contacts got us to the Viazul bus station for our early morning bus.  You can expect your casa particular host to offer services such as

  • Providing breakfast
  • Providing dinner
  • Doing your laundry
  • Providing cold beers or waters in the fridge
  • Booking a tour for you
  • Selling you an ETECSA ticket to access the internet in Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Buying a Viazul bus ticket for you, if any are available (note this is unlikely if you are asking within 4 days of travel, and for this specifically we recommend buying before you arrive in Cuba. PLUS Our guide to the Viazul bus network shows you how to buy tickets, even if the online allocation has been exhausted).
  • Organizing a colectivo or taxi to your next destination
  • Recommending where to eat dinner

Remember that when you are in Cuba, the country is primarily a cash society.  So if your host organizes something for you, it is 99% likely that you’ll be paying cash.  If you’re a US ATM cardholder, you’ll need to make alternative arrangements as your bank cards will NOT work in the ATMs.

We always recommend paying each day for any additional costs, in a society where rationing is still in place, we feel it’s appropriate to ensure that our host is never out of pocket, even for 24 hours, because of our stay.

What’s it like staying in Casa Particulars?

We loved it.  We stayed in Casas where we had the whole place (well the floor of a multi-story house) to ourselves, including balconies and terraces.  We stayed in Casas that were in front of beaches in small bays that we had to ourselves for morning and evening swims and snorkelling.  We stayed in others where we had just a room with a bathroom and met other travellers at communal breakfasts.

When we didn’t have a booking for the next destination, our host organized for us to stay at the next casa through their network of connections.  That doesn’t necessarily work if you are on a tight schedule, but the Cuban “make do” attitude means that there will always be somewhere, so long as you’re not too fussy about the private bathroom or the additional facilities.

Local Cuban Life

Should I book my casa particular before I go to Cuba?

If you are time-constrained and you know what your destinations are then yes we recommend you prebook your casa particulars before you get to Cuba.  There is nothing worse than not having much time and having to spend a good proportion of it knocking on doors.

We have prebooked casa particulars and also just turned up and knocked on doors.   We always found somewhere to stay, that wasn’t a problem, but if you have specific requirements, and want to stay in a certain area we definitely recommend organizing this before you travel.  And then when you get there just enjoy Cuba!



Booking.com

How to book a Casa Particular in Cuba

There are 4 ways to book a casa particular in Cuba.

Book Casa Particulars online

There are a variety of websites set up where you can book your casa particular online.  There are two types of sites that enable you to book online.  The first type is those that have a list of casa particulars, and that you REQUEST a booking for.  Any online availability listed is, let’s say, flexible to say the least.  Those that spring to mind are cubajunky and mycasaparticular.   We did attempt to use sites like these, but despite giving a list of 8 Casas for a particular city, were never able to get the ones that were (supposedly) available.

The other type of site that you can use to book your casa particular is Airbnb and Booking.com   You’ll get the benefit of using an internationally recognized website that has a help team in case of problems with your bookings.

  • Check out casa particulars to book online with booking.com
  • Check out casa particulars to book online with airBnb.com < use this link to get US$35 off your first booking.  Already got an account?  Use a different email address and credit card to get the discount too!

Note that sites like booking.com and Airbnb are NOT permitted to sell rooms while you are in Cuba.  So you’ll want to prebook prior to arriving in-country.  An alternative is to use a VPN, to mask your location so that if you need to prebook while you’re in Cuba you can do this.  We recommend. Check out NordVPN for great, cost-effective VPN services.

Book your casa particular with a Jinetero

A Jinitero (pronounced Hin-i-tero) is a hustler.  These are the guys and gals who will wait outside the Viazul bus station, or near a taxi, point asking if you want a casa particular.   They’ll take you to a casa particular where they will be paid a commission by the casa owner for taking you there.    You will get fed up of them during your time in Cuba.   In some further out of the way places, you may also be met by the owner of the casa themselves – this happened to us in Baracoa, where the owner, having rooms available was waiting for our Havana to Baracoa bus to arrive.   She had a laminated poster detailing the features and facilities of her casa particular.

Host to host booking

Once you are in a casa particular, your host will likely ask you where you are going next and if you have a casa particular booking.  If you don’t have a room booked then they will suggest Casas and offer to book it for you in your next destination.    All casa owners have a network of friends and family who they will pass you onto.  It’s a great way of travelling if you’re slightly flexible.

Knocking on Doors to book Casa Particulars

You’ve read earlier in this post about how to recognize a legal casa particular, by the blue symbol on the door.  If you’re seriously chilled out about your trip to Cuba, then this is a fourth and final way to book a stay in a casa particular.  We did this in Santiago de Cuba and stayed in a great place.  Although, we did read a few reviews on TripAdvisor first and had a list of places where we were going to knock on doors.

Cuban Street

Pros of Staying in Casa Particulars

  • Help the local economy
  • Hotels are expensive and of generally poor quality
  • Clean rooms and facilities
  • Breakfast provided (extra cost)
  • Get local tips and hints from your host
  • Learn about Cuba from the source

Cons of Staying in Casa Particulars

  • Usually No Wi-Fi (some hotels may have Wi-Fi in the lobby – such as the Hotel Sevilla in Havana)
  • Sometimes little space other than the room you are in
  • You’re in someone’s house

The History of Casa Particulars

The special period (“Periodo Especial”) of the early 1990s was, for Cuba, an extended period of intense economic pressure for the country.  It began in 1991 and was primarily due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which provided nearly 80% of its imports.  Equally, Cuba lost nearly 80% of her exports to the Soviet Union.  Cuba imported most of its petroleum products from the USSR and lost this almost overnight.  Cuba also exported unused amounts of this Soviet petroleum to other countries and therefore lost the income that this generated.    This fundamentally changed, not just transport, but agriculture and the availability of foodstuffs.    Power outages were common, and food shortages were rife.

To provide food for their families many Cubans began renting rooms out in their private houses, their casa particular to the trickle of tourists who began to arrive on the island.  This practice was illegal until 1997, although the Cuban government had never cracked down heavily on it, as the government had to encourage tourism in order to bring foreign currency into the country.  There were some hotels that catered for foreign tourist, but there was not enough to deal with demand.

And so, in 1997, the Government began to issue licenses to citizens who wished to rent out private rooms and homes to tourists, levying an annual charge for the issuance of these licenses.

Cuban beaches

How to Be a Good Guest in a Casa Particular

If you’re staying in a casa particular you’re staying in someone’s private home.  If staying in a homestay is the norm for you, then you won’t need these hints about how to make your casa particular stay better for you and your host.  If this is new to you, then read on:

  • Make an effort to speak at least a few words of Spanish. It will be much easier for you and your host if you can learn the basics of requesting meals, asking for laundry to be done, confirming your host’s name and any rules of the house.
  • Be respectful about making noise, especially at night. You’re staying in someone’s house.  Cuba isn’t a quiet place, what with the cars and the music and the outdoor lifestyle, but if your hosts are quiet, then you should be too.
  • Be cautious about politics. There is definitely a sense of “Big Brother” in Cuba, try not to be too intrusive.  A ration book might be a novelty to you, but it’s a necessity to the Cuban people.
  • Be aware of electricity and water usage. Turn your Air conditioning off when you are not in the room.  And the lights.  Don’t take 20-minute  It’s easy to take these things for granted, but waste isn’t an option in Cuba.
  • Leave behind items you aren’t going to use. Leftover shampoo?  Half a box of tampons?  If you’re not going to use, or miss these things, why not leave them behind for your host.  Just take a short walk around one of the stores and see the empty shelves, much of what we take for granted in Europe, The US and Australia are simply not available here.

Final Words on Cuban Casa Particulars

We loved our stays in our Casa particulars in Cuba.  We did a HEAP of research as to where we wanted to stay when we travelled with out family – who initially wanted to stay in one of the resort hotels, so that we got to stay in special places with special people.  We’re happy to say that the reseach was WELL WORTH IT and the holiday was an immense success.  After the family left we continued our travels in Cuba and winged it.  We knocked on doors, we got passed from host to host, we even went back to Rafaela in Havana, when a bus trip fell through.  Our welcome to Cuba was inclusive, friendly and we loved all of our stays in our casas.  We hope you do too.  Let us know if you have any other tips, or where your favourite casa was!

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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