You may wonder, what is all this talk about casas? Why is this tour company keep going on about it? Why should I stay in one of those? How are they better? What do they offer? They are a fantastic option for travellers who are interested in staying with a Cuban family and learning about local culture.
What is a Casa?
In case you were wondering what a casa is it is basically Cuba’s version on a bed and breakfast style accommodation. Also known as homestays because of the fact that initially they meant staying at a local’s home and sharing living space and facilities with the hosts or hosting families (not always the case anymore) – mi casa, su casa, as you know! This style of accommodation has been legal in Cuba since 1997 and a lot has changed since, to the point that some function as home rentals where you book the entire property. Not only that, but as the owners of these homes were given more freedom, some areas were able to evolve to meet world-class standards, other’s may still be a little more traditional. In any instance we always ensure that you have air conditioning, hot water, in-room TV, fridge as a minimum. Others may even have a kitchenette – but eating out is much more fun!
We feel that staying with locals is part of the authentic Cuba travel experience. Not only that, but doing so you are helping the local community!
Are Casas legal?
There are not many businesses that are allowed in Cuba, but renting a room or property out these days is one of them.
If a house has an upside-down anchor sign outside (like in this picture), then they have registered with the government as a casa. The owner pays some form of tax to the government and the guest will get a receipt. Owners usually take your passport number for their records. They 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.
If you travel with us we definitely only ever use registered casas. If you are trying to make it on your own, make sure that you look for the blue anchor, as they are the properties that are allowed to be rented to foreigners. And also beware, in many cities in Cuba you also can stay in illegal casa’s, mostly these casa’s are much cheaper than the official registered casa’s. However, you run the risk of being kicked out in the middle of the night when they get a visit from official people who check the casa’s from time to time for their casa licensee. Besides this, the owner risks to lose his house, this is one of the fines in Cuba when having an illegal casa particular.
What sort of experience can I expect?
You get to discover Cuba from a Cuban’s home and perspective. Which means that the host and or their family may want to interact with you – mind you not all speak English so you may need use sign language or your survival Spanish skills. Depends on how open you are to the experience you may find that you are hanging with the hosts/parents talking in the evening learning about their culture.
You will always be given a key to your accommodation and as much privacy or interaction as you require. Even casa’s particulares with live-in hosts often have separate quarters for the hosting family (either they live on a separate floor or have adapted their home with structural divisions or conversions) to allow as much privacy and autonomy for guests as possible while still being on hand to cook breakfasts, meals, do housekeeping or help in any other way possible.
When you stay at casa’s, not only will you be interacting with locals (as much or as little as you choose to), get an insider’s perspective on the daily struggles, hopes and dreams of average Cubans, but you’ll get the chance to explore the city from a residential location, with real Cuban neighbours, whilst hotels are generally away from residential areas. You can also strike up some casual conversations with the neighbours, restaurant owners, street vendors if you wanted to.
Are there other benefits?
Many casas particulares are perfectly located at the heart of the action! In Havana that means staying in downtown Vedado, within walking proximity to jazz venues, nightclubs and the scenic Malecon or right in the midst of Old Havana and Centro Habana, within walking distance to famous squares, historic landmarks and iconic locations. Or just behind the main street of Vinales, in centro Cienfuegos or Trinidad. Staying in a casa particular doesn’t mean staying in the suburbs.
A casa particular means a truly personalised service, from how you like your eggs and coffee at breakfast or which are your favourite tropical fruits (provided they’re in season) to whether you require special help, laundry or added extras, everything is negotiable with a casa particular host. Not only that, but you do not have to face large queues at breakfasts, or have to wake up to secure your favourite spot. Sure some of the larger casas may have other tourists – which if you travel in a group with us can be handy. But there will never be big tourist crowds to fight your way through.
When you should choose a hotel over a casa?
Of course we think everyone should stay in a casa, because we feel that is the most authentic experience you will ever get, and the only way to really immerse yourself in the Cuban culture. However, if you are after free-flowing mojitos (did I mention some neighbourhoods they are on 1CUC?), a massive pool, the hotel toiletries, and not much in the way of discovering the outside world, casas are not for you.
But let me ask you this, what differentiates and all inclusive hotel stay in Cuba to that of in Mexico, or Greece or Turkey. Apart may be from the drinks they deliver it seems pretty much the same same to me. Why not get outside your comfort zone and immerse yourself in what the Real Cuba has got to offer?