Casa Particular – A Room in a Private Home
A casa particular (or simply “casa” once the term is understood) is an individually owned residence in which the owner rents out one or more rooms. This can be similar to our bed and breakfasts. These can be a single room, or can be more like a studio or efficiency apartment. These can range the whole gamut, from a single room to a spacious suite with a veranda overlooking the Malecon in Havana. Very often these are the best of Cuba accommodations.
These casas will typically offer a bath with hot water, one or two beds, and some basic furniture. They generally have their own entrance so you can come and go freely; there is not cut-off time to be back in room. The owner may even offer breakfast too for a slight fee. These casas offer a great alternative to Cuban hotels as well as offering a look at Cuban life. A casa particular is available to fit your location, style, budget and level of adventurousness.
Finding a Casa Particular
Finding Casas particulares (plural) are everywhere, but finding them online is a little complicated . You won’t (yet) find them on the big booking sites but there are a lot of smaller, local websites offering them, describing them, etc. These sites can only promote a few of the thousands of course, so I suggest you book your first night or two online, then extend your stay if you like, or inquire about others as you travel around. They will not be hard to find. (AirBnb is changing this…see below)
Finding casas while in Cuba: Thousands of these casas are located throughout Cuba. Driving through little towns like Remedios and Vinales you will see them everywhere; cute, clean little homes set up to handle guests. You can tell a casa particular by the posted sign with a blue symbol, that looks like a curved capital H lying on its side. A sign might also say Arrendador Divisa.
AirBnb is Changing the World of Casa Online Booking
AirBnb is making casa booking easy in Cuba. You may have already used AirBnb in your travels. You go online (or more likely with the phone app) sign up with an account; scroll through cities of interest and browse rooms for rent. When you find an attractive room you like with appropriate amenities, you reserve it through and pay for it through the app. AirBnb pays the collects your payment; pays the owner and keeps everyone happy. You get to rank the room and you have AirBnb to help with complaints.
How they worked out payment details, Cuban internet connection, etc., I don’t know, but somehow they did it. AirBnb probably has some 5000 of the 20,000 or so casas for rent in Cuba. See my post on AirBnb.
Prices of Casa Rentals
Typical rental rates for a casa ranges from CUC $20 to CUC $40, a little more in their high season. Location and amenities drive the price of course. A simple room in a little Cuban town will be on the low end. In some gorgeous Havana homes with fantastic views, you will pay quite a bit more.
Be sure to do your homework before picking a casa. Some are for absolute budget travelers, i.e. student travelers trying to squeeze every peso as much as they can; other casas offer luxurious rooms with veranda, view of the Malecon, etc. You get what you pay for.
See some AirBnb room prices in the map of Havana below.
How this works in Cuba
Cuba is a Socialist state. Their experimentation with limited capitalism goes in fits and starts. The state doesn’t like capitalism but they need tourist dollars, so it’s allowed on a limited basis. Casas particulares, along with Paladars (private restaurants) and private taxis are some of the enterprises allowed, licensed and regulated by the government. The Cuban government charges the casa owners CUC $100 to $250/month for the privilege of operating this business. They also have additional monthly and yearly taxes on their income.
They want to know about every visitor, so expect to show your passport when you sign in. You will be required to fill in the registration book and sign it. This gets turned in to the Cuban Immigration Department.
This is the ideal world: the owners get much needed cash (their state jobs pays only $30-40/month); the state collects a monthly fee from the owners; and best of all, the visitor gets an inside look at Cuban life. You will be living in a Cuban home in a Cuban neighborhood, not isolated in a big resort, or in a hotel full of tourists.
So, treat the experience as an honor to be in their house, and treat it as part of an adventure.
Note: If you make a reservation with a casa owner, please honor it. Cubans generally earn very little money and they all have to make ends meet however they can. So, you not showing up hurts them more so than it would hurt a hotel with lots of rooms.
Casas: The Best of all Cuban Accommodations
Staying in a casa particular may be the best Cuban experience you have. The luxury resorts offer pampering and luxury, but you are just among other tourists. Cuban hotels can give a taste of Cuba, but staying in a Cuban house as a guest of the owners is an experience you will get no other way. You get to see how Cubans live and experience their local environment, not a tourist hotel.
Another advantage is that the owners are obviously a wealth of information about what to do, where to go and can give you a local perspective on the area…inside tips.
You can expect to find English speaking people at the big tourist hotels, but don’t expect it from casa owners. However, your little bit of Spanish and enthusiasm along with their wanting to make guests happy generally make communication possible.
Casas are governed and inspected by the state. Cuba wants tourists and the owners want you to be happy, so expect to be treated well. Do not however, expect internet connection. Internet connection for Cubans is practically nonexistent. It is a rare casa that will have it..
Whichever casa you pick you most likely will get a better experience in a modestly priced casa than a modestly price hotel room.