Essentially a casa particular in Havana (or anywhere in Cuba) is a bed and breakfast facility owned by a local Cuban homeowner and converted into holiday accommodation after having obtained a special licence from the government. But what are the peculiarities of staying in a casa particular in Cuba and what is it like? Are they easy to book? Do they come with a live-in host? Do you share any facilities with other guests or hosts? Are there any casas particulares that operate as independent, standalone properties? We give you all the details in this post!
Most people considering a trip to Cuba are likely to have heard of casas particulares and many then wonder whether staying in a casa particular will be the right choice for them. Many aren’t really sure what a casa particular is, what staying in a casa particular is like and whether they meet the minimum accommodation standards. We’re here to clear all that up, dispel some myths and tell you all about what makes staying in a casa particular in Havana so great. And not just in Havana (although that’s certainly where you’ll find more choice in terms of variety) but in all of Cuba!
A casa particular, the only way to breathe the real Cuba while giving back
The popularity of booking a casa particular has really increased in recent years, especially among U.S. visitors who are not only encouraged to support the local private economy but who, under Trump’s administration recent changes and rollbacks on Cuba travel, are now forbidden from staying at Cuba’s state-owned hotels and are only allowed (under far stricter conditions) to travel to Cuba as long as they state in privately-owned casas and eat at privately-owned restaurants (a.k.a. “paladares”, which is the local term they’re known as). By staying in a casa particular, you’re not only breathing in local charm, you’re also directly contributing to the blossoming private economy and rewarding Cuba’s booming entrepreneurs.
Not just a trend, but an evolving accommodation option
Casas particulares are very much in vogue, especially now when many have become more and more sophisticated, incorporating touches of modern décor, artistic splashes of Cuban authenticity (also known as “cubania” in the local lingo), adopting and edgy artsy vibe or strictly in-keeping with the original architecture and colonial theme of the house to the point that you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time (a lot of places in Cuba give off that time-capsule vibe).
There is stiff competition among casa particulares in Cuba nowadays (especially in Havana, where you’ll find a casa particular for every taste, budget and style) and many owners of a casa particular are making continuous efforts to distinguish themselves from the rest in a variety of ways. From décor style and furniture to gourmet meals, special features (like pools) and even entertainment. How to find the casa particular that fits your style and budget?
But what is a casa particular really?
Going back to answering our initial question of what a casa particular is, the easiest way to describe it is as a Cuban-style B&B accommodation where the owners have obtained a special licence from the government to be able to offer their home (or rooms inside their home) for holiday rental.
To be granted a licence to host tourists inside their homes, all owners of casas particulares (the plural form of “casa particular” = must meet a minimum of standards. All casas must provide air conditioning, hot water, TV and fridge and the vast majority of casas, offer all these amenities in-room, so that you don’t have to access the shared areas of the casa if you don’t feel like it. In most cases, your casa particular will have a live-in host but the most likely scenario is that your host, hosting family or couple will live in an upper floor or separate area of the house, as they like to give as much space and privacy to guests as the can.
A little background on the origins of the casa particular
The term casa particular literally translates as “private house”. In the early days (back in the 90s) some Cuban families saw an opportunity in the tourism industry and started sprucing up spare rooms inside their homes to host locals and earn some extra income. That’s how casas particulares were born, which shows that ingenious Cubans were ahead of their time as they discovered the benefits of the Sharing Economy 20 years before it became mainstream in Europe and the U.S. Long before Airbnb, Cubans were wholly or partially renting out their homes to visitors and a casa particular, was the only way a foreign tourist could share accommodation with Cubans (as previously – and for many years – Cubans were banned from staying at hotels).
Overtime Cuba’s casas particulares, they have evolved and, in some cases, (not all) have become more sophisticated and offered more bang to your buck, with the inclusion of ensuite bathrooms (virtually every casa particular in Havana has them) air conditioning as standard, in-room TVs and mini fridge (I won’t call them mini bar as not all include drinks for you to purchase, although many nowadays do offer this service).
Some casas particulares have been adapted, converted or upgraded to look and feel a lot more like chic boutique hotels than homestays, and as such they charge higher prices closer to hotel room rates (but still cheaper than most hotels in Havana).
Casa particular – your way to real Cubanhood
So, what is a casa particular, then? Well, it may technically mean “private home” but the term can be loosely translated as “private accommodation” in Cuba. A casa particular in Havana is basically a private establishment providing paid lodging, typically on a short-term basis (although you’ll find some owners of casas particulares willing to rent accommodation for longer periods). With a casa particular, essentially, you pay to rent either a room or a local’s entire house or apartment (the latter are known as independent casas particulares).
Havana hotels’ fiercest competitor – why many favour staying at a casa particular over a hotel
It’s not just about going local and making your Cuba experience all the more sustainable and authentic, staying at a casa particular is about that, yes, but about so much more besides and they put you in more direct contact with Cuban culture in ways that no Cuba hotel can.
Casa particular vs Hotel – the advantages of private accommodation in Cuba
- A casa particular is cheaper and offers better value for money – the average casa particular in Havana is far cheaper than most hotels and the standard of accommodation and service offered (you can’t beat the warmth of hosts inviting you into their well-looked after homes) often surpasses that of Havana’s budget hotels (some are rather drab and dreary with outdated fixtures and fittings, tired facilites, etc). Typical prices for a night in a casa particular in Havana average 30 CUC (you will find casas for 20 to 25 CUC per night on the cheaper end while on the other end of the scale, exclusive, chic, spacious or otherwise luxurious casas -more like mansions or penthouse apartments with seaviews – will go for as much as 100 to 200 CUC per night ). By contrast, room rates in hotels start from 40 CUC (on a lucky day) and average 70 CUC upwards (easily going up to 400 CUC on some “luxury” hotels and even not-so-luxurious one depending on season). As you can see, the price point when it comes to deciding matters.
- They’re homely – no Cuba hotel can remotely compare to the homeliness you’ll find in a casa particular, or at least in most of them (there are some super stylish, fashionable ones that feel more like mini hotels than homes but they are the exception rather than the rule). With the majority of casas particulares either having a live-in host or having had one at some point, the raw and real home factor is very welcoming and authentic. The way these homes are looked after adds to that cosy home away from home feeling. The host might or might not live onsite (almost always they will at least live next door, or in the upper floor), but regardless, a Cuban family will always be behind your casa particular and lovingly look after the property as if it were their own home (because it is!).
- They put you in touch with the real Cuba – be it through the décor (sometimes kitsch, sometimes vintage, others shabby chic but always 100% Cuban) a casa particular will show you real Cuba in its rawest, most authentic way. Whether you share your private accommodation in Havana with a live-in host (over 80% 0 you stay in an independent casa particular (where sometimes the host might pop up to serve breakfast or host special dinner meals upon request) you will feel closer to what a real Cuban feels like by living more or less like one for a few days. And you can only do that by staying in a casa particular. You can also learn more about the struggles, dreams and hopes of the average Cuban by exchanging with your local hosts. The Cuba holiday experience will in turn be all the more enriching and multi-dimensional.
- Home-cooked breakfasts (and meals) – yes, staying in a Cuban bed and breakfast means that you’ll enjoy cooked breakfasts, whether that means a full English (harder to come by in Cuba due to possible ingredient shortage, but doable if you let your hosts know in advance of arrival), continental or European. Expect plenty of fresh fruit in season to grace the breakfast table, eggs cooked anyway you want (although many Cubans offer scrambled or French omelette as standard), buttered toast and a cold platter (cheese and ham slices most likely). It’s unlikely that all hosts at casas particulares will have commercial cereal boxes, and even if they do it won’t be the brand you’re used to back home, but hey! you’re in Cuba, savour the local flavours instead!
- Attentive hosts that will go out of their way to make your stay a memorable one and who will give you insider tips to make the most of your visit. They’ll point you in the right direction so that you enjoy the best of the local culture, gastronomy and nightlife. They can recommend everything, from day trips outside Havana to finding the right classic car driver for that scenic ride or telling you which salsa band plays where or where to enjoy the best contemporary art. With Cuba often lacking reliable schedules and shows/events/concerts announced with very little advance notice, only Cubans living there know where everything happens, having that valuable knowledge will prove handy in more ways than one!
- Personalised service in every way – OK, so the finest hotels in Havana will probably have that but you’ll be paying up $$$ for it when in a casa particular, you’ll enjoy personalised attention to detail for a lot less with the added charm of a real local providing it. Most hosts at casa particulares are very accommodating and will try their best to accommodate any special needs or requests you may have in ways that no hotel desk clerk can or would. Plus, you’ll really appreciate the effort knowing that they have limited resources, and they really do wonders with what little they have!
- The satisfying feeling of giving back – never forget that by staying in a casa particular you’re directly contributing to the economy of a Cuban family and supplementing their monthly wages. After you’ve been to Cuba and learned about the struggles of Cuban daily life, the shortages, and adversities, you’ll be that much happier to have given back in your own way, with the cost of your stay!
FAQs – what you need to know about a casa particular in Havana (and anywhere in Cuba)
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about staying in a casa particular in Havana and beyond. We’ll update this section as we receive more questions from our past guests.
Do you have to share a bathroom in a casa particular?
Staying in a casa particular can mean staying in a room in a privately-owned Cuban house while sharing facilities like kitchen and living room, patio or terrace with the live-in hosts and other guests, but rarely ever a bathroom, as the vast majority (over 90%) of rooms offered in casas particulares come with their own ensuite bathroom. At Cuba Casa, you can count on every casa particular having its own private bathroom and we’d venture to say that virtually every casa particular in Havana nowadays comes with ensuite bathroom too. Elsewhere in Cuba, casas particulares have evolved at a slower pace than Havana and in some cases, you may still have to share bathrooms with live-in hosts and other guests. In any case, even if you have to share a bathroom in more rural parts of Cuba, attentive hosts will go out of their way to procure a smooth experience and cater to guests as best as they can.
Can you use the kitchen facilities at a casa particular?
Why, of course you can! Not only that, you’re encouraged to do so if you like, the idea is for you to feel at home in every way possible. Like we said earlier, most casas particulares either have a separate kitchenette for guests or, in the case of live-in hosts, they tend to have separate live-in quarters with their own separate kitchen so that the kitchen closest to your room is always at your disposal. There might be a minority of cases where you share your casa particular’s kitchen with the hosts and in said cases, they might talk to you about your preferences on what times of day you’d like the kitchen to be free so that you can cook up your own meals or, more likely, they will want to cook for you and share their family dinner (sometimes at a cost, sometimes as a welcome gesture). In any case, if you’d like to cook all your meals during your Cuba holiday you only need to tell them so and they’ll be happy to be out of your way. More likely than not, especially if you’re staying in a casa particular in Havana, you won’t need to say a word since you’ll have the use of a full kitchen or kitchenette all to yourself (or maybe shared with another couple of guests. In some cases, they might even offer to do the grocery shopping for you and help you stock up during your visit.
How many guests can stay in a casa particular?
Should I stay in a casa particular with live-in host or an independent one?
There’s no right answer here, as you can imagine, this depends on your preferences. Having a live-in host, live-in couple or live-in family doesn’t mean you’ll be knocking elbows constantly. Far from it, Cuban hosts will take care to be out of your way most of the time and in the vast majority of quarters they have their living quarters separate from the rooms they rent to hosts. Whether it’s a second floor or a converted extension, or simply that their room is on the opposite side of the house, they like to give guests plenty of breathing space. You might share some communal areas like front porches, gardens, courtyard or inner patios during coffee time and this might prove a great time for cultural exchanges and light-hearted chatter.
If you opt for an independent casa particular (most of these are apartment or flats) you will of course enjoy the greatest privacy of all but will still enjoy the luxury of cooked breakfasts as the hosts will either come to you or arrange some other breakfast option for your convenience. Likewise, meal or dinner requests will be tended to by hosts regardless of whether you stay in an independent casa particular or one with a live-in host.
Is staying in a casa particular safe?
Cuba is one of the safest countries in Latina America, scrap that, it is the safest country in Latin America and one of the safest in the Americas. The fact that every casa particular is licensed by the government (you’ll see the “arrendador” sign on the door or somewhere in the casa’s exterior, they must showcase the logo by law) means that every casa particular is under governmental scrutiny so no shenanigans or shady dealings take place here. On top of that, your hosts are the ones most interested in your safety and wellbeing at all times, so they will look after your belongings as if they were their own (nowadays there are rooms in casas particulares that come with safes). In fact, you might be safer in some Cuban casas than in Cuban hotels as petty thefts from maids in hotel rooms are not that uncommon!
To casa particular or not to casa particular?
Ultimately, we think staying in a casa particular is the best way of experiencing the real Cuba and the island’s many (often contradictory) facets. Whether or not you agree with us, can only be determined by giving it a go…you’ll never know until you’ve tried it! So, do go on, click on the book button and give one of our beautiful, charming Cuban casas a chance, we guarantee you won’t regret it!