A recap of my experience living with an Angel in a Casa Particular during my short time in Cuba. Keep reading to find out how you can stay with a local during your visit to Cuba.
When I arrived at my casa particular after dark, Mirtha was sitting outside on her steps waiting for me with a smile on her face.
When I struggled to lug my bags up the stairs to her 3rd-floor apartment, she used all of her strength to help me out even though I insisted that it was fine.
When I couldn’t understand her fast Spanish, she remained patient & slowed her speech without getting annoyed or giving up altogether.
When I was in her presence, she would basically force me to eat whether I was hungry or not - the ultimate sign of love in many cultures. This included Ropa vieja, Arroz Congri, Arroz con Leche, Malanga, Yuca Frita, Maduros, Pan con queso, Guayaba. ALL of the food!
When I told her I felt sick(vomiting 5 times in one day), she immediately rushed out the door & returned with fresh bread, Malanga, activated charcoal, and hot tea to make me feel better- no questions asked.
When I asked her about bus tickets, she spent 3(1 hour waiting on the bus bc Cuba) hours in the heat to accompany me to the bus station.
When I had no plans, she prompted me to join her in watching her favorite telenovelas.
When I said goodbye, she gifted me with a necklace made out of material that can only be found in Cuba & a piece of her art because she loved art and she remembered that I did too.
So what was the catch? I wondered the same.
There wasn't one.
This woman treated me as if I was her daughter, simply out of the kindness of her heart.
Listening to her tell stories, grocery shopping with her, meeting her family members, watching her cook, and simply being in her presence gave me special insight into the life of a Cuban woman.
After a long day spent in the streets loud streets of Havana, her quiet home was like a refuge to return to. How could a stranger be so kind? I nearly cried when I left.
WHAT IS A CASA PARTICULAR
If you're headed to Cuba and have yet to decide where to stay - a casa particular is the way to go! In 1997, Cuban citizens were given permission to rent out their private homes to tourists giving them a chance to become self-employed and earn extra income. A casa particular is essentially a homestay or B&B. You can reserve a room or an entire home.
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BENEFITS OF STAYING IN A CASA PARTICULAR
- Under the 'Support for the Cuban People' category, US citizens must spend most of their time interacting with locals and this is one way to fulfill that requirement. Due to new restrictions, it's illegal to stay in many hotels anyway.
- This is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture of Cuba and learn about how the people truly live. To eat, drink, & dance with the locals. That experience up there? You can't get that in a hotel.
- The owners can give your recommendations, book taxis for you, make phone calls for you, and simply be your lifeline while in Cuba.
- You are putting your tourist dollars directly into the hands of Cubans, giving them a chance to earn more than the typical $25-$30 a month.
- Casa particulars are typically affordable, ranging from $15-$50 a night.
- Probably the best dang food you'll have in Cuba
HOW TO BOOK A CASA PARTICULAR IN CUBA
They aren't hard to find. Everyone & their mother seems to rent a room out. You can either book a casa particular online in advance or you can just show up once you arrive in Cuba.
I'd highly advise you to book in advance online for the first several days or so, especially during high season(Mid December - March). I booked my first week online so that I could have a place as soon as I arrived in the city without having to carry my bags around in a place I'd never been. I left the remaining week open & simply showed up.
When you book through Airbnb:
- You can read reviews. This is always huge to me. You can know exactly what to expect in regards to cleanliness, A/C, surrounding areas, service, what the host is like, and other things that you might not normally think of.
- I chose Mirtha's Airbnb because reviewers described her as very "warm" and "talkative". They were right. I simply showed up at the other two casas I stayed at and the hosts treated the experience solely like a transaction, which is fine. Clearly, it paid off to know what I was getting myself into beforehand.
- You have a guaranteed place to stay. This is huge during high season. Sometimes casa owners overbook, so it feels safer to know that you've already got a place to stay. There's no need to waste time going from door to door for a room.
- It's a trusted site. As a solo female traveler, I felt better booking through Airbnb because my records were available in case something went wrong. I frequently use the website, so I felt more comfortable by booking here than through other sites or by just showing up.
- Less cash. You pay upfront when booking through Airbnb. This limits the amount of cash you need to carry around, especially since ATMs don't work for US citizens. This is also ideal if you need to stick to a certain budget.
Note: You cannot book through the Airbnb site while you are IN Cuba, so you must book before you arrive. If you need to book a room after you've arrived, you can simply try to message the host or ask a friend back home to book it for you.
You can also search for Casas on Booking.com
JUST SHOW UP
When you just show up:
- More options. There are way too many Casas to choose from & many aren't listed online. This includes Casas that might be lower priced. You also might be able to negotiate the price.
- You have flexibility. Since you haven't paid online in advance, you can hop around without feeling tied to one place. If you realize you don't like Havana after 2 days, you can leave without money being wasted.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT A CASA PARTICULAR
- Most rooms will have a double bed with a private bathroom, with A/C & hot water. The rooms are very basic.
- Casa owners are required to keep very detailed guest records, so you will need to hand over your passport at check-in. Don't worry, you'll get it back right away.
- In Havana, many Casas are on the 3rd, 4th, or 5th floor. There are no elevators, so this is something to consider if you plan to bring heavy luggage.
- Every host is different, some are more involved/open than others. Some see the experience as more transactional. Either way, you are not expected to spend all of your time with the host family. You'll have as much privacy as you wish because they understand that you are there to see the country.
- It might be difficult to locate your casa. Be sure write down the street address or ask around because neighbors usually know each other.
- NO WI-FI.
- Most hosts will only speak Spanish. Do yourself a favor & download Google Translate before going if you struggle with Spanish.
- The experience is what you make it. Try to talk to the hosts, ask them questions, treat their home as more than a hotel & you'll likely get the exceptional treatment in return.
While my homestay in Trinidad was more mediocre, my time in Mirtha's was the highlight of my trip. If I ever return to Cuba, her home will be my first stop. If you're interested, you can find her home here. She deserves ALL of the business.
Don't forget travel insurance! It is required in Cuba! I use World Nomads !
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