If you’re travelling around Cuba on your gap year, you’re sure to stay in a casa particular or Cuban homestay. It's a great way to get to know the local people and will help if you’re on a tight budget too (although Cuba is not a cheap country for tourists). So here’s our definitive guide to staying in Cuban homestays.
Is it legal under Cuban law?
While many things for tourists in Cuba are controlled by the government many things are illegal for tourists, such as travelling in private transport - it is legal to stay in a licensed homestay. Cubans pay fee to the government in order to run their casa particular and can only rent out two rooms at a time.
Pros and cons?
Staying in a casa particular or homestay is the cheapest option in Cuba as hotels can often be very expensive. There are not really any hostels in the country, so this is your best option. It’s a great way to get to know local Cuban people and find out how they live too. It’s also a good way to make sure your money goes directly to the Cuban people themselves.
There are very few downsides to staying in Cuban homestays, although it may be different to the type of family atmosphere you are imagining. The family will often wait on you hand and foot and will eat separately from you too; and while very welcoming and friendly, you are definitely a paying guest rather than a member of the family.
How do I find a family and book somewhere?
There are many websites that list Cuban homestays - a good one is http://www.casaparticular.info/ Many are also listed in guidebooks too. Most Cubans do not have e-mail though, so booking can be fairly difficult. Try finding someone with an e-mail address or call up to book somewhere for your first few nights only, once you arrive in Cuba it will be a lot easier to book others around the country.
Homestays are often in excess here, so you’ll never find yourself without somewhere to stay. Often families will recommend a friend with a homestay in the next place you may be travelling to and will call ahead and book for you - this is generally a good way to do it.
How much does it cost?
Generally a room for two people will cost you between 20-35 Cuban Convertible Paseos, this is equivalent to £13 - £22 per night.
What are the rooms/houses like?
Cuban houses are often very nice, in beautiful old colonial houses. They may look crumbling and dirty from the outside, but inside they are clean and spacious. Most rooms are pretty basic but often have air conditioners, your own fridge and a private bathroom too. Cubans love to fill their houses with small knick knacks.
Is it safe?
Yes it is very safe, Cuban families will go out of their way to make you feel welcomed into their homes and will often give you safety advice too. All in all Cuba is a very safe country to travel in and travellers rarely have problems.
Having said that though, opportunistic crime is on the rise and while it doesn’t pose any violent danger, there have been incidents of people stealing valuables from rooms. To avoid this issue, just make sure you never leave valuables in your room, even if a safe is provided.
Do they provide meals?
Almost all homestays provide breakfasts and it’s usually a big one at that - consisting of tropical fruit, bread, omelette, coffee and juice. Sometimes breakfast will be included in the price of the room, but usually it’s extra.
In Havana most families will not offer dinner, but in most other places you will be expected to eat dinner at the house too. Meals at the homestays are generally more expensive than in restaurants, but you will be assured good food and a lot of it at that. Although you will be pushed a little into eating there every night, don’t worry about letting them know if you want to try other places a couple of nights instead.