Similar to a bed and breakfast, casa particulares (Spanish for ‘private house’), were introduced in 1997 when the government began to allow Cubans to rent out rooms in their own homes to overseas visitors as an additional source of income.
In marked contrast to all of the other forms of state organised accommodation on offer, the casa particulares are distinguished by their modest size - rarely with room for more than about 5–6 guests – individuality, friendly home-from-home atmosphere and the chance to experience real Cuba.
A few nights in a casa particular, alongside staying in more conventional hotels, can be one of the most interesting experiences when travelling in Cuba. By opting to stay with a Cuban family in their home you not only get a privileged window into everyday Cuban life, but through conversations with the family, real insight into this extraordinary 50 year old communist project. In short there’s no better way to really get under the skin. The very warm welcome you will receive and resultant camaraderie often leads to genuine friendships being struck with your affable hosts.
Casas - as they are shortened to - vary hugely and can be found spread throughout the whole island. Recognised by a small sign above the door with two blue triangles ('roofs') against a white background, they range from the simple and basic to increasingly sophisticated properties and knowing which one to choose is all important and requires insider knowledge.
Over the last few years the choice and quality of casa, particularly in the busier areas has been marked. Trinidad, which previously suffered from a real paucity of accommodation, now boasts a number of outstanding casas – one even has the island’s only infinity pool!
Typically beautifully presented and spotlessly clean, guests can expect to mingle in with the family, make use of their Spanish (speaking English isn’t a prerequisite to opening a casa) and being very much invited to treat the casa like their own home, coming and going as you please.
Casas, with their emphasis on home cooking, can also be a welcome break from hotel fare. Using only locally sourced ingredients, this can be a really great introduction to true Cuban food and few hosts won’t do their utmost to accommodate any requests. Breakfast is always included while dinner is typically arranged through prior arrangements with your hosts; this isn’t a typical restaurant after all.
For more information about casa particulares and the best way to splice a stay in with your visit to Cuba or alternative Homestay opportunities in Latin America please do get in touch.
By Marcela Kunova - 20th April 2017
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