A visit to Cuba induces a sensory overload. The smells and tastes of the Caribbean combine with Cuba's creativity - here everyone is an artist, whether a musician, dancer, painter, or poet. The mixture of a simple lifestyle with all the colourful classic cars parked in front of the faded glory of colonial and neo-classical architecture is just the beginning. The country is progressing rapidly and over the coming years will change and modernise, so now is the right time to plan a visit.
Although there are hotels, when thinking about where to stay in Cuba, many people visiting this beautiful island prefer homestay accommodation. Staying in a 'casa particular' with a local family adds so much value to your trip. It's authentic, local and of direct benefit to the Cuban families.
A homestay means you'll stay with a Cuban host family in a room they rent out to paying visitors. This type of lodging offers a much more authentic travel experience and a genuinely unique opportunity to see how Cubans live every day and to share customs and stories with local people.
Sitting with a family in Cuba and sharing a traditional meal has to be one of my favourite ways to learn about their culture and day-to-day life. The government has approved specific homes all over Cuba to be able to rent either a room, apartment or even a whole house for visiting tourists. Each approved home has a blue sign outside.
There are many different types of homestay, and the standard can vary greatly, although prices are pretty similar. I stayed with one family in Havana with just one room to rent, but then I stayed in another which had three bedrooms each with a beautiful balcony and a view of the Capitolio!
In Havana, homestay prices range between £25 -£35 and you can always add a home-cooked breakfast for around £2.50. My experience proved that homestay breakfasts are much better than those I had in the hotels I stayed in - you can expect a breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, fresh bread, coffee, juice, tomatoes, cheese, honey and jams, plus little cakes.
ATMs are hard to find in Cuba and often are either out of cash or not working. I found the most natural thing to do was to change some UK pounds into Cuban CUCs at the airport. Everywhere we went this is the accepted currency for tourists, and everything is priced in CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos). Hotels also change money, and there seemed to be a fixed exchange rate that is the same everywhere.
Outside of Havana, you'll find the homestays are slightly cheaper, and you tend to get more for your money. In Trinidad, we stayed in a lovely home called “Casa de Carmen” which was a beautifully restored old house painted in bright colours. The whole of the top floor was taken up with two bedrooms and a roof terrace with some old rocking chairs, with amazing views over Trinidad, the mountains and all the way to Playa Ancon in the distance. We paid £15 a night!
Every homestay host also offered us an evening meal. I think eating with your host family is the best way to eat in Cuba! Restaurants tend to run out of ingredients and can be over-priced. The evening meals we had at the homestays all cost around £5 per person and were delicious. At breakfast, they'll ask you for your dinner choice that evening; generally, it was either pork, chicken or lobster(!). This was served with bread, salad, rice, beans and beers (extra cost).
Most 'casas' include towels and perhaps a little bar of soap. Every homestay I stayed in had a private bathroom separate from the family, and all were spotlessly clean. If the homestay has more than one room, then it is possible you could be sharing with other tourists.
Before leaving the UK, we were told that things like batteries, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrushes make great welcome gifts for Cubans as they are in seriously short supply, so we stocked up at the pound shop at home and left our new friends with some practical gifts.
For the Cubans we stayed with, the money we paid for a night's accommodation in their home was an essential addition to their income. Our hosts were all lovely and friendly and couldn’t do enough to make our stay enjoyable.
It's not possible to book homestays unless you visit Cuba as part of a tour like the 8-Day Cuba Original Tour (from £399 per person) or the 15 day Original Cuba tour (from £659 per person). If you aren’t part of an organised group, it's best to try turning up and knock on the door to see if they have availability. Always have a look at the room and if you like it, take it, if you don’t walk around the corner and knock on another door! It’s that simple. Don't worry, there are many, many homestays and they're easy to find. Most of the locals will point you in the direction of a friend who is offering rooms!
There are several ways to include Cuba in your round the world flights or to combine Cuba with other countries in central or South America. We can tailor-make your Cuba holiday either as a stand-alone destination or as part of a wider itinerary, and we can arrange all flights and transfers, accommodation and touring - just call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote.