A visit to Cuba induces a sensory overload. The smells and tastes of the Caribbean combine with Cuba's native creativity - here everyone is an artist, whether a musician, dancer, painter, or poet. The mixture of a simple lifestyle with all the colorful 1950’s cars parked in front of the faded glory of colonial and neo-classical architecture is just the beginning. With changes in the government and Raul Castro’s appointment in 2006, the country is progressing rapidly and over the coming years will change and modernize, so now is the right time to plan a visit.
Although there are hotels in Cuba, like me, many people visiting this beautiful island prefer homestay accommodation with local families. for a touch of the authentic and local...
A homestay means you'll stay with a Cuban host family in a room they rent out to paying visitors. This 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 certain homes all over Cuba to be able to rent either a room, apartment or even a whole house to visiting tourists and each home that has been approved 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 rooms 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.
ATM's are hard to find in Cuba and often are either out of cash or not working. I found the easiest thing to do was to change some UK pounds into Cuban CUC's at the airport. Everywhere we went this is the accepted currency for tourists and everything is priced in CUC's (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 just £15 a night.
At every homestay we were also offered 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 choice of meal for the evening - generally it was either pork, chicken or lobster(!). This was served with bread, salad, rice, beans and beers (extra cost).
Most homestays 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.
We were told before we left home that things like batteries, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrushes are a welcome gift to any Cuban as they are in seriously short supply, so we stocked up at the pound shop at home and left our new friends with some helpful gifts.
For the Cubans we stayed with, the money we paid for a night's accommodation in their home was an important addition to their income. Our hosts were all lovely and friendly and couldn’t do enough to make our stay enjoyable.
It's not really 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 just 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 RTW trip, or to combine it with on a multi-stop ticket with other countries in central or South America. I can offer some great round the world routes that include Cuba like this - contact me if you would like a quote:
London - Singapore - Denpasar (Bali) - Sydney // Brisbane - Auckland // Christchurch - Fiji - Los Angeles - Mexico City - Havana - London Flights from £1,549 pp including taxes