An increasingly popular alternative to Cuba's government run hotels is the Casa Particular, where you rent out a room in someone's house. They still have to be licensed by the government, but they offer a much more personal experience. Casas started up in the mid nineties, after Cuba found it needed to boost its income with tourism when the international decline of socialism left it lacking funds.
Initially used predominantly by hardened backpackers, they have gradually become more mainstream and are now an essential part of the Cuban experience for all independent travellers. Of course there is a question of whether this kind of private enterprise - and therefore earning power - is appropriate in a communist society, but that is a question for a different posting.
We stayed at Casas in three of the cities that we visited. The first was in Cienfuegos, run by Anay and Efrain. The second was in Trinidad, run by Hiraida and Jose and one in Santa Clara. The first two were both lovely places with a real feeling of being in someone's home. In Cienfuegos the house was a regular terraced building and we had an en suite bedroom and the use of a small lounge, as well as access to the roof terrace, which is where we ate.
The one in Trinidad was a beautiful large home in a lovely colonial building, and we had a large ensuite room and use of their lounges and a gorgeous patio garden. Both Anay and Efrain and Hiraida and Jose were friendly and happy to chat, although they generally left us to our own devices. Both couples gave us small gifts when we left; we especially liked receiving a CD of some of the Cuban music that the latter had been playing.
Most Casas offer reasonably priced breakfasts and evening meals too, so in both places we took them up on this for one of our two nights there. And they certainly feed you well. We had a nice variety of tasty home made dishes and they were happy to cater to my food awkwardness.
The Casa in Santa Clara was a little different. We had considered ourselves quite lucky to have managed to book into one that was highly recommended but had only two rooms available. It was especially well known for its food, which was said to be some of the best in the town. They now open up for dinner to non guests too.
However, sadly I think this is one of those cases where somewhere has been spoilt by its success. When we arrived, we discovered that we had in act been farmed out to another Casa a couple of blocks away. While that place was fine, it was not nearly as nice. We could go to the original one for meals, but the new Casa weren't happy that we weren't there for breakfast as that would have been extra money for them. The meals we had didn't disappoint, but it felt like a restaurant, and not at all like being in someone's home.
Generally though, I would definitely encourage staying at a Casa and certainly would be happy to recommend either of the first two. One bit of advice though, regardless of how you book, you will need to call ahead a day before you arrive to confirm your reservation.
Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.
Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.