How to book a Casa Particular in Cuba

Last update 02/2020

Do Book a Casa Particular!

The best way to discover Cuba is book a Casa Particular. Sometimes this is confused with ‘staying at the home of real Cubans’ but you have to realize that most Casa owners are the elite Cubans because they have access to hard currency. The ‘real’ Cubans would be the people that work in your Casa and you would not want to sleep in their houses if you want a toilet that flushes and a shower.

There are different ways to book a Casa particular:

Safe and sure

Go safe and surf the web.

Or just google: ‘Book a casa particular’ and you will find loads of booking sites. Don’t be surprised that the Casa you’ve booked is full and they take you to another one. That’s just Cuban business… They make a commission on that… Most Casa’s you will find on the internet, however, are professional B&Bs. The fun is gone as soon as they start calling their guests ‘clients’. It’s still closer to the real Cuba than any hotel but mostly it’s strictly business.

Internet sites

The websites that group loads of casas are called agencies in Cuba… They collect a commission (which is added to the price you pay). It’s easy to spot the ‘internet Agencies’… The base price seems to be 30CUC/night. This means they pocket 5/10 CUC… If the base price is around 35 you’re dealing with a ‘Casa shark’. If on top of that there is a booking fee… (this price range is for houses that are not in Old Town Havana or Vedado. There prices are a bit higher)

More about the commission system in our book.

Budget

A new class of Casas emerged last year. On a Casa Particuar permit, they rent out beds and not rooms. Perfect for travelers on a budget and mostley found in Havana. Here’s a post about hostels for backpackers.

AirBnB & Booking.com

When AirBnB came to Cuba in 2015 You could find Cuban houses on AirBnB but you couldn’t book them. It was just a PR stunt. AirBnB couldn’t transfer funds to Cuba so they couldn’t pay the Cuban owners… Some of the house owners weren’t even aware that they were on AirBnB!

Update March 2016. Obama brought a present… from now on everybody can book via Airbnb and Airbnb is allowed to pay the homeowners their fees. This evokes an ethical/practical question. We explain in our book how the commission system works. Jineteros pocket 5 CUC per night and thus raise the price of your house. That’s too bad but the money at least stays in (or comes to) Cuba and helps the local economy.

Now Airbnb is the super jinetero peddling housing. The problem is that the 5 CUC now becomes 15% and the money never gets to Cuba. It’s being skimmed by an American multinational. So the Cuban economy is less stimulated if you book through Airbnb… We are not very happy with this because we think Cuban Jineteros are nicer that American multinationals and we prefer that they make a few dollar. The choice is yours.

Bad for Cuba

Another update 2017. AirBnB is about 2 months behind with payments. Blablabla about the US embargo…Homeowners refuse bookings… It’s a mess… Forget about AirBnB… On top of that they drive prices down with their logaritms. Good news for you, very bad for the Cubans who already have to struggle to make ends meet and pay the hefty taxes. I met a guy who was very proud he rented a room for 7,85 per night… That is simply abusing the home owner who is forced to rent his room to pay taxes.

Booking.com suspended it’s Cuban platform in December ’19. So I don’t have to rant about them anymore :-)… Or do we? You can’t book a Casa Particular via Booking but you can book a hotel. (Which you should not do… Price/quality is going to disappoint you…)

If you still want to book via AirBnB you have to fill in a form to declare you are abiding to US regulations. If you are not an US citizen you can fill in whatever you want, the form does not apply to you.

Cuba-Junky

You could download the Casa-app from Cuba-Junky… loads of Casas! Cuba-Junky does not charge a commission to the casa’s they promote. The downside is that you will have to comunicate yourself and that is mostly done in Spanish. (Google translate is your friend!)

Adventure

Less sure is just go with the flow and find a Casa wherever you are. This might cost you a few dollars in commission and you have no clue as to where you end up. It might be a villa or a dump… Every Cuban you meet on the street is willing to help you find a Casa Particular. Just wander the streets and you or a helpful Cuban will find you one… This always will get you a bed… Mange, sometimes, is optional!

Not a very good casa particular
another Casa particular

Authentic

You could also send me a mail at cubabookconga@gmail.com and if I’m not in Havana “my” house (as in the Casa particular I always stay) is available. You can not find this house over the internet, nor will you stroll by it,  it’s outside the tourist zones…

It is a luxury house (even with a hot water Balloon) and the people are my friends… (that means I consider them very nice!). This is my way of helping them out a bit… Don’t worry about the commission… They serve me a good meal once in a while, however! :-).

Have to be a bit of a bitch here… This offer is only valid for people that bought the book… I’m not a ‘for free’ travel agency. Sorry that I have to say this here.

Do book a Casa Particular!

Anyways, the way to go is booking a casa particular! You can’t get closer to the real Cuba.

Read more about Casas Particular in our book. We’ll show you the tricks and explain the best method to deal with this particular system.

After you found a Casa, you have to rent a car or find yourself another form of transportation. We would recommend the last option… Renting a car can be a hassle and we have a better solution!

Gifts for Cubans

What are appreciated gifts for Cubans?

Update August ’18

Why gifts and for whom?

If you want to take some gifts for Cubans with you to thank them or just to make them happy, you should consider a few things:

  • Who do you want to make happy?

    • The owners of you casa particular is not a needy person. They have access to hard currency (via you) and can buy most of the stuff they need. The same goes for the barkeeper in your hotel and all other Cubans that come into direct contact with tourists. They are the rich people in Cuba.
    • The average Cuban does not have access to hard currency and has different needs.
  • What to give Cubans?

    • The first group mentioned above often sell the gifts you give them to the second. Thus giving a gift to the owner of your casa particular makes the divide between the haves and have-nots in Cuba bigger. They ‘need’ an iPhone, iPad, Nina Ricci perfume or a laptop. So if your goal is to make them happy, be prepared to bring big gifts to Cuba.
    • The second group, the ‘regular’ Cubans have entirely different needs. You make them happy with clothes (not the worn ones with holes and stains, Cubans have their pride too!), sewing machine needles, fishing gear and all kinds of things people need for daily survival.

Soap and shampoo… NO!

  • Some websites advocate bringing things like soap and shampoo. It is a shame to load up your luggage with those products as they are for sale at the local stores. So if you want to give a bar of soap to somebody, just buy one! (And soap is cheaper in Cuba.)
  • You should bring stuff that they can use, and that is not for sale in Cuba. Bring a bundle of pens and walk into a school to donate them. This makes for an excellent excursion, and the teachers will gladly show you the school. Bring medicine and donate it to a local clinic. This too will make for a great excursion where you can see behind the scenes of Cuba’s famous health care system.

Why give?

Now prepare for some introspection. What does it mean that you want to give stuff away? You might consider yourself a good Samaritan but it implies that you feel that the Cubans are poor and helpless. They are not! (Which does not mean that there are no poor and helpless Cubans, but you have the same poor and helpless people in your home town. Better to be poor in Cuba! )

Do you hand out soap to the homes in your country?

So far a few tips on gifts for Cubans. Before you go, however, give yourself a present. Buy our book (100% money back guarantee if you don’t learn a lot) and go to Cuba well prepared! You’ll at least save a few hours of your precious time!

Children

And please don’t give to begging children. They should be in school!!! We should not learn the young Cubans that tourists are the easy way to get stuff. There is a lot of talk about de Jineteros that are pestering people. We the tourists are to blame for their behavior! We taught them that we are the easy prey that provides everything and more…

Another absurd story? How to buy a fridge in Cuba

Or: Do you think Cuba has two currencies?

Enjoy Cuba!

10 things about Cuba

Here are 10 things about Cuba your travel agent hides but you should know

1 Moneda Nacional.

Everybody, including you as a tourist, is allowed to pay for stuff in Pesos. CUC is not tourist money, it is the Cuban equivalent of hard currency. You can buy Moneda Nacional at the Cadeca where you go to change your own currency into CUC. Travel agents want you to spend your money in their controlled environment and thus often misinform their customers. Moneda Nacional can be used to buy stuff at the market, food on the streets or cafeterias and might reduce your cost for a coffee by 97%! So get some and enjoy the benefits.

2 Commission.

Everything in Cuba revolves around an informal commission system. In short: everybody that introduces a customer (you) at any place will reap a commission for that service. The friendly old man that invites you for a coffee (and then orders a Mojito) and lets you pay will receive a commission on that. The women that takes you to a restaurant… commission… the boy that shows you a casa particular… commission. The milk powder you buy for that sweet baby… Commission… By the way, milk is supplied for free until the age of 7…

Good service and advice are worth some money, but the commission system has incentives to refer you to the most expensive places, of which some have bad service and bad food/lodging/drinks etc.

The problem about this system is that not only you don’t get a very good price/quality ratio, the commission is added to your tab and you thus pay for the high prices you pay… Read up on Jineteros plz.

3 Personnel

The Cubans that work in hotels, restaurants and bars are among the richest in the country. Every hotel maid has a shop in town where she sells the soaps, shampoos and other stuff she gets from the guests. Tour operators tell you that it is customary to leave a one CUC tip per day on top of that. If you want to tip and thus help people, tip the ones not involved in the tourist industry. By the way, beggars are part of the tourism sector! (see number 6 of 10 things about Cuba your travel agent does not want you to know)

4 Wealth

Cubans don’t have a meager life and are not suppressed by the regime (the fact that we call it a regime has a negative connotation about it… we have a government don’t we?). The average Cuban has the same literacy and life expectancy as we do. A lot of basic life necessities are (almost) for free. Cubans don’t have it as bad as you are led to believe.

5 Crime

Cuba is one of the safest countries I have been (and I’ve traveled extensively)… Just watch your belongings, petty theft occurs, but relax… You are safe in Cuba. Overall Cubans are honest people but some of them need a bit of help to stay honest.

6 Beggars

Most Cubans are grateful if you give them something they otherwise cannot get. But beware, most Cubans you will meet as a novice tourist made a job out of being grateful! As said before, beggars work in the tourism sector and thus are rich… You will have a very hard time to find a beggar outside of the tourist areas!

The lovely old lady with her big cigar that let’s you take her picture for a CUC has, even to our western standards, an excellent income.

7 Salary

You are led to believe that a doctor earns 25 CUC a month and in fact that is true… But 90% of the Cuban economy is unofficial. This fact gives a total different perspective on work and salary. You and I go to work to earn money… and we think that is normal. In Cuba the perspective is the opposite. While at work you can’t make money so actually going to work is a waste of time… The average Cuban in Havana spends about 100-200 CUC a month and earns 15-20… So salary in Cuba has no effect on the standard of living! (Wrap your mind around that for a while, it will make you understand Cuba a lot better.)

8 Prices

You’ve been told that prices in Cuba are about the same as prices in Western countries. That is simply false. Basic goods (f.e. food, electricity, clothes (basic), bus fare) are a lot cheaper while luxury goods (f.e. mobile phones, air conditioning, laptops, cars) are a lot more expensive. It is very hard to compare the cost of living in Cuba to our own. Don’t try, just accept the difference and realise that our way of doing ‘economy’ is much more efficient, Cuba’s way is way more egalitarian.

9 All Cubans are friendly

NOT true. Just as in the ‘real’ world where the ‘real’ people live some people are friendly, others are not. Cuba is not a sanctuary for nice and friendly people! Most people that are nice to you by the way have a hidden agenda (see point 2 of 10 things about Cuba your travel agent does not want you to know)

10 Nothing is what it seems

Our reference frame just does not fit Cuba. Nothing is what it seems and your assessment of a situation is almost always wrong. Therefore we developed the game CubaConga. We help you getting a better insight into the real Cuban life. We are told it is funny and informative and you should read it! (we’ve been told).

Get it now and get more out of your Cuban experience! In your inbox within two minutes. It’s not just a collection of blog posts; we go one or two levels deeper in the book… On the ‘order the book page’ we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours…

Or you could read the ten most fun things you can do in Cuba

Enjoy Cuba!

Read up about renting a car before you even think about doing so!

Reviews CubaConga

Here are some reviews about CubaConga

 

Review CubaConga

We are beginning to reap the benefits of positive reviews.

HotelsCheap interviewed me. You can read it here.

CubaBookingRoom is also very happy with our book.

Cuba-Junky has put us on the front page! Yes, on the bottom of the front page, but still… the front page!

We are for sale at Amazon now. However, we would love you to check out the reviews there and buy it here… Amazon is a bit of a Jinetero 🙂

The reviews are considered genuine (and they are) by these guys

Forums and discussion panels.

People that know what they are talking about are very positive! On the other hand, on some Cuba forums, we are trashed and praised. People on forums tend to have strong opinions, even about things they don’t know anything about…

We just don’t get offended or happy with forum comments…

Here in Dutch for instance… Very mixed opinions

We are recommended by Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet (which is funny because we trash LP 🙂 ). Better, we thrash people that are individual, adventurous travellers that all have the same bucket list and eat the same dessert at the same restaurant because de L.P. says so…

 

 

Black market

The best market in Cuba is black

About 90% of the Cuban economy is unofficial. Official channels have a very limited offer on their shelves, the black market provides almost everything. This leads to an interesting error of judgment most tourists make. We think when we hear that the average salary is about 20 $ and something costs 10 $ that the average Cuban will have to work 15 days to buy it. Sounds logical, doesn’t it?

Well, thanks to the black market (la bolsa negra), things do not add up that way.

How to survive in Cuba

Our logic dictates that we go to work to earn money. That’s not the case in Cuba.

To live, Cubans in Havana need about 150-200 $ a month (outside Havana half that amount). If your salary is 15 and you need 200… you have to make some money on the side… The money you make “on the side” is your main income.

Black eggs
Black eggs

Every Cuban is forced to be active on the black market somehow. And they all are. This renders the “official salary” a useless way of measuring prices and spendable income. Real incomes are higher than you are told, and real prices are lower than you think.

Thanks to the black market in Cuba, people can survive, make money, buy goods and since this is not in the official statistics, we make a very wrong estimation of the real situation.

Not poor

Too manny people believe that the Cubans are poor and helpless… They are not! Rich Cubans exist. Poor Cubans too. Another myth is that all Cubans live of foreigners. Not true either, Cuban has it’s hidden economy and market.

Find the black market

For a tourist, this black market is sometimes hard to find. Yes, taking an illegal taxi is easy, but finding an iPad or a fish tank will be very hard for you… Cubans are always on the lookout for contacts that can supply them stuff or that can become customers for the stuff they happen to sell. Their networks are very efficient, and that makes for a very effective black market. To complicate things, not everything on the ‘informal’ market is black :-).

Read more about the stunning paradoxes that rule Cuba in our book… On this page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours in Cuba.

Last updated July 2018

Recommended Reading:

Everybody operating la bolsa negra is a jinetero

Better not rent a Car

Casa Particular Cuba

Casa Particular in Cuba

A casa particular is the official Bed and Breakfast in Cuba. They are often referred to as ‘sleeping in the houses of real Cubans’. This is a euphemism. Most owners of the Casas are social upper-class, party members and relatively rich. The real Cuban cleans and cooks at your Casa Particular for 2 or 3 CUC a day.

Things change quickly in Cuba… there is a newer post about how to book a Casa Particular here

The word “casa particular” means ‘private or lonely house’… that’s why most of them are in buildings and crowded areas… :-). Bring ear plugs, Cuba has a wall of back ground noice.

The real Cuban houses

If you want to know how real Cubans live, get yourself invited to a meal at the home of the cleaning lady at your casa. Be discreet; Casa owners do not like their personnel to mingle with tourists. So that you know, the owner of your Casa Particular is NOT a typical Cuban.
Still the Casas are by far the best way to get to know the country. I would prefer a Casa Particular above a hotel anytime. Better service, better food, better beds (most of the time), friendlier people and more freedom.
You can recognise an official Casa by this sign.

Casa-Particular-Divisa

It has to be blue. The red signs indicate that’s a Casa Particular for Cubans only, mostly rented by the hour.

Pitfalls

Staying in a Casa Particular has some pitfalls too. That’s why you should read our book. We help you travel Cuba the smart way and will not only save you a lot of money, we will give you insights about the country, and it’s people that are off the record and (sometimes) politically incorrect but true.
You can either pre-book your Casa over the internet or find yourself one on the spot. Here is a site with many Casa’s. Finding a Casa Particular is no problem. I never pre-book and always get a good deal because I understand the game… You might too if you go through the trouble of reading our book.

Best option

Still, the Casa particular is by far the best way to get to know the Cuba. We help you understand the way this works and explain what you can negotiate and what not.
You must understand that the Casas are heavily taxed and thus seem very expensive if you compare their prices to the monthly pay a Cuban receives. But they are only taxed on the rooms they rent, not on the food they serve you.
We have a whole chapter of tips and advice how to handle the pitfalls you can encounter in your Casa. Please read it to prepare your stay. You can start by reading part of our book on this site.
To download the whole book, you must compensate our troubles with a few Euros  :-).

On the ‘order the book’ page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours…