Historically significant, Cuban hotels are a must do, but to get some rest & relaxation, opt for bed & breakfasts, or Cuban Casa Particulares, as they’re called. Not only are they more abundant, but they’re privately owned and offer the luxuries that their government-owned counterparts, the hotels, do not.
The Pros and Cons of Staying in a Cuban Hotel
For most westerners, the biggest pro of staying in a Cuban hotel is wifi access. Hard to come by, Internet never seemed so out of reach as it does in Cuba. Most Cuban hotels offer internet access in the lobby with wifi cards available at the reception desk and charge by the hour. The biggest task is finding a good spot for internet reception. At Hotel Ambos Mundos, an Ernest Hemingway attraction, I found that I got the best reception standing near the elevator, beside a stranger’s luggage and with my cell phone slightly raised.
Other amenities, such as restaurants, bars and pools, can also be considered a pro of staying in a Cuban hotel. But why dine at a hotel when the paladares offer better dishes, more flavors and total devotion to quality food? Paladares are privately-owned restaurants, and they’re slowly taking over the dining scene in Cuba, which is a good thing.
Magnificent from afar, the biggest drawbacks to Cuban hotels are cleanliness, attention to detail and hospitality. Sitting at Iberostar Parque Central in Havana, trying for internet access, a roach slowly crosses our table, in search of nothing in particular. The lobby is buzzing with energy—tourists booking their daily trips from the government-run travel agency (the only option), hotel workers tending to guests, answering phones and discarding used ash trays, and the rest of us moving from table to table in search for a good connection. It’s busy, it’s bustling and it’s a typical hotel experience in Cuba.
For hotel rooms that run roughly $150-$250 US, I expect it to be immaculate, a great place to dine and the best place to wind down after a long day of site seeing.
How Cuban Casa Particulares Stack Up to Their Hotel Competitors
The biggest reason for staying at a Cuban Casa Particulares is affordability. Averaging $50/night for a private apartment in the prime location of Old Havana, B&Bs are an easy “yes!” for every traveler.
We booked Casa Yarimel in the middle of Old Havana. Located on the third floor of an apartment building, the place is clean, the air is cold and the welcome is hospitable. It was our home for 3 days, and we loved it.
In Varadero, we found a perfect stay at Casa Yairi & Tito, which sits in a small neighborhood right off the main strip. At $35/night for our own room, our own bathroom, hot water and air conditioning, it was everything that we hoped it would be. The place is clean, and the bathroom offers all the luxuries that a westerner would expect—large vanity, modern toilet and spacious shower.
While we were offered breakfast at $5 CUC—typical for most casas—we opted to go to Panderia Dona Neli, the local bakery, every morning for fresh breakfast rolls and a hot coffee at Casa de la Musica.
A well-known tourist spot, Varadero offers tons of all-inclusive hotels located at the far end of its peninsula. Our casa was far from the hotel zone. It was situated in a quiet neighborhood where everyone woke up early for coffee and errands. At sundown, front doors would swing open and stay that way until bedtime. A short walk, the crystal-clear water and white-sand beach welcomes all. Cuban casa particulares give you a taste of real life. They’re easily the most affordable option, but also the most culturally fulfilling.
Your Best Resources for Booking a Stay in Cuba
At the time of my booking, there still wasn’t a US-based travel site that offered hotel options in Cuba. Now, Expedia has started to offer hotel and b&b bookings. Using Airbnb to find a casa in Havana is a great starting point, but book your stay directly with the b&b for the best deal.
How do you do this? You ask. Start by going to Cuba-Junky. It has email forms for some of the casas, but only a very select few. Either download the cuba-junky app to get email addresses for casas, or research it and try to find an email address through googling.
Another options is CubaCasas. It’s a difficult site to navigate, but it does offer pictures, and phone and email contacts for casas. I found our casa particular in Varadero through Cuba-Junky. I filled out their email form, left my email address, and someone from the casa responded within a day to my request.
So if you’re planning a trip to Cuba, skip the hotels and stay at bed & breakfasts, or casa particulares. They offer much more than a clean room and a shower. The real-life experience, true Cuban hospitality and the attention to cleanliness, detail and comfort make them the best choice for any traveler.