Trying to decide where to stay in Cuba? Here’s a guide to the different accommodation types and locations focused on Havana. Though it applies equally well across the island.
By the end of this short article you’ll understand why smart travellers choose to book their accommodation in Cuba on Airbnb.
Cuban Accommodation | Types
There are only two types of accommodation in Cuba. There are conventional hotels and ‘casa particulars’ which are home stays of the type you are likely familiar with if you have used Airbnb.
In fact, all of the Airbnb’s shown in Cuba are casa particulars. They are private properties registered with the government for the provision of accommodation to foreigners.
Each location you stay will need to record and register your stay on their premises with the government. Whether you stay in a hotel or a casa particular, they will take down your passport details and the dates you stayed and record them.
Don’t expect to be able to randomly couch surf your way across Cuba. It won’t happen and you will need to be registered and booked according to the government regulations prevailing at that time.
So, there’s two types of accommodation in Cuba. There are hotels and casa particulars. But should you choose a hotel or a casa particular for your accommodation in Cuba? Well, each has its pros and cons.
Cuba Accommodation | Hotel
Cuba Hotels | Cons
When choosing a hotel in Cuba, it’s important to remember the golden rule. Nothing is as good as the rating it gives itself in Cuba.
If a hotel has a 5 star rating in Cuba it is likely a 3 star or less establishment by world standards.
Most Cubans who are rating hotels in Cuba have only recently been allowed into hotels. Prior to 2008 Cuban’s were not allowed to stay in hotels. International hotels in Cuba were reserved for foreigners prior to 2008.
Almost all Cubans who stay in hotels in Cuba today, have never stayed in a hotel outside of Cuba. Their reviews are pretty much worthless when taking into consideration whether or not a hotel is any good.
Most of the photos from Cubans on a hotel’s Google or Instagram pages will be those individuals trying to get the hotel to share their image so as to attract new Instagram followers to the posters page. As again, most young Cuban’s aspire to becoming an ‘Influencer’.
Sharing images of the ‘love stained’ couch or grotty bathroom in the suite of their 5 star hotel room likely wouldn’t result in many re-shares and follows on Instagram. So you can expect only staged photos from Cubans in skimpy attire in a hotels pool or by their bar.
It’s also likely that those individuals in the hotels images aren’t staying in the hotel. Often they’re only visiting the bar or pool for a few Instagram photos.
Cuba Hotels | Pros
The pools and bars are the saving grace of Cuban hotels. If you’ve gone with an ‘all inclusive’ package you can expect mediocre food and cheap alcohol to be readily available in or near a pool.
Pools make or break hotels in Cuba. If they don’t have a good pool, avoid them. Because it really is the pool you’re paying for.
Everything else in the place from food to service and housekeeping will be sub par. But the pool will be fantastic on a hot Cuban day.
Drinking cold Cuban beer, which is surprisingly good, while sitting in a nice pool on a hot day is sublime. And it’s what you’re actually paying for in a Cuban hotel.
If drinking in a pool everyday is not for you, then a Cuban hotel is probably not your best option. Because the rest of that 5 star hotel you’re thinking of booking will likely suck.
Here’s some images from a couple of ‘5 star hotels’ I stayed at…
Cuba Accommodation | Casa Particular
Cuba Casa particular | Pros
The alternative to hotels in Cuba are ‘casa particulars’ and most are available via the Airbnb app.
Casa particulars can either be a room in a house, home stay or an entire apartment or house which you will have to yourself. And you’ll find casa particulars on the Airbnb mobile app listed the length and breadth of the island. There are lots of casa particulars on Airbnb in every town and city in Cuba.
Where you stay will be determined by your budget and interests. But I’d personally recommend Vedado in Havana. As Vedado has less noise, smell and cuban street scammers.
Vedado is also centrally located and its a great spot from which to see Havana. Miramar and Playa are also nice. But are probably a little too far from central Havana and Habana Vieja (Old Havana) for the average traveller.
Most Airbnb’s have wifi available and your host can direct you to the nearest ECTECSA. Go to ECTECSA if you need to acquire a Cuban SIM card for your phone to access 4G LTE in Cuba.
The advantage of the casa particulars listed on Airbnb in Cuba are many. Selecting a casa particular for your Cuban accommodation on Airbnb allows you to see real ratings of the property. Ratings from travellers who have actually stayed in the property.
Airbnb is also strict on listings. The property will be as pictured and all of the items in the listing will be in the property. For most of those listing properties on Airbnb in Cuba it is their main source of income. So they will be quite carful about not misrepresenting the property.
Most casa particulars will have a regular cleaning services to keep the property tidy throughout your stay. And the maids and property owners will be less intrusive than a hotel maid service thereby affording you more privacy.
Of those casa particulars I’ve stayed in, all hosts were lovely and very helpful in adjusting to the island. If you need advice or guidance in doing something like locating a reputable WhatsApp group to exchange money in Cuba most hosts can help.
To book a casa particular simply open the Airbnb app and look for a listing in an area of interest. Simply view your preferred listing and pay in your home currency and you’re done.
Cuba Casa particular | Cons
Most casa particulars in Cuba list that they have a washing machine or laundry facilities. They often don’t have a washing machine and instead have a paid laundry service. It’s cheap and convenient yet it’s something to keep in mind.
You also should not leave booking accommodation until you arrive in Cuba. As some prefer to do.
If you leave booking a casa particular until you arrive in Cuba then you will present a large target for scammers. More so when you’re running all over town with your luggage.
The scammers will spot you on the street and you’ll appear to those scammers like a kid with hot chips at the beach looks to a flock of seagulls. They’ll come from all directions offering ‘help’.
Other than those two minor points there really are no other negatives to casa particulars in Cuba. Just remember you’ll need a VPN to access Airbnb in Cuba.
Cuba Accommodation | Conclusions
For those who actually want to see Cuba and spend longer on the island a casa particular is their best choice.
Cuban hotels are really only suited to those travellers who want cheap ‘all inclusive’ packages in a tropical climate. But then those travellers would be better off going to Bali. As the hotels and food are better in Bali and for a similar price.
The ‘all inclusive’ hotel crowd see nothing of Cuba. They simply act as a funnel of foreign currency to the Cuban government. The hotels in Cuba are generally owned or in partnership with the government.
By selecting a casa particular for your stay you’ll be supporting a local engaged in private enterprise. You will be supporting a local Cuban business.
And to top it off – not only will you likely save money, the best food and drinks in Cuba are outside of the hotels.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made a Cuba Frequently Asked Questions Page (FAQ) available on this website. And I would strongly advise you to read it before travelling to Cuba.
My Cuba FAQ page will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the Cuba FAQ Page here.