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Emily: When I learned about America’s more relaxed policy towards travel to Cuba, I jumped at the opportunity!
Cuba has a lot to offer. My friends and I were drawn to the classic cars, the Art Deco architecture, and, of course, the friendly people! We also love music and dance, which is one of Cuba’s specialties! Rick Steves recently produced an excellent video on Cuba that’s fun and informative.
The US and Cuba reached an agreement for direct flights. Flight availability to Cuba from various US airports and search engines is ALWAYS changing, so be sure to try multiple search engines and cities, if possible. Readers have reported that some flights to Cuba from the US may be opening up. When I went to Cuba in December 2015, flights were not scheduled yet. My friends and I flew via Cancun, and continued our journey to Havana.
Note: Regulations surrounding US travel to Cuba are always changing, so make sure you check the current rules before planning your trip. There are limited opportunities to use miles & points, but you can save some money. I’ll show you how later in this series!
My travel partners included many of the same friends who accompanied me to Croatia!
Robbie (pink hair) is a professional dance instructor who teaches salsa, kizomba, and bachata. Sarita is also a dance teacher, as well as a graphic designer. Gissell teaches fitness classes and loves rock climbing.
On this trip, I went with 3 new friends – Diana, a local art teacher, Chelsea, who manages a hostel, and Antonio, who works in IT design. Traveling as a group of 7 was fun, but definitely challenging at times! We had a great time together, and can’t wait to return!
Viva Cuba! Trip Report Index:
- Part 1 – Viva Cuba! – Introduction & Planning
- Part 2 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Visa Requirements
- Part 3 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Cash Planning
- Part 4 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Internet
- Part 5 – Viva Cuba! – Flights to Cuba
- Part 6 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Stay & How to Book
- Part 7 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Stay: Casa Particular Overview
- Part 8 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Eat
- Part 9 – Viva Cuba! – The Best (Cheap) Food & Drink Options
- Part 10 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do in Havana Part 1
- Part 11 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do in Havana Part 2
- Part 12 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do – Day Beach Trips from Havana
- Part 13 – Viva Cuba! – Return Flights to the US
- Part 14 – Viva Cuba! – Conclusion & Blog Giveaway
Where to Stay
Hotels were expensive at ~$100 or more per night. Since the 7 of us are a budget-conscious crowd, the prospect of spending thousands on a few hotel rooms was NOT an option. After thoroughly investigating cheap Cuban accommodations, my friends and I decided that staying in a casa particular (a local apartment) was the best idea.
What a great decision! Our 3 bedroom apartment came with 3 full bathrooms, a dining room, a living room, and a garden room. We paid ~$17 per night per person, making it a steal! And staying together was fun too.
Our host family was a retired Cuban couple who lived in a separate place behind our casa particular. I loved hearing about their lives in Cuba. They were both teachers who worked hard to save enough money for their current home, which they now rent out.
They were very respectful of our privacy, and were almost never in the house with us. And they helped us with lots of things during our trip! They cooked us delicious meals, shared the locations of the best markets and restaurants, and even ordered medicine for us at the local pharmacy!
However, it was extra difficult for me to find an available apartment in Cuba! We visited Cuba during one of the busiest seasons, late December. And I began my search less than 3 weeks before our travel dates, as this was a last minute trip.
How to Book
Finding an available casa was hard. But the booking process was easy! I’ll show you how it works.
Step 1 – Go to CasaParticularCuba.org and Enter Search Terms
CasaParticularCuba was a breeze to use, and one of the larger casa (apartment) rental sites.
Go to casaparticularcuba.org and choose the desired location of your casa.
Step 2 – Select a Casa that Looks Appealing
The site is similar to Airbnb. There are lots of different styles and sizes to choose from. I like that no 2 look quite the same. It’s more adventuresome than a hotel!
Step 3 – Click on “Book / Enquiry”
Once you decide on an apartment, click on Book / Enquiry in the top left corner. This will send a request to the owner.
Step 4 – Enter Your Reservation Details
Fill out the form with the specifics of your stay. You can even request someone to meet you at the airport and help you through the process if you are feeling nervous!
Step 5 – Check Your Inbox for Confirmation Emails
You will now receive an email that says the site received your booking request. This does NOT mean your reservation is confirmed! You won’t know for sure until you get an email stating your reservation is confirmed, and has the casa owner’s name and address.
I must have applied for 25 apartments in one day, and 40 to 50 total. And I didn’t get any of them because of the high season! Fortunately, the employee at CasaParticularCuba.org, suggested a casa for me. He also added some valuable information for coming into Cuba.
Leo was very friendly and went out of his way to help. I got this impression during my entire stay in Cuba. Everyone was willing to help, even a stranger (and an American one at that).
Leo’s suggestion wasn’t the right fit for us. We were looking for an apartment for 9 nights, and this was only available 4 nights. We didn’t want to change casas halfway through our stay.
But Leo eventually found an even better apartment for all 9 nights!
Step 6 (If Necessary) – Respond to Email if You Don’t Receive a Confirmation
If you don’t get a confirmation email within a few days, reply to the email asking for the status of your reservation.
Leo warned me that my luggage might not come with my flight, and advised me to pack an extra change of clothes in my hand luggage. He also informed me of fair taxi prices so I wouldn’t be overcharged. He said to double check the currency after exchanging it.
Our casa particular was gorgeous. Three bedrooms and full bathrooms, a dining room, living room, and a garden room. The total cost per person for 9 nights was ~$149. What a steal!
I grew really close to my host mom, Cheli, and cried when I said goodbye. She was always so sweet and helpful. When I go back to Cuba, I will be staying with her again if possible, or AT LEAST paying her a visit.
You Can Do It, Too!
The 2 best websites I found for casa particulars were CasaParticularCuba.org and CasaParticular.com. I found them to be very enjoyable because of the cheap price, helpful host family, and clean, safe rooms.
Be sure to get a confirmation email with the owner’s name, address, and contact number. And don’t forget that you’ll need to pay them in cash when you arrive, so bring enough to cover your lodging expenses.
There is currently only 1 hotel where you can use miles and points (with more to come!). The Four Points by Sheraton Havana is a category 6 Starwood hotel, and costs ~$200, or 20,000 Starwood points, per night.
You can also stay at a 3-star hotel for ~$100 per night. I don’t recommend hotels, because staying in a casa particular offers a much deeper Cuban experience. Staying with a host family gave us the opportunity to make new friends, hear what life was like in Cuba, and eat amazing home-cooked meals, which was a million times better than any restaurant!
Staying in a casa particular is a fun way to get Big Travel with Small Money. I’d stay at a casa particular again because of the cheap price, enjoyable host family, and safe rooms.
Our 3 bedroom apartment came with 3 full bathrooms, a dining room, living room, and garden room. We each paid ~$17 per night, ~$149 total per person! The cheap rentals are one of my favorite things about Cuba!