Casa particular vs. hotel?
This is a no brainer. Really! Are you planning your Cuba travels? Then staying in a hotel should not even be in your plans, as it hardly makes any sense when you have such a huge choice of casas particulares.
The most expensive casa particular will cost you 30 CUC for a double bedroom with private bathroom. Cheapest ones are around 15 CUC. Casas which rent room to foreigners are generally in the city centre, or immediately outside. They are very clean, and rooms are generally spacious. If you are lucky you will be staying in a colonial house, with rooms facing the patio and antique forniture. Rooms are usually cool, and you will hardly have to put the air conditioning on (which is usually available). When staying in a casa, you will be given keys to the main entrance. You will be able to go in and out as many times as you want during the day. Rooms are not normally cleaned while you are staying at the casa, unless you specifically ask for it. I guess, this is because most of the times owners do not have a spare set of keys. Casas are safe – I have heard only one account of a girl who had her stuff stolen, but when she faced the landlady, all her stuff was returned.
Breakfast is usually not included in the price, but for as little as 3 CUC you will have a full (and I mean FULL!!) breakfast, with fruit, eggs, toasts and bread, coffee, jam, butter, juice and what not. You can also have dinner at the casa particular, and I would highly recommend it. It is homemade food freshly made to order (as opposed to state owned restaurants where food is previously made and then warmed up) very tasty and one portion can easily feed 2. And if you go for the most expensive main course (lobster) you will pay no more than 8 CUC. Owners of casas are usually very informed people, they know drivers who can take you around, they can provide information on tours, timetables of museums, etc. And, what is actually nicer, you can sit down and talk to them, learn a bit about life and culture in Cuba, practice your Spanish, share your stories and experience.
The worst that can happen to you when staying at a casa particular is that you won’t find the room you booked. Casas can rent two, maximum 3 rooms at the same time. People who travel around in Cuba take it really easy, and may suddenly decide to stay in a place longer than planned. Whoever gets to a casa particular first, gets in first, or so it seems. It has sometimes happened to us that despite having booked in advance, when we got to the casa particular we found that it was fully booked and the owner wanted to move us to the casa of a neighbour, friend or relative. It is up to you if you want to accept to stay there or not. Owners will usually insist a lot and this will put you at a test if you are not super-patient – I don’t enjoy this kind of pressure, for example. But at the end of the day, the choice is yours, you are the one paying, and you should be free to decide where to stay and, if you do not like the other option offered, go to a different casa. Beware that Trinidad and Vinales are more touristy than other places and it may take you longer to find a casa by knocking from door to door. But if you have time, this is not a problem.
Hotels in Cuba are hardly worth the price. They are generally state owned, which means that nobody cares about making profits and keeping the reputation high. Just because you are staying at a hotel, and paying 4 times what you’d pay for a similar room in a casa, it does not mean you are getting a better service. They may have a pool, but this is usually nothing special, and the services offered are usually no more no less than what you can get at a good casa particular.
My policy is usually that of going for the cheapest option, and I hardly ever regret it. After all, if I am travelling around I hardly need any of the commodities of a hotel – I am ok as long as I have a clean, decent and safe room, and this is usually the case with casas particulares.
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