Your flight to Cuba is booked (finally)! Now the question is: Where should you stay?
Travelers will find two main options: A traditional hotel or casas particulares, often described as Cuban B&Bs. Here, we break down where to find them, how to book, and more.If you’re headed to Havana, you have hundreds of hotel options , from upscale all-inclusive hotels whose buffets put Vegas to shame to iconic hotels that intrigue Americans because of their history -- namely the Hotel Nacional (built in 1930, in part based on a plan by renowned American architectural firm McKim, Mead & White) and Habana Libre (formerly the Havana Hilton, renamed once Castro came to power). You can check prices online by visiting these hotels’ websites, but buyer beware: Many enterprising foreigners not affiliated with hotels have snapped up seemingly official URLs, so book with caution. It's also worth noting that availability can be limited during busier travel seasons; most hotels are booked through summer. If a traditional hotel is the option for you, plan ahead and ask the charter company that you used to book your flight for recommendations and package deals.
While classic hotels are in choice locations with gorgeous views of the ocean, culturally inclined travelers will find the option of Cuba’s casas particulares preferable, especially when staying outside of the capital. Often described as Cuban B&Bs, a casa particular allows guests to experience local life much more than a hotel, inviting travelers into Cuban homes.
The wrinkle with this option was that, until very recently, it was tough for Americans to access reliable information about casas particulares; with very limited Internet access, most Cuban casa hosts couldn’t set up a website to promote their accommodations to begin with. Even when casa owners had a website, Americans accustomed to immediate responses often felt frustrated with delays between an inquiry and actual booking.
All of this started to change, however, when the popular home accommodations booking site, AirBnB, launched in Cuba on April 2. Boosted by intense hands-on support from the company -- including photography services and connecting with intermediaries with better Internet access to handle queries and transactions -- Cuban casa owners jumped at the chance to list their properties on the well-known website. To be exact, 2,000 have done so in just the past three months. Forty percent of those listings are in Havana, says AirBnB, with prices ranging from $10 to more than $700 per night.
As one might expect, casas particulares -- like homes in any country -- can vary greatly in terms of comfort and amenities. Those on the cheaper end of the scale may offer little more than a cot or a thin mattress and require that guests share a bathroom; the higher-end accommodations may be furnished with comfortable beds and imported goods, making the Havana home seem more like an upscale apartment. So, as with much of travel, it's all about doing your research, considering exactly what your needs are, and being prepared to adjust your expectations accordingly.
The good news is that once you find a good fit, booking an AirBnb is pretty straightforward and direct. U.S. travelers -- who are actually the only AirBnB customers who can book Cuban lodging on the site at present -- simply go to AirBnB, enter the name of the Cuban city to which they're traveling, and view available properties. They make reservations right on AirBnb, using the same booking request and host confirmation process that the site has for any other destination. It's also worth noting that while Airbnb does help facilitate communication, you may not always get responses, say, within the hour -- and there's a chance one host may be juggling inquiries from multiple avenues. Give yourself a couple of days for the entire reservation process, including time for any questions you may have for the host, to be safe.
Considering a trip Cuba? Check out the rest of our 5-part in-depth guide, which includes:
An overview of what you really need to think about
How to book a flight to Cuba
Dealing with money in Cuba
How to get around, get on the internet, and other logistics for once you're in Cuba