The new and greatly broadened rules that permit Americans to make trips to Cuba have just gone into effect, and a great many of our fellow citizens are now considering the trip. But though they quickly find that they can get there easily on various Caribbean airlines flying to Havana from Jamaica, Mexico (Cancun) or the Bahamas, they face a more difficult task of finding accommodations in Havana. Though the Cuban capitol has a fair number of hotels, these tend to be fully booked with foreign tourists from Canada and Europe.
Enter the "casa particular" as a solution to that hotel shortage. Nearly twenty years ago, the Cuban government began permitting its people to rent rooms to tourists in their homes or apartments ("casas particulares"), and a great many Cubans supplement their meager incomes with the resulting revenue. So widespread are these rentals today that various entrepreneurs have created websites enabling the would-be visitor to Cuba to find lodgings in "casas particulares" and snare guaranteed reservations in them.
In most of these private accommodations, rooms rent far almost always less than $100 a night, and often for as little as $40 and $30 a night. Those rates are considerably less than Havana hotels charge for the heavily-booked rooms in their larger properties. Heavy tourist traffic to Havana fills many of its standard hotels on most nights of the year.
It's important to note that the quality of the cheaper "casas particulares" is often far below the standards to which most western tourists are accustomed. Rarely do guests enjoy a private bath, and the level of furnishings is frequently low. But those spare rooms in Havana apartments and homes provide a much-needed source of inexpensive lodgings for unpretentious tourists.
Two long-time students of tourism to Cuba, David Appell and José Balido (founders of "www.tripatini.com") have supplied me with names of some of the websites dealing with "casas particulares", along with descriptions of the rooms found within them.. Here are three samples:
For example, Mercedes Quintero's nice two-room apartment centrally located in Havana a block from the Malecón (seafront boulevard) in Centro Habana rents for 25 to 50 convertible Cuban pesos per night (official exchange is 1 CUC per US dollar), depending on seasons. Includes air conditioning, TV with DVD player, full equipped kitchen, etc. (http://www.casaparticular.com/casa/index/id/329/name/apartamento-habana)
A charming neo-colonial-style house dating from 1900 in Santiago de Cuba (the country's second most important city, on its eastern tip), just 440 yards from the old town's central cathedral square, with AC, TV, lovely Cuban tile floors, etc. Meal options available. 20-30 CUC, depending on season.
On this site, a photographer named Bibiana rents two rooms in her apartment in Havana's centrally loated Vedado neighborhood with AC/TV/terrace from just $18 USD per night.. Other apartments go for $24/night.
Many of these people speak English.
If you are hell-bent on visiting Cuba before its hotel capacity is increased in years to come, you'll want to give serious consideration to renting a "casa particular".