It is not breaking news that - for the most part - in Cuba, the hotel offering and services are not at par with other Caribbean islands, Mexico or South America. Yet, that doesn’t discourage travelers from visiting, because the country’s mystique, culture, and charm make it a more alluring destination than most of its "natural" competitors.
As it always happens, local entrepreneurs have turned a problem into an opportunity, and we have seen the proliferation of private bed & breakfast/inns called Casas Particulares (“casas”). Said casas are increasingly becoming the hospitality of choice for many Americans who travel to Cuba from NYC and other US cities. To date, inexpensive casas mostly dominate the market; but travel concierge services (this is a shameless plug for our service) and specialized travel agents can help you find the ones who cater to more seasoned and discerning travelers.
As you plan your trip, please consider our argument in favor of the casas option:
- Yes, some hotels meet international standards, and there are more on the way, but in general, most seem conceived with the business, not the leisure traveler in mind. Some of these luxury hotels look more like North American corporate office buildings rather than hotels in a tropical destination. On the flip side, ingenious locals have developed casas that are not only beautiful, but they also have avoided the mistake of imitating foreign destinations. In fact, taking inspiration from tropical modernism movement, they are developing a very Cuban aesthetic. After all, if you want a place that looks like a Mexican casita or an NYC loft wouldn’t you instead go to Mexico or NYC?
- We admit that in the last five years service in the hotels have improved tenfold. But, Casas still maintain their edge on this front also. The market rewards owners that perfect the art of hosting. To the point that today the best tours to Cuba from the US almost invariably include this at some end for their most discerning clients. It also helps with the compliance with the US travel regulations. I will say that going to Cuba and not experiencing true Cuban hospitality is a complete miss.
- For the time being, casas also offer a better value for money, and there are no additional taxes, and no hidden fees. Unless you are traveling to all-inclusive very mass tourist areas, Cuba is not an inexpensive destination. For the price of a hotel room at Kempinski or Saratoga, you can find casas with higher aesthetical standards and better service for less money. Not to mention that by staying at a casa, you contribute to the local economy and foster the efforts of local entrepreneurs.
- If you have dietary restrictions, based on religion, health or personal preference, not uncommon among us citizens, your travel concierge most likely will be able to accommodate them working with the best casas. But it is a high task when staying at a hotel
Some hotels may give you a room with an incredible view (and I admit that usually, I’m willing to pay a premium for that) but I’m a traveler, not a tourist. Visiting Cuba and staying at a casa plays into the romance of the past but also on a trend that the world is embracing of more intimate and personal experiences. These casas are what makes Cuba so great - and no hotel comes even close to delivering this experience.