Cuba's tourist numbers continue to climb, but hotel provision has lagged behind. It is thus advisable to book all accommodation well in advance.
- Casas particulares Cuban homes that rent rooms to foreigners; an authentic and economic form of cultural immersion.
- Campismos Cheap, rustic accommodations in rural areas, usually in bungalows or cabins.
- Hotels All Cuban hotels are government-owned. Prices and quality range from cheap Soviet-era to high-flying colonial chic.
- Resorts Large international-standard hotels in resort areas that sell all-inclusive packages.
Cuban accommodations run the gamut from CUC$10 beach cabins to five-star resorts. Solo travelers are penalized price-wise, paying 75% of the price of a double room.
In this price range, the accommodation consists almost entirely of casas particulares (private home-stays) and campismos (rural cabins).
Although casa prices have crept up a little in the last few years, there are still only a handful of deluxe places (mainly in Havana) that will cost more than CUC$50. In cheaper casas particulares (CUC$20 to CUC$25) in the provinces you may have to share a bathroom and will have a fan instead of air-con.
There are around a dozen campismos countrywide that welcome international travelers and most are under CUC$50 a night. Accommodation is in old-fashioned cabins akin to a one- or two-star hotel.
Cuba's scant midrange category is a lottery, with some boutique colonial hotels (run by Cubanacán) and some awful places with spooky Soviet-like architecture and atmosphere to match (run by Islazul). In midrange hotels you can usually expect air-con, private hot-water bathrooms, clean linens, satellite TV, a swimming pool and a restaurant, although the food won't exactly be gourmet.
Some of the more deluxe casas particulares now fall into this price bracket and they are nearly always pretty plush.
Cuba's state-run hotels and resorts have hiked up their prices two- or three-fold in the last couple of years. As a result, hotels in this bracket are somewhat overpriced.
The most comfortable top-end hotels are usually partly foreign-owned and maintain international standards (although service can sometimes be a bit lax). Rooms have everything that a midrange hotel has, plus big, quality beds and linens, a minibar, international phone service, and perhaps a terrace or view. Wi-fi is a prerequisite in these places, although it may be temperamental and only work in the reception area.
Practically all of Cuba's all-inclusive resorts fall into this price category.
Cuba's hotel star rating also includes half-star categories (eg 4½ stars).
Factors influencing rates are time of year, location, hotel chain and whether the accommodations are state-run or private (the latter is nearly always cheaper). Low season is generally mid-September to late November and April to June (except for Easter week). Christmas and New Year is what's called extreme high season, when rates are 25% more than high-season rates. Bargaining is sometimes possible in casas particulares – though as far as foreigners go, it's not really the done thing. The casa owners in any given area pay generic taxes, and the prices you will be quoted reflect this. You'll find very few casas in Cuba less than CUC$20, unless you're up for a long stay. Prearranging Cuban accommodation has become easier with better wi-fi connections. It is now possible to make bookings on airbnb (www.airbnb.com) and pay with your credit card.
Types of Accommodations
Campismos are where Cubans go on vacation (an estimated one million use them annually). Hardly camping, most of these installations are simple concrete cabins with bunk beds, foam mattresses and cold showers. There are over 80 of them sprinkled around the country in rural areas. Campismos are ranked either nacional or internacional. The former are (technically) only for Cubans, while the latter host both Cubans and foreigners and are more upscale, with air-con, hot water and/or linens. There are currently a dozen international campismos in Cuba ranging from the hotel-standard Aguas Claras in Pinar del Río to the more basic La Mula in Santiago de Cuba province.
Listings can be found on the website www.campismopopular.cu. Every provincial city in Cuba has a campismo office where you can book ahead. Cabin accommodations in international campismos cost CUC$20 to CUC$60 per bed.
Private rooms are the best option for independent travelers in Cuba and a great way of meeting the locals on their home turf. Furthermore, staying in these venerable, family-orientated establishments will give you a far more open and less censored view of the country, and your understanding and appreciation of Cuba will grow far richer as a result. Casa owners also often make excellent tour guides and can often arrange all-number of extra activities from taxis to nature walks.
You'll know houses renting rooms by the blue insignia on the door marked 'Arrendador Divisa.' There are thousands of casas particulares all over Cuba; well over 2000 in Havana alone and over 800 in Trinidad. From penthouses to historical homes, all manner of rooms are available from CUC$15 to CUC$60. Most houses are family homes who rent out a few rooms. Some of the more successful houses have become larger and more businesslike in recent years, operating more like small private hotels.
Government regulation has eased since 2011, and renters can now let out multiple rooms if they have space. Owners pay a monthly tax per room depending on location (plus extra for off-street parking) to post a sign advertising their rooms and to serve meals. These taxes must be paid whether the rooms are rented or not. Owners must keep a register of all guests and report each new arrival within 24 hours. For this reason, you will also be requested to produce your passport (not a photocopy) on arrival. Regular government inspections ensure that conditions inside casas remain clean, safe and secure. Most proprietors offer breakfast and dinner for an extra rate (usually CUC$5). Hot showers are a prerequisite. In general, rooms these days provide at least two beds (one is usually a double), fridge, air-con, fan and private bathroom. Bonuses could include a terrace or patio, private entrance, TV, security box, mini-bar, kitchenette and parking space.
Despite the abundance of casas particulares in Cuba, the recent spike in tourist numbers means they get very busy, especially in peak season (November to March). Whole towns can fill up fast. It is advisable to book ahead.
Bookings & Further Information
Due to the plethora of casas particulares in Cuba, it is impossible to include even a fraction of the total. The ones we have chosen are a combination of reader recommendations and local research. If one casa is full, they'll almost always be able to recommend to you someone else down the road.
The following websites list a large number of casas across the country and allow online booking. Cuban casas can now be booked internationally with a credit card on Airbnb (www.airbnb.com). Most casas will also accept reservations via text, phone or email.
- Cubacasas (www.cubacasas.net) The best online source for casa particular information and booking; up to date, accurate and with colorful links to hundreds of private rooms across the island (in English and French).
- Casa Particular Organization (www.casaparticularcuba.org) Reader-recommended website for prebooking private rooms.
All tourist hotels and resorts are at least 51% owned by the Cuban government and are administered by one of four main organizations. Islazul is the cheapest and most popular with Cubans (who pay in Cuban pesos). Although the facilities can be variable at these establishments and the architecture a tad Sovietesque, Islazul hotels are invariably clean, cheap, friendly and attract a mainly Cuban clientele. They're also more likely to be situated in the island's smaller provincial towns. One downside are the blaring on-site discos that often keep guests awake until the small hours. Cubanacán is a step up and offers a nice mix of midrange and top-end options in cities and resort areas. The company has also rolled out a clutch of reasonably priced boutique-style hotels (the Encanto brand) in attractive city centers such as Sancti Spíritus, Remedios, Camagüey and Santiago. Gaviota manages higher-end resorts in the all-inclusive zone, though the chain also has a smattering of cheaper 'villas' in places such as Santiago and Cayo Coco. Gran Caribe does midrange to top-end hotels, including the emblematic Hotel Nacional in Havana. Except for Islazul properties, tourist hotels are for guests paying in convertible pesos only. Since May 2008, Cubans have been allowed to stay in any tourist hotel, although financially most of them are still out of reach.
At the top end of the hotel pyramid you'll often find foreign chains such as the Spanish-run Meliá and Iberostar brands running hotels in tandem with Cubanacán, Gaviota or Gran Caribe – mainly in the resort areas. The standards and service at these types of places are not unlike resorts in Mexico and the rest of the Caribbean.