Cuba. Part 1: Prepare for the trip and find a place to sleep (about casas)

Cuba was one of the most spontaneous and still very desirable and expected destinations. Our friend asked us in the middle of January if we like to fly with him to Cuba next month. We weighted the options, pros and contras and decided to book – literally, to run away from rainy and cloudy Berlin to a sunny island. Besides, the touristic flow to Cuba is expected to grow and winter is the best time to escape from cold Germany.

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One month passed by quicker as we thought, and we realized that besides downloading a guidebook and obtaining a visa we didn’t book or arrange a single thing. On the other hand, we have been to South America already and have a seamless experience of booking a room for the next night and a decent way to travel from A to B sitting comfortably in bed. “Of course, this well work for Cuba too”, we thought and decided to hope for a good luck again.

On Cuba not everything was as easy as we imagined. Firstly, because of the internet. You can’t simply go to a booking site and check free hostels for the next night. There are almost no hostels on Cuba, the hotels are very expensive, writing hundreds of private apartments takes time and there is no warranty that a room will be free for the required time. Transport for tourists is a separate topic I will reveal in one of the next posts dedicated to Cuba, but the fact is that tourists can’t spontaneously go from one city to another, they are bound to a timetable and occupancy of one bus agency. Several workarounds exist: we successfully tested them and the details will follow.

Below are six bullet points you have to think about when planning your trip to Cuba:

  • Check if you need a visa: EU citizens do need one, in Berlin it costs about 25 Euro and you can purchase one at the STA Travel agency or in the consulate (but their working hours are inconvenient for a working person). Russians and Chinese don’t need a visa – a valid international passport is sufficient.
  • Take care of a health insurance for the whole period of stay on Cuba. The best option is to obtain a translation on Spanish (ADAC provides an insurance document is Spanish within couple of hours if you contact them by phone)
  • You can use your credit card (VISA, not MAESTRO) for money withdrawal in all ATMs on Cuba. Girocards don’t work. Taking cash with you and changing money at the exchange points is an option as well, but the lines in front of the banks and exchange offices (“Cadeca”) are huge.
  • In many apartments the jacks are 110 V only. I strongly recommend to take an adapter with you or at least a power bank.
  • In case you are into stress-free well-planned trips, book apartments (“casa”, https://www.mycasaparticular.com) and but tickets (with Viazul, http://www.viazul.com/) in advance.
  • Refresh your Spanish or learn some basic stuff – people on Cuba rarely speak English, with some Spanish, mimics and gestures you are definitely on the safer side.

Casas on Cuba, how to find them and what to pay attention to

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When you plan your trip you have to consider your approach to searching and booking a room/ apartment where you will stay overnight while you are on Cuba. In Internet we didn’t find many options for an acceptable price as all hotels were over-priced. The best variant to stay in Cuba are „casas“ – private apartments or houses with a room for rent. So we decided to try our luck and didn’t book any single room in advance. The reason for that was our intense to stay free and decide spontaneously how many nights do we want to stay in each city and not to have all casas pre-booked in advance. Proudly, we managed to find a room in every city we visited during 5-15 minutes after arrival. Only Varadero was an exception – we needed about one hour to find a free room. Afterwards we even heard some stories about the high season in November-December when some unlucky tourists had to sleep on the streets…

As an option, you can ask a taxi driver or any person on the street – they will have many relatives and friends who have a casa. Some even make money out of that – bringing tourists to a casa and getting some percent.

If it doesn’t work, just drive to the City Center and knock on the door of a house with a blue sign „Arrendador diviso“ or “Rent room”. Red signs exist as well, but they are for rent by locals (and payed in local currency).

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If you choose a more reliable way – go to http://www.mycasaparticular.com and write to as many casas as you manage and plan a detailed route. We met several couples for whom it worked fine.

Another (preferred) option – to ask your current casa-owner if they have a recommendation in the city you head on to. They will even call and book it for you. Or you can buy a local sim-card and call several casas on your own.

Below are several casas you can write or call in advance. We stayed there and the quality was o.k. Some casas I would not advise and therefore don’t mention here:
Viniales

Villa Nereyda (2 rooms) – clean and nice, very calm location
Proprietress: Sra. Nereyda Yanes Jimenes
Address: 22400 Pasaje Camilo Cienfuegos No. 32 Vinales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
Tel.: (53) (048) 696811
Mob.:0153103112
e-mail: nereida.yanez@nauta.cu

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Playa Giron

Hostal Amelia
Address: Playa Giron, Cienaga de Zapata, Matanzas, Cuba
Tel.: (045) 98 4465
Havana

1)Rent room „El Paraiso”
Contact Person: Anita
Address: San Lazaro 69, entre Genio y Carcel, Centro Habana, Cuba
Tel.: (53)54497455
2) Casa w/o name
Proprietors: Sr.Barbaro Fernandez Sanz, Sra. Dayane Dovale Rodrigues
Address: Colon 330 Altos # Crespo y Aguila, Centro Habana, Cuba
Tel.: 8604355
Mob.: 52839387
e-mail: barbaro6909@nauta.cu
Remedios

Hostal „Casa Colonial“ – spacious house in colonial style, 5m high ceilings, very clean and beautiful
Proprietress: Omara Carillo Magdaleno
Address: Jose Antonio Pena 50, e/ Maceo y Brigadier Gonzalez, Remedios, Villa Clara
Tel: 0 (1) 42395299
e-mail: omarahostal@nauta.cu
Cienfuegos

Hostal Luna Sur
Proprietors: Mayzell y Carlos
Calle 35 Nr.5409 e/ 54 y 56, Cienfuegos, Cuba
Tel: (53) 43516045
Mob.: 58353211
e-mail: karlos71@nauta.cu; mayzellgm@jagua.cfg.sld.cu
Santa Clara

Hostal Pachecos ( 2 rooms)
Address: Ciclon 263 altos e/ San Miguel y Nazareno, Santa Clara, Villa Clara, Cuba
Tel.: 042281992
Mob.: 54862236
What can you expect when you stay in a casa?

The concept of casas – renting rooms in private apartments/ houses is quite new in Cuba. Therefore, many casa-owners care a lot how they casa look like. Anyway, this is a room for rent and some shades can come out when you already agreed to move in. Below are some tips what to look at and what to expect when you rent a room in a casa:

  1. When you knock at a door of a casa ant tell how many nights do you plan to stay – better say „I’m not sure yet, one, two or more, it depends“. The thing is, many casa-owners refuse those who want to stay one night only: it is too much effort to change the bedclothes and clean up after every short stay. If you stay longer, they will accept you more willingly.
  2. The walls of the Buildings in Cuba are generally thin and the windows  sometimes have no glass at all (only some sort of jalousie) – you will hear almost everything what happens in the casa and outside. If possible, choose a casa with a window going to the inner yard. And, yes, choose a room with a window – some of the rooms have faked Windows decorated as they are real.
  3. Check out the mattress on a bed – it can be extremely worn out.
  4. Ask how it works with a hot shower – if you see two buckets in the bathroom, a big and a smaller one – most probably, the current is so weak that you have to collect water in a bigger bucket first and then pour yourself from a smaller one.
  5. Even if it sounds too pragmatic, check the flush in the bathroom. Sometimes it doesn’t work either. To have a sit cover on the toilet were not bad as well. As a supplement check if there is a trash bin in the bathroom as well.
  6. Be prepared that in many casa there are insects. Huge cockroaches and small flies are frequent guests. I strongly recommend not to leave any food in you room to reduce the chance of meeting them.
  7. When you check in, you will have to present your passports to the apartment owner – they will enter your personal data in a guest book. A couple of times we were not asked to show our passports – so we still wonder if we had a „illegal“ night over.
  8. In 60% of cases if you are for a reduction of 5 CUC you will get it – proved by ourselves.
  9. Almost all casas (insistently) offer breakfast and dinner. Breakfast costs about 4-5 CUC, dinner – 8-10 CUC. The meals are nice and huge, but if you eat outside, you will spend 1,5-2 times less.

Hopefully, these tips will be useful for you and your “casa-experience” will be at least as positive as ours. An option to read reviews and book in advance remains. Nevertheless, keep in mind that even if you book well ahead, a casa owner can cancel your booking without giving a reason. Our friend has faced this unpleasant situation. Real people coming to the casa and suggesting real money for longer stay is always a better option in the eyes of Cubans then any virtual beforehand booking.

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