This story was inspired by: 8 Day Original Cuba
So you’ve just booked an exciting tour to Cuba, good for you! Now that your trip-of-a-lifetime has been confirmed, by now you’ll be starting to look at the itinerary in more detail and studying what’s included, what each day will look like and where you will be staying. You might also notice that one of the accommodation styles on your itinerary will be listed as a ‘guesthouse’, and you’re probably curious as to what that could possibly mean.
Having experienced the wonderful world of guesthouses in Cuba, I’m here to tell you what it’s really like to stay at a guesthouse (or a casa) in Cuba and to leave you with some tips and tricks on how to make your experience totally unforgettable.
What exactly is a guesthouse?
Though no two guesthouses are ever the same, there are a few things that they all have in common; mainly that they’re all guest rooms in a family home. Each room within a guesthouse tends to be a twin-share (for example, one room with two single beds) and features a shared bathroom either as a private ensuite or located a few doors down from your room.
Some guesthouses tend to offer a more authentic, family-style atmosphere, whilst others exist more like a classic hostel similar to those in Europe or Asia.
See Also: Should I Visit Cuba?
When I first heard about the concept of staying in a guesthouse, I had two conflicting images pop into my mind. The first idea that sprung to mind was that each guesthouse would be a lavish mini-mansion fit for a king or queen, and the other vision set in my mind was that each guesthouse would look like an average family home. What I didn’t factor into the equation was that the families would also be living there at the same time as our tour group!
The thought of spending a night in a strangers house was a little worrying at first, but once I brushed my concerns aside and embraced the experience for what it was, I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it!
Mi Casa Es Su Casa
You’ve probably heard it before, ‘my house is your house’, which is a Spanish saying that gets casually thrown around, but until you actually experience it first hand, you won’t completely understand what it’s all about.
The kindness of the host families was overwhelming. Despite staying at pretty much a different guesthouse every day for the entire 10 days that I was in Cuba, there were a few things I knew I could always count on. The best part was always knowing that I could rely on our Casa Madre (house mother) to hook us up with insider tips about where to go and what to do which of course only made the experience that much more authentic.
One of the best examples of kindness shown by our Casa Madre was on my first day in Cuba, I was on the hunt to find the internet to tell all of my friends and family that I had arrived. Our Casa Madre offered to sell me some internet cards for $2 CUC a piece ($2 USD), which I, of course, said yes to. It had completely slipped my mind that I needed to take out any cash so I had nothing to pay her with. I thanked her and said that I would go out and get the cards later from her. She immediately refused and gave me 3 internet cards for free. Yes, for free!
This was just one instance that opened my eyes to the kindness of the Cuban people and doesn’t speak for the countless times when I shared meals with my host family, went exploring with them or when they gave me insider tips about getting to beautiful spots around the country.
See Also: Can Americans Travel to Cuba?
What to expect from a guesthouse in Cuba?
If you think that all rooms are the same, you’d be wrong. For the most part, the only thing that most guesthouses have in common is that they’ll all offer somewhere to rest your weary head, and each guesthouse is as unique as its owner.
Some guesthouses will be quaint, unassuming houses that you wouldn’t expect anyone other than a family to live in whereas others will offer cooking or dancing classes and might even host an informal party once or twice a week. There really is no telling what a guesthouse will be like until you get there.
What is a guesthouse room really like?
You can expect a Cuban guesthouse to feel like a simple twin-share dorm room, minus the bunk beds. Each room will generally have a large closet to store your things and one or two-bedside tables.
The rooms will mostly always feature an air conditioning unit, a fan and a large window to help you stay cool. All rooms also have a fridge (mini or full-sized) that is filled to the brim with water, soda and beer to purchase for a small fee. Furthermore, most rooms will have approximately one or two available power outlets to share between you and your roommate.
See Also: 13 Things To Know Before You Go to Cuba
What is the food like at guesthouses?
For the most part, you’re almost guaranteed a cooked breakfast each morning. But, don’t hold your breath for a gourmet spread as the breakfast menu is pretty standard across the board and will include fresh fruits, bread, eggs made to order as well as tea, coffee and fruit juice. This was probably one of the most confronting parts of the experience; the lack of breakfast diversity across the guesthouses.
No matter the city, the breakfast was always the same. Every single day.
One thing to keep in mind is that lunch and dinners are generally not included in your tour, but if you’re craving some authentic Cuban cuisine or are just too tired to make your way to a restaurant, you can politely ask your Casa Madre to prepare you a meal. This is, of course, something additional which you will have to pay for, but it’s definitely worth it if you’re looking to try something new. The best part is that you can sit with your host family and take the chance to learn more about life in Cuba (as told by a local).
Casa etiquette: things to keep in mind
Just like anything else in life, there are certain rules that you must follow if you’re staying in a guesthouse. Everything you need to know will be shared with you once you arrive, but you can be sure to expect the following similarities across the board.
There will be no internet in your casa, so make sure you pack a book or two. Expect a curfew because you will likely only have a key to your room and not the house, and the curfews are in place to ensure that you get back in before your host goes to bed. Don’t fret, as most curfews are very generous and often extend to 2 am or 3 am.
You can also expect to be handed a business card upon arrival with your casa details (address, intersection, phone number etc) in case you get lost, and most importantly; don’t drink the tap water.
Why staying at a casa is the best thing ever
Staying in someone’s home might sound weird to you, I know it did for me, but once you let go of that feeling it really is a wonderful experience.
Breaking bread and sharing a meal with a local family in their own home not only takes away any doubts about the Cuban people that you may have had but also gives you a chance to learn about what life in Cuba is really like. Beyond that, the generosity you will be showered with will warm your heart, even if it’s something simple that you might overlook in the Western world.
What to know in advance:
- You don’t have to tip, but if you do, it will be greatly appreciated by your host family.
- Sharing of gifts from your home country is encouraged. In fact, most airlines will allow you to bring additional luggage free of charge if your luggage is filled with charitable donations.
- Pack a pair of house slippers. Although the houses are generally very clean, you’re still better off carrying some house slippers to potter around in.
- If you’re travelling with equipment that requires regular charging, make sure you carry a power board as you’ll likely only have one available socket to charge your belongings in your room.
- Though I never experienced this as tour operators and guides will work tirelessly to ensure that each guesthouse is run by respectable individuals, robbery is not uncommon in Cuba. As such, make sure to lock your luggage before you leave each day and not leave valuables lying around is best.
- Expect to make new friends and not just with the host family, but also individuals from other tour groups and solo travellers alike, as guesthouses are very popular.
So if you’re unsure or a little bit scared about staying in a Cuban guesthouse and what it is really like, don’t think too much about it, just book your tour and get ready to experience Cuba the real way.
Have you stayed in a guesthouse while on tour? What was your favourite thing about it? Share it in a comment below.