When you’re planning a trip, it’s usually easy to book hostel or Airbnb accommodation long ahead of time. But that often isn’t the case when you’re going to Cuba, where only a few locations in each town have internet access. That means most backpacker accommodation in Cuba remains offline.
Here come homestays to save the day. Staying with local people in their homes allows you to see what life is really like in Cuba; with their traditional décor, home-cooked food and family feel, these spots are so much more than a cheap bed to crash in. When it comes to Cuba, a homestay really is the only way. Here’s all you need to know about how to homestay in Cuba.
Choosing a Homestay in Cuba
Havana is usually the landing location for most travellers to Cuba and, as the city’s capital, there are plenty of homestays available. A few more internet hotspots mean some of these can actually be booked in advance but, if you’re of the spontaneous variety and opt to wing it, then simply catch a cab to Plaza Vieja. Around this area you’ll find plenty of balconies all advertising their homestay services for a good price and in a handy location – just look out for a little blue logo above the doorway.
Like any of the places you’ll travel to in Cuba, walk down a few of the side streets and you’ll soon see signs showcasing cosy rooms to rent. Always opt for ones a little further back from the main attractions to avoid the steeper prices and ask to take a look inside before you dish out the dough.
Homestays are designed for a backpacker’s budget and usually come in around 25CUC (£20) per room per night across most Cuban towns, including Vinales, Varadero and Trinidad. That’s a room with two double beds, bedding, towels and a private bathroom, and if you’re splitting that between two of you that’s an extra saving. Whether you’re travelling with a friend, partner or parent, hosts are always incredibly friendly and keen to accommodate anything extra you might need.
Havana prices can vary depending on location and room size. Look around and find what suits your budget best, but be warned that bartering is generally a no go.
Choosing a good homestay
You may not be super fussy when it comes to décor but you still want to find a homestay that’s easily accessible, clean and comfortable. To get all that it’s often best to go by recommendations. With no Tripadvisor that can be tough, but try asking your first host for advice.
There seems to be quite a sophisticated system of recommendations going on across the country, with hosts passing on addresses for future homestays in other towns and calling ahead for you. The next host will pass you on to the next and so on and so forth, so by the time you’re heading home you’ve almost done a full circle. This means when you rock up in Cienfuegos or Santiago after hours in an overheated van there’s no need to wander the streets looking for a place to stay, and you can relax knowing your next bed will be the same price and of the same standard.
What to Expect From a Homestay
What they offer
Aside from a double room and private bathroom it’s the norm for homestays to serve up brekkie. Unlike hotels, homestays don’t put a set time on this and your host will usually appear once you’re up and about, ready to offer you eggs cooked any way you like. Expect a side portion of fruit, some crusty bread and a cup of Cuban coffee.
On top of this, most homestays will do a laundry load for you for a small fee and keep a fridge fully stocked with water, which, no matter the time of year, you’ll be extremely grateful for given that the tap water is safe to drink but doesn’t have the best taste.
Dinner is also an option and it’s one you should definitely take up. The meals of lobster, fried plantains and cubanos are the most authentic you’re going to get and the portion sizes are so plentiful it’s hard to justify a restaurant visit.
Most homestays offer meat and veggie options but it’s the lobster that’s the tastiest dish, and for only £5, complete with starter and dessert, it’s a bargain you’d never get at home.
At first it may seem a little weird to be bunking in with strangers and walking through their living room, but in Cuba hosting travellers is the norm, so shed the shyness and get chatting.
Your family will be able to tell you more about the Cuban culture than any tour guide and offer you the best recommendations for the area. Want to go horseback riding in Cuba? They’ll know a guy who’ll take you. Directions to Playa Ancon from Trinidad? They’ll show you the bus route. Taxi to the airport? They’ll take you.
Often, opting for these local methods instead of hitting up an info centre will save you time, money and give you the most authentic Cuban experience.
When the choice is between swanky hotels and traditional homestays, for gappers there’s really no argument; when the food, families and experience you get in a homestay is so great, there’s no need to feel like these are a consolation prize. Not only is a homestay the only way, it’s the best way.