Alright, you’re probably wondering why I’m blogging about Cuba when I’m currently in Poland. I meant to blog about this earlier in the year, but life happened, and I didn’t have the time. But now I do.
As winter is on the way, it’s time to start planning vacations in the tropics. For a lot of fellow Canadians, you’ve likely got Cuba on the radar. But instead of doing the traditional route of package holidays at resorts, why not consider doing a homestay in Cuba? I’m not suggesting foregoing the resorts, but rather include a homestay before or after your resort stay.
Myself and a good friend from Spain traveled to Cuba last Christmas and we stayed in three different homestays in Havana, Viñales, and Pinar del Rio. We absolutely loved it, and we felt as if we were experiencing authentic Cuban life! We experienced authentic culture, and discovered places we wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, our family in Havana introduced us to this dive bar serving the cheapest beer in town!
In Cuba, they are known as Casas Particulares. The idea is you stay with a family that is officially registered with the government. The family can range from a traditional family or a single, divorced or widowed home owner. They provide daily breakfast and your own room with shared or private bathroom. The Casas are typically found away from the resorts. Since they are registered with the government, their homes are labelled with the surname of the family, family members, and the services they offer. Every casa also has a logo on their homes which looks like weird anchor in either red or blue. Blue means the house allows foreign guests to stay, while red means only Cubas can stay there. Very important to be aware of this!
So you say you get breakfast?
Yes. Now, breakfast is called desayuno in Spanish. Families will serve coffee or juice. Tea and milk is available upon request. Don’t expect bacon, eggs and waffles. A Cuban breakfast usually consists of mangoes, guava, bread with butter, montaditos with ham and cheese, and pineapples. Montaditos are small sandwiches. I actually enjoyed having a selection of fruit every morning.
Do the families speak English or other languages?
This depends on the family you end up staying with, but generally no. Having said this, it is a good idea to learn a few basics in Spanish before staying with them. If the language barrier becomes an obstacle, you can always use gestures to get the message across.
Will the families socialize with me?
Again, this depends on the family. However, you should not expect this. While they will be more than happy to help make your stay pleasant, they have their own lives to attend to. I found the families I stayed with to be cautious with foreigners for fear of saying something that might land them in legal trouble. While I’m on this subject, refrain from discussing politics with Cuban families. Cubans revere the Castros, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.
Sounds great! So how I find a Casa?
This is not an easy task, simply due to the Internet situation, which is very difficult for ordinary Cubans to get. You could do a Google search, but be prepared to spend a lot of time researching. I recommend going with an organized tour to Cuba such as G Adventures. Tours such as these arrange stays in Casas, removing the labor work of finding them yourself. If tours are not your thing, I would suggest searching for a Casa in Havana since there they are plentiful there.
Cuba is truly a fascinating and beautiful country. One should go there at least once in their lifetime. And a stay in a Casa will be an experience you will never forget – in a good way!