The Casa Particular, AirBnB, and the Hosting Economy of Cuba
Last year AirBnB announced they were heading to Cuba. They admitted it wasn’t going to be easy, and I was sure it was impossible. Cuba has no internet. Yes, they have wifi, but it is just for texting or Skype. They also have email, however, it costs $2 for one hour, and due to the intentionally slow connection speeds, sending one email can absorb that entire hour. They have no access to the actual internet.
I was sure AirBnB most likely knew this, and wondered how they thought the system would work. I do not know, I have never tried it, but if you are traveling to Cuba you don’t need AirBnB, the Cubans have their own system and it works quickly and easily.
The Cuban system is the Casa Particular. This is what the Cubans call it when one rents out a room in ones home for cash.
This system is ideal for Cubans, it makes money for them in their hard currency, the CUC.
Once a Cuban decides to turn their home into a Casa Particular they must register with the Cuban government. If approved, the next thing they must do is put a sign on the front of their house.
There are two types of Casa Paticulars, ones for tourists and ones for traveling Cubans. The blue signs are for tourists, and the red ones for Cubans.
The government determines the color of the sign, based on the quality of the house.
Once a license has been granted the host is issued a blue bound book by the government, and every guest must be logged in. You give your host your passport, they copy every detail of your passport into the logbook and you, and they, are legal.
For this privilege the host pays the Cuban government the equivalent of $70 per month for 1 or 2 rooms,. If they rent more rooms in their house, the payment to the government goes up.
The average price of a room at a Casa Particular is $25. If breakfast is offered, that is an additonal $5. Some homes even offer dinner for various prices. The advent of the increase of tourism to Cuba, however, is bringing rapid inflation, so these prices are increasing monthly in the larger cities.
Through word of mouth and experience with Europeans, most Casa Particulars have refrigerators in the room. These will be stocked with beer, soda and bottled water for another small price.
The joy of the system is that they are all connected via the friends and family network. If you are staying in Camaquey and need a place in Santi Spiritus, one or two phone calls by your host, and you have a reservation.
This is convenient for you, and each referral buys the host either a few pesos from their contact or good will for future referals.
Cuba is a small island, and families are very large, so this friends and family connection works far better than the internet ever will for the forseeable future.
Staying at a Casa Paticular often means you either must be very adept at sign language or speak a modicum of Spanish, but the rewards far outweigh the difficulties.
While you do not see how the very poor, or folks in the country live, you have a very good insight to the growing middle class of Cuba.
You learn new things and they benefit in a big way financially. The CUC is only traded for foreign currency, so the only way for a Cuban to get their hands on them is through dealing with those that have them.
The CUC gives your host the ability to shop at the CUC stores, which have a much more abundant supply of everything from rice to toothpaste. This is versus the peso stores where the shelves are empty less the occasional shipment of spaghetti or rum.
Kind travelers also recognize that simple items like shampoos and soaps are hard to come by in Cuba, and often leave what they no longer need behind. Very kind travelers leave some of their clothes behind as well, another item, while available, is not of very good quality.
So, if you want a more real experience on your next trip to Cuba, stay at a Casa Particular. The beds may be hard as a rock, and the sheets will be thin, the pillows even thinner, but you will take away an experience that you can not trade for the world.