Staying in Casa Particulares (translation – private house/B&B) during your time in Cuba will give you an authentic and meaningful taste of Cuban hospitality. For Americans traveling to Cuba specifically, Casa Particulares are privately owned homes and therefore, your money goes to ‘supporting the Cuban people;’ thus, staying within the grey lines that come with the difficult Cuban/American relations.
Immigration requirements aside, staying at a Casa Particular will be one of the BEST experiences you could have in Cuba! I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with El Candil Boutique Hotel in the heart of Verdana (the more suburban side to Havana) and I wanted to share my incredible experience.
- Traditional Casa Particular with over 500 years of tradition
- In the Verdana district
- Amenities: B&B, Rooftop Car & Restaurant, Money exchange opportunities
Casa Particulares are good for:
- American tourists
- Couples, Groups of Adults, Small Families, Honeymooners
- Authentic, Luxurious Cuban Hospitality
Arriving in Havana
After a long day of traveling, there is nothing better than seeing a driver holding a sign with your name on it waiting for you. I had pre-arranged with the concierge of El Candil to send a driver to pick us up at our arrival. Thank goodness I did this because we were unable to exchange ANY money at the airport – yikes.
He was the brother of our concierge at El Candil and he couldn’t have been MORE patient with us. We were running around like chickens with their heads cut-off, trying every card in our wallets and apologizing profusely. He smiled calmly and said that we shouldn’t worry because we could pay at a later time; no problem. We got into his 1970s Russian Lada and drove into the night feeling a little bit calmer knowing that eventually we would find a solution. You definitely get a more personal experience with Casa Particulares in Cuba versus large government chain hotels because hospitality is such a corner-stone in local Cuban culture.
Exchanging Currency at the Airport FYI:
When you exit the baggage claim area of the Havana airport, to your right there are machines that LOOK like ATMs, but they are definitely NOT ATMs. After being delirious with all of the traveling, we walked up to these faux-ATMs with our passports and British debit cards in hand…. And nothing worked. We tried 6 different cards, no luck, and we started to FREAK OUT because we only brought $400 in cash.
Whilst we’re not entirely sure why these faux-ATMs could no longer dispense cash – only exchange it – we were very lucky to have had enough cash on us until we were able to figure out another solution.
Dinner at El Candil
After a long day of traveling and nearly having a heart attack about money, we were SO THANKFUL to arrive to El Candil with a freshly prepared dinner waiting for us. We checked in swiftly and headed to the roof of our Casa Particular to enjoy the Havana night sky. There was a fully stocked bar on the rooftop, a few lounging areas, a rooftop pool, and most importantly…. decent WIFI!!! This was the only place we experienced wifi during our entire time in Cuba, but it was so freeing to experience.
I had booked our 3-course dinner in advance for $30 CUC (equivalent to $30 USD) per person.
- Appetiser: Gluten-free Croquetas
- Main: Grilled Chicken or Pork with vegetables and potatoes
- Dessert: Fruit Salad
It was all DELICIOUS and I couldn’t believe there was such attention to detail with my various allergies (gluten and dairy) since most places that I travel to have never even HEARD of gluten before (lol). Of course we washed it all down with Mojitos made with fine Cuban rum as we watched the very clear sky from our rooftop oasis.
Note: When eating at local establishments, be aware that Cuban food can be hit or miss due to the many shortages in food/cooking staples that the country experiences. If you want to ensure that you’ll have a positive food experience, please consult your concierge and be prepared to pay tourist prices.
Like many Casa Particulares, El Candil is an old colonial house that has been refurbished into a boutique hotel mainly for foreign tourists in the heart of El Vedado district. Not only are the amenities brand new (which is very rare in Cuba), but they also offer a wide range of services and benefits.
- Taxi transfers to the airport or anywhere else
- Rooftop bar and restaurant
- New amenities, in-room safe, spectacular bathroom and products
- An in-house spa & salon with massages, nails, hair, etc services
- Tours and excellent food recommendations
- Money exchange with the same rates as the bank
Another perk that is rare in Casa Particulares and Cuba, in general, is powerful in-house backup generators. There are loads of power outages in Cuba all the time, however, we never lost power thanks to the thoughtful planning of El Candil’s management.
Our Queen Suite
Our Queen Suite was divine and exactly right for our requirements. We had a large king-size bed, air con, and easily accessible power outlets that were the same as the typical North American outlets. We had an iron, a safe, and there were luxury toiletries in our bathroom that were very well-appreciated. As it was our Honeymoon, the staff was nice enough to decorate our bed with romantic rose-petals. This kind gesture really hit me in the feels when I saw it. I had put so much effort into planning this trip, I was so happy to see it coming together perfectly.
El Candil Highlights
- You can exchange USD, GBP, and Euros for CUC at El Candil for the same rates as the local banks. There are ATMs a few blocks from El Candil where you can easily withdraw money from if you have non-American cards.
- The concierges spoke perfect English and communication was never an issue. I know this can be a real anxiety for some travelers and with no internet in Cuba, it becomes that much more complicated organizing things.
- The wifi!! It costs only $10 CUC for the entire time you’re there and honestly it was so wonderful to double check itineraries or contacts whilst we were there. We weren’t able to get wifi anywhere else (not that we tried much).
- The recommendations were OUTSTANDING!! We were able to discover so many unique things that weren’t even on our radar thanks to the concierges and I am forever grateful. They can also organize tours and excursions for anyone wanting to do traditional car tours or go to other parts of Cuba for a day trip.
Our stay in Cuba was MADE because of our wonderful experience with El Candil. The staff was so helpful and patient with our many, many questions and money problems… I really can’t imagine how we would have coped without them! I would recommend booking in advance as the entire house was booked when we arrived. This is truly one of the best Casa Particulares in Havana and you just have to experience it to believe it.
Are you heading to Cuba in 2020? Check-out my ‘Guide for Americans Traveling to Cuba in 2020‘ blog post! I share LOADS of American-specific details and details about exchanging money, immigration and more. Here’s a peak at my Top 5 Tourist Things to do in Havana below.
Top 5 Tourist Things to Do
- Old Car Tour of Havana: You can organize a proper tour with an English-speaking guide (or whatever language you prefer) for about $130 – $150 USD. Many of the tour guides that I contacted wanted USD over CUC. We were unable to meet our tour operator due to my mistake with times (waahh) so we just asked a random guy with a random old car to take us around for an hour. It was nice enough and only $30.
- Sunset Drink on the rooftop of Hotel Inglaterra: The sunset is pretty spectacular looking over the ‘Parque Central’ plaza with the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in the distance. Fair warning, this is a government-owned property.
- Free Walking Tour of Havana: My FAVORITE way to see a new city is to always go on a Free Walking Tour. You just have to reserve this online for free and then you should tip your guide at the end.
- Stay in a Casa Particular: This is the BEST way to support the Cuban people and to get a real taste of Cuban hospitality. These are not government owned in any-way. Don’t forget to check out El Candil Boutique Hotel and to let them know I sent you <3
- Night out at Fabrica de Arte Cubano: The atmosphere is incredible. There are drinks, live performances, and multiple levels of local art that will give you a better understanding of Cuban life and culture.