Casa particular is the Cuban idiom to refer to bed & breakfasts or private homestays. In general under this term you could find full apartment and houses, rooms inside people houses, or mini-apartments or rooms with separate entrance (studio or efficiency type rooms).
Although you could thinks that a casa particular is a bed & breakfast do not assume that breakfast is included in the room price, usually you should pay an extra fee for it, unless explicit stated.
Casa particular exactly means "private house", it comes from the fact that everything else (from hotels to industries) is owned by the government, i.e. it is not private. Only some casas particulares and some private restaurants called "Paladares" are owned by individuals The plural of "casa particular" is "casas particulares" an not "casa particulars".
Accommodation in a casa particular could be one of the more interesting experiences that you may enjoy while you travel to Cuba. Cuba is a unusual country in many facts. Of all the foreigners I had meet in the past, only a few got the true feeling of the country, and a deep knowledge of the Cuban society. All of them stay in several "casas particulares" during their travels to Cuba, only with the regular interaction with your hosts, in this kind of private accommodation, you will learn more about Cuba.
By staying in a "casa particular" you will obtain several benefits, among them:
- Get in touch with the truly Cuban people: If you stay in a big resort in a beach, you will never get an opportunity to talk to and make friends with the real people. You will only meet workers of the hotel and other tourists like you. YOU WILL MISS THE MAIN ATTRACTION OF CUBA, ITS PEOPLE, by staying in a hostel or apartment living with Cubans you will get a feeling of the "real" Cuba.
- Lower prices: It is cheaper to lodge in a private room or bed and breakfast than stay in a hotel. This does not mean you will be less comfortable, on the contrary, many people prefer this kind of domestic accommodation to the cold functionality of a big hotel. You will save some money and extend your travel to Cuba.
- Directly help the Cubans: By renting a private room or staying in a private hostel you will be DIRECTLY contributing to a person or family's stand of living.
- Improve your Spanish:Through regular interaction with the house owners you could learn or improve your Spanish.
- Privacy: It is well know that you could not have Cuban guests in official hotel rooms. If you stay in a private accommodation you could invite to your room any friend you may want.
Renting a casa particular to tourists and foreigners is allowed by the cuban law, and you could state that you will be staying in a casa particular when arriving to Cuba, or applying for a Cuban visa.
It is very easy to know if you are hosted in an official or "licensed" casa. You will have to check three simple points:
- A blue triangle in the front door, or somewhere else with good visibility, stating (Arrendador inscripto).
- The owner will ask you for your passport as soon as you arrive (they will need your details to report your stay to immigration authorities).
- They will ask you to sign a receipt in a book with yellow pages.
The only method you will have to pay (or the owners have to receive their payments) is using cash. You could pay in "pesos convertibles". Cubans have almost not access to financial institutions, and accepting credit cards or travellers check is like science fiction for them.