In 1997, the government finally allowed Cubans to rent out rooms in their houses to tourists. Proprietors are taxed and are subject to health and sanitary regulations imposed by inspectors who visit almost every day. A legal and licensed casa must have a sticker on their door with two blue chevrons against a white background [photo below: Señora Virginia's sticker with Arrendador Inscripto written on it.]
When you check-in, you have to give your passports to the owner of the casa so they can write your information and passport numbers down in their log book, which are also thoroughly inspected by government workers.
Cubans who have casa particulares are in much better shape than most people, but they also turn over a significant portion of their earnings to the government in taxes and fees.
Reservations are important especially during the busy season (we traveled during the December holidays). But don't fret if your reservations are not honored. Sometimes casa owners have to take in the first guest who tries to check-in just in case a reservation doesn't show up. Casa owners communicate with each other. It was not unusual for each owner to have a book full of business cards of other casa. We were always picked up by another family or driven to the next house if we weren't early enough to check-in at our first choice of lodging.
Prices run from US$20 to $25 and pesos are not accepted. Most casa owners will cook you breakfast and dinner. They usually ask what you feel like eating hours before it's time to eat. Señora Virginia's sister-in-law made us lunch in plastic containers when we asked for a packed meal to take with us to the beach. Except for Señora Noris' casa, we were able to buy bottled water and beers from their kitchens.
Accommodations are very basic: bed with clean sheets, usually lumpy but clean pillows, and clean towels. Soap was provided only at Señor Eladio's, so it is a very good idea to bring your own toiletries. With the embargo, you will never find your favorite soap, toothpaste or shampoo. (It is a hoot, however, to visit the grocery stores and read Champu on shampoo bottles.)
They are all very helpful if you need transportation anywhere. They will make phone calls for you if you have any questions they can't answer, but they almost always know what's up in their own towns.
With the exception of Señora Virginia's, we kept the keys to our own rooms. We also had our laundry done at Señora Virginia's for US$5.
We were able to buy groceries in some towns and cook our own meals at Señora Aleida's and Señora Noris'.
Please view each accommodation entry in this journal for more information.