How to live like a local in Havana, Cuba

When we started planning our Caribbean itinerary last October, we knew one thing for sure when discussing the topic of Cuba: we wanted to live it the local way. No fancy hotels, first world comforts and luxury. A very common way of travelling in Cuba is by staying at guest houses, a source of income for locals that the government allows. That means that a spare room (or a few) can be rented out to tourists and creates an authentic experience for people wanting to know what Cuban life is like.

Like with most of our planning, we tend to be very last moment. When we returned to Barbados after a week of sailing, we went online one day before leaving to Cuba to get our home stay sorted. Easy peasy! After a little research and paying the 20 euros reservation fee, it was done. A few hours before departure we got informed that we’d be staying the first 3 nights at the lady’s friends place across the road due to occupancy, and the additional nights at her place. We tried to just embrace the unknown and let it all happen! While nobody, but literally nobody, spoke a word English, by the end of the day we found ourselves at a family’s home in the neighbourhood of Vadero, with a mum, a couple and a baby being our family for the next 3 days. We decdided to blend right into the local life and stayed home for the night, with a baby to play with and the live salsa music channel on tv to dance on in the living room and a glass of rum (pure, that is) in our hand.

So that’s enough introduction, here are the 5 main reasons we recommend to stay at a guest house when travelling to Cuba.

1. Cuba is a world on its own

Cuba is a country different than any other place in the world. By staying at a guest house you get to fully experience the beauty of its locals, the food, the dancing and the lifestyle in a way you could never to know it while staying at a hotel.

2. Guets houses vs. Hotels

Like you probably know, Cuba has a communist background and thus the whole commercial scene isn’t quite developed like we know elsewhere. That means for example that there aren’t many hotels and the hotels they do have are disproportionally expensive for the level of quality you get. All the more reason to opt for a guest house instead.

3. It’s an eye opening and humbling experience
Seeing people live with very little, yet trying to make the most of it and have such a positive, optimistic approach to life is a beautiful thing to see. While we felt frustrated at times by things such as not having wi-fi access, warm water or comfortable beds; for many Cuban’s that’s everyday’s reality. It makes you aware of the abundance of opportunities and luxury our lives have and that such a lifestyle should never be taken for granted.

4. Support Locals
By staying at a guest house you support a Cuban household. You pay for the stay, but if you like you can also have breakfast and dinner at the family’s place for a set price. For many Cubans, the income they get out of renting rooms is a very important one.

5. Getting social
Staying at a guest house means you get to interact and blend in with the family’s routine, whether’s that drinking coffee on the sidewalk with neighbours or salsa dancing in the living room. Many of the guest houses are also part of a bigger network in the same neighbourhood like in our case and this way you’ll get to meet lots of people from all over the world. We were in Havana for Christmas and New Year’s and on both occassions a big party was thrown with people from everywhere meeting at our home for drinks, dancing and dinner. Very fun.

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