Hotels and private accommodation
Most Cuban hotels are state-owned or joint-ventures with Western operators. Many people go to Cuban on all-inclusive packages, but you can also organise tailored packages, book hotels directly, book through UK agents, book ahead in Cuba itself or just turn up though hotels can get full in high season.
The cheapest and most basic Cuban hotels are peso hotels intended for Cubans only, but some take foreigners too, for dollars. The network of Campismo camp sites also offer cabanas, usually for $5-$10 a night.
Cuban-operated dollar hotels for tourists tend to be basic but comfortable, though the food can be a little primitive. They vary a lot, however, so check out our recommendations in the destinations sections. Typical costs are $20-50 a night. Quoted prices for hotels are a guide to the price range from the minimum per-night for a single-room in low season to the maximum for a double in high season.
The few Western-managed hotels are almost all four and five star, though the star-rating system can be a little on the generous side. Most are run by the Spanish Melia group, Novotel of France or Candadian companies, though there are a few German-run hotels in Varadero. There is also a Cuban-run four-star hotel group called Gran Caribe. Expect to pay $60-140 a night for a four-star, depending on season and location. The limited number of five-stars in Havana, Varadero and the main resorts tend to be at nearly Western prices and standards are good.
Plenty of Cuba-specialist agents will book hotels from the UK. You pay in advance and receive a coupon with your reservation. You will, however, tend to pay the full rack price for rooms and they will try and steer you into hotels on their list where they get good commissions. Some agents do, however, offer good rates use our quoted prices for recommended hotels in the destinations sections as a guide.
You can also try booking yourself, though phone and fax lines can be temperamental. A few places are also now on email. By going direct you may be able to negotiate discounts off-season or for longer stays or groups.
If booking yourself or through an agent make sure that you get a confirmation fax or coupon with all of the relevant details. Beware on arrival of attempts to bump you from the class of room you have booked. Hotels with bungalow/cabanas often try and downgrade you to a room if they have filled their bungalow/cabanas. If you want a cabana, make sure it is specified at time of booking.
Also check that the price includes breakfast, but beware of full-board deals. Agents often try and book you on this basis as it increases their commission, but unless you are in a good hotel in a beach resort the food can be awful and you may be better retaining the option to eat elsewhere.
Booking hotels via the net is not easy. Most sites do not offer Cuban accommodation and those that do often give odd prices when we checked OneTravel.com they had some Havana hotels at over the walk-in price.
Possibly the best option is to book a couple of nights from the UK perhaps in Havana through an agent, which will also supply your tourist card. Remember to specify the hotels you want and try more than one agent. Then once in Cuba you have the option of travelling freely. The risk of finding yourself without a hotel is limited as most places will have at least something available and there is also the option of private rooms casa particulars.
Walk-in prices are often lower than if you book through an agent and some hotels are negotiable, though others can absurdly stick to their rack-price when the agency in the next door hotel will book you for less. At the very least many places will throw in breakfast if you ask.
Or you can book ahead from many hotels in Cuba. The larger places have booking agencies. Although these are run by one or other of the state hotel chains they will book a selection of hotels from other groups. Often they will offer the cheapest prices and you can always book for one night and then negotiate to stay longer when you are there.
Renting private flats and houses in Cuba
Many Cubans rent their flats and houses or just rooms to visitors to earn dollars. Some are basic, but many are very comfortable and atmospheric. People renting private accommodation casa particulars have to be licensed by the state and pay the government $100 a month whether or not they rent their properties. However, you will also be offered plenty of unofficial flats, some of which are fine but many of which are grim. Prices range from $10 for a room in a provincial town to $50 a night for a decent central Havana flat with two bedrooms and a working bathroom. Expect to pay $30 a night for a small house in a provincial town. Many owners will get your laundry done for a small fee, but remember to check the water and plumbing before you commit yourselves.
Several Cuba guide books have addresses and even emails of casa particulars, but we would generally suggest you check them out for yourself rather than booking ahead. Touts will offer accommodation and in the smaller towns flats and houses often display signs. Check the property first and don't be afraid to say no or negotiate a little on price, especially for a stay of more than one night. Make sure the locks are secure and never assume that your valuables will be safe.