You can stay in a hotel when you are in Cuba, or you can stay in a Casa Particular. We would recommend the latter.
Since the authorities in Cuba made it possible for private individuals to operate their own business (given that it is aimed at tourism), the Cuban ‘bed and breakfast’ has popped up everywhere. In Trinidad it seems that every second house is a casa.
In Havana we pre-booked our casas, since we were arriving late at night. Both that evening and when we later returned to the capital before flying home, we found that the casas had been double booked. We had to sleep somewhere other than where we had booked. It was never a problem, as the Cubans sorted it all out for us and the alternative locations were just as good too.
When arriving in Trinidad, we were approached by a guy at the bus station who owned a casa. We were prepared to look around for a casa ourselves, so we were please it was sorted out easily here too. At Ronney’s we had a roof terasse with a view to the sea (ok, so you had to squint a bit to see it) and the mountains. We also had a large room, where we could spread our selves out.
We were always well taken care of in the casas. There was freshly squeezed juice for breakfast, more than enough food, lovely tasty dinner and if we needed help with anything, the Cubans were really helpful, whether it was information or transportation we needed.
Let’s talk about food. Many people who have been to Cuba have shaken their heads when asked about the food. We were prepared for two weeks of rice and beans, but our experience was delicious food in many places.
In the middle of a conversation with Karolina who runs Casa Particular ‘Alexander and Margarita’ (link), she jumped up, telling us she had to run. She had booked a table at ‘Starbien’ to have dinner with her daughter. But hey, we could always take her table when she was finished! They only planned a quick meal and then home again.
‘I know the owners, it won’t be a problem’, she smiled and ran away. When we later arrived at Starbien, we were referred to a sofa upstairs on the second floor. There we ordered drinks while we waited for our table and made our choices from the extensive menu. ‘Starbien’ is private, a so-called ‘paladar’ and owned by Osmani Fernández, who have refurbished a house in the old colonial style. There are high ceilings and beautiful tiles on the walls. Upstairs on the second floor there are several smaller rooms, with tables in each, so there is no over crowding.
The food, wow, we will not forget the food! Marlin (a type of sword fish), cooked perfectly. It melted on our tongues. The wine was delicious, the drinks tasted great. The service was excellent and we left the place with a smile on our faces.
Here are some other places where we enjoyed a good meal:
La Botija, Trinidad
This must surely be Trinidad’s most popular paladar. There is always a queue outside (you can not book a table), but the twenty minutes you often have to wait is well worth it. If you tire of ‘Guantanamera’, eat here, where the music is jazzier. The food is good, the waiters friendly and although there are various chains and iron work from the area’s dark slave history (on the walls), the atmosphere in this large room is good.
Canadian Greg owns the Soviet restaurant on the Malecon in Havana. He has roots in Ukraine and has now established a nice restaurant with old propaganda posters on the walls, vodka in the glass and lovely stroganoff on the plate. The red Soviet flag flies out on the veranda.
He has good location, Greg. A few buildings away there is a large hotel being built and slowly several of the houses around him are getting a facelift.
That said, we ate delicious dinners in our casas too. Often it was a fish with all the trimmings, almost more than we could eat.
We had heard some tales about eating lobster in Cuba. Some thought it was extravagant thing only tourists could do, but when we were out to dinner with some Cubans in Vinales, they enjoyed a meal of lobster. We thought why not, let try it, so when on our roof terrace in Trinidad, we were given three choices for dinner, we chose lobster. What a juicy lobster it was too! The guys in ‘Casa Cacha’ really knew how to cook and not only did it taste good, it was beautifully presented too.
We have, in other words, many fond memories of Cuba when it comes to food and who needs a hotel when one is so well taken care of in a casa.