Havana, the capital city of Cuba, is full of intriguing places to stay. The hotel scene is split between crumbling grande dames, faded Modernist queens, little boutiques carved out of one-time colonial homes and modern business hotels that lack charm but have every amenity you crave. But if you want to get right under Havana's skin, consider accessing the private market, which runs the gamut of bare-bones spare bedrooms to 1950s suburban homes with original cocktail bars, with these eight great casas particulares in Havana.
Casa Verano Azul, Havana
This 1947 suburban home in Miramar is within walking distance of the Casa de la Musica's Miramar outpost. Unsurprisingly for Havana, the cook and the manager have a rarefied pedigree (an ex-judge and a renowned heritage architect respectively); the latter is adept at arranging in-the-know cultural excursions for her charges. The best thing about Casa Verano Azul is the artwork. Owner Milly Diaz is an expert in Cuban art and her house is replete with great works, including a tropical, hummingbird-filled garden with an outdoors terrace and wall mosaics by José Fuster, Cuba's renowned naïve artist.
42 No. 1514 Miramar, £40 per room or £1400 per month, sleeps four in two doubles, with two bathrooms.
Casa Teresita, Havana
Teresita's elegant, old-fashioned green Vedado 'mansionette' has four large bedrooms (two ensuite) plus a little apartment behind the garage. The main fillip of staying at Teresita's is the woman herself. Warm and welcoming with a cheeky glint in her eye, she is always there to shoot the breeze and can organise anything you need, from advice on how to handle hustlers to the best breakfasts in town: mounds of fruit, eggs and bread and rustic cheese. Teresita's is on Paseo, near the intersection with Linea, so the only downside is it's a little noisy.
Teresita Paseo No 208 between Línea and Calle 11; +53 7 830 2649. CUC$30 per room per night.
Casa Lilly, Havana
Casa Lilly is high up in a Malecon-facing 1950s Vedado apartment and its number-one boon is the incredible view of the seafront. Boon number two: the lovely, light-drenched white hued interiors, adorned with great Cuban art. Lilly and family are always available to organise excursions, dispense advice (in English, German and French) and book suggested B&Bs in other provinces of Cuba. Organic breakfasts are served every morning on the wraparound balcony. Double, twin and triple ensuite rooms are available.
Calle G Numero 301 entre 13 y 15, Apto 13, Vedado $35
Casa de María Elena, Havana
This roomy, three-bedroom suburban beauty in the slightly far-flung, upmarket area of Siboney (15 minutes by taxi into Habana Vieja and you'll need a car) is the kind of place Tony Montana may have aspired to if he had remained in Cuba. This is where you'll find the diplo-families and so-called 'protocol houses'. A sumptuous pool, well-tended gardens overhanging with foliage, laundry, chauffeuring and complete catering options are all available. The house is near to several great restaurants and La Giradilla, a bar-restaurant-entertainment complex centre which is a real local hangout for live gigs and parties.
Ave. 17 No. 20106; bookinghavana.com; three bedrooms, two bathrooms. 350 CUC per week sole use; from $30 per room.
Villa Portería, Havana
Alexis López Hernandez's house is the only modern creation on a colonial Vedado street - and that is not the only thing that sets it apart. This casa particular is also a repository of antiques, for Hernandez is also a dealer – a bonus if you're interested in ceramics, glassware, sculpture and paintings. As in the antiques trade in the UK, Cuban dealers work from home. The rooms for hire are grouped around a pretty courtyard garden.
Calle 4 No 310 between Calles 13 and 15, Vedado; +53 7 833 8670. CUC$40 per room per night.
Artedel Luxury Penthouse, Havana
On the breeze-filled upper reaches of a Vedado apartment block a stone's throw from the Hotel Nacional, Artedel is a super-shiny 1950s style home scattered with contemporary furniture, Murano glass pieces, bronze lamps, and vibrant art work. Brilliant views and an outside terrace complete the picture. The owners understand what international travellers need, and this is the only casa we know of personally with a Nespresso machine, airport pick ups, salsa lessons, drivers, translators, laundry and massage as standard.
Avenida Primera 26, between 15 and 17, Vedado, +53 7 830 8727, +53 5 295 5700 www.cubaguesthouse.com
Header photo © Javier Labrador
Have you ever stayed in a casa particular? What did you think? Share any recommendations in the comments below.
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About the author: LydiaBellLydia Bell
A London-based travel writer and editor, Lydia's globetrotting assignments have taken her to every continent of the earth, from Bhutan to Mongolia via Namibia and Ecuador. She writes for the national travel sections here and in Australia, and is a Contributing Editor of Harper's Bazaar. Her love affair with Cuba was ramped up a notch five years ago when she found herself with a Cuban husband. Now she has a Cubanita toddler and a growing appreciation of the complex pathologies of modern Cuba, watching with interest as a new era of change unfurls on this idiosyncratic island.