Bananas at the Market
Local Options Abound
You have a handful of options for hotels in Cuba. For obvious reasons, you will not find any American hotels in the country, but you will find many locally run options that offer you a wonderful experience. Most towns have at least one state run hotel. It is usually located in an old colonial building that has been restored. There are also some very nice Cuban resorts and high end hotels that you can find throughout the country.
There are some strict restrictions on accommodation in Cuba. It is illegal for a resident to house a foreigner in their home for free. If you're caught you will likely end up with a large fine, so this option is best avoided. It's not worth the risk, and you don't want to end up in legal trouble in a foreign country.
A Unique Experience
Because of strict country regulation, couchsurfing is not advised in Cuba. There are some great, affordable options throughout the country however, so couchsurfing is not a necessary option anyway. Consider staying at a casa particular. These are privately owned houses that are licensed with the government to house foreigners. They are typically priced very reasonably and can offer a fun experience. Also avoid going with a jineteros, or hustler, who might approach your bus and offer to show you some accommodation. They will receive a kickback from any place you stay, and you will be paying that kickback with an inflated hotel price. It is better to locate accommodation on your own. Do keep in mind that any time there is a commission being paid, you are the person paying it. If you can avoid commissions, this will save you some money.
A Surprising Diversity
There are several types of accommodation in Cuba. You can find some nice resorts and hotels that make for an enjoyable holiday. Alternatively, you could stay at a casa particular, which, as mentioned above, are privately owned facilities that are licensed to house foreigners. They are cheaper than the hotel alternative and often come with a very decent breakfast. You can stay in state run hotels which exist in most towns around Cuba. They are usually located in a refurnished colonial building.
Particularly in casa particulares, do keep in mind that you will be charged for any extras. Car rides, water, and other amenities are often tacked on to the bill for relatively high prices. You won't always be informed of this ahead of time so make sure you ask before you enjoy any of these features. You don't want to be caught off guard with an unexpected surprise at the end of your trip.
Also remember to avoid the touts who will take you to specific hotels where commissions are paid. You will do better finding your own accommodation ahead of time and avoiding that mark up.
Most visitors to Havana stay in one of three different areas around the city. Old Havana is the most active area. Some people might consider it a little chaotic and dirty, but it has a lot of charm and character as well. If you're looking for an area that's a little quieter then you might enjoy Central Havana. There are some areas that are a bit dodgy though so do your research ahead of time. If you're really looking for peace and quiet then Vedado is your best option. It also has the most greenery so it is a pleasant place to explore. Vedado also has the largest hotels and the nicest casas particulares, so if you're looking for more comfort then this is the best neighborhood for you.
There a wide range of quality when it comes to hotels in Havana. Some are a little more run down. Don't be surprised if you find a place that doesn't have hot water but still has random amenities such as an on site doctor or extravagant swimming pool. There are times when the amenities might seem almost random.
Many of the city's hotels have a lot of history and character. Some have been better renovated than others, but they each seem to have their own story to tell. Pay attention to the details and you might be surprised at the level of charm you can see in an older room that appears to have seen better days.
If you're looking for the most authentic experience, you probably want to stay at a casa particulares as opposed to a hotel. These will give you the best opportunities to meet local Cubans and avoid the more touristy areas. There is no shortage of these bed and breakfast style facilities around town. You should have no trouble locating a room, even if you arrive without reservations.
If you do decide to stay in a hotel instead of a casa particulares, then you will have three places to choose from. These are Hotel Las Jazmines, Hotel La Ermita, and Rancho Horizontes San Vicente. They are each rated three stars and are all a few kilometers away from town. This is not the most convenient place to stay if you are hoping to be close to some of the action. It is possible to walk from Rancho Horizontes San Vicente to El Palenque.
Campismo Dos Hermanos offers about fifty very simple cabins. This facility was built by the government and is near the Mural de la Prehistoria. It's a basic option with a simple restaurant and a swimming pool.