The New Cuba: Casa Particular and Paladar


dsc_8531_2After the change in policy towards Cuba started on December 19, 2014, the number of American visitors to Cuba has increased in more than 50 percent. There are two names, specific to things in Cuba, that every visitor is most certainly going to hear and probably try to pronounce. These two names are symbol of the changes in Cuba towards some form of free enterprise: “Casa Particular”, and “Paladar”.

Casa Particular, (pronounced kahsah pahrteecoolahr) means literally private house. Actually it means sort of like a bed & breakfast thing. These are people who have upgraded their houses (or a room or rooms) to a standard above the usual Cuban home, and taken advantage of new rules allowing them to rent to foreign visitors.

The upgrading is usually air conditioning, new mattresses in the beds, running water 24 hours a day, hot water showers, and other amenities.

Casas Particulares have been a vehicle for the introduction of Internet business in Cuba. Most of them are now registered with AirBNB. Close to 1000 Casas Particulares are available in Havana only, for an average rent of $40.00 USD a night.

The thing is, with the increase in visitors, Havana’s hotel infrastructure is overwhelmed. The alternative is to rent a room at a Casa Particular, and enjoy the best of both worlds: Direct interaction with a Cuban family, representing the new entrepreneurial class, and enjoying Havana all the same, and for a very reasonable price.

Paladar (pronounced pahlahdahr), has an interesting history. Cubans love TV soaps; particularly Brazilian soaps. Years ago, there was a very popular soap, “Vale Tudo”, or “Everything Goes”. One of the main characters is a lady who comes to Rio, the Big City, and starts by selling sandwiches out of a basket at the beach. In a few years of hard, honest work, she ends up as owner and CEO of a food emporium (restaurants, catering for airlines, etc.) The name of her business was “Paladar” which means taste, or the ability to discern and enjoy the taste of food. It has become the generic name for the privately own and operated restaurants now allowed in Cuba, as a symbol of what Cubans wish to attain through hard work and private entrepreneurship.

From the early days, I can recommend two, through personal experience: “La Guarida”, in Centro Habana, located in an Art Noveau house with a grand marble staircase, and “La Cocina de Lilliam”, laid out in the gardens of a Villa, close to the famous “Tropicana” cabaret. But there are now hundreds of Paladares in Havana. Another way Internet business has been seeping into Cuba: You can find reviews,ratings and addresses for over 500 Paladares in the website Tripadvisor.com.

You can now visit Havana and plan your stay, and your night out through the Internet in advance. Just learn to say “Casa Particular”, and “Paladar”. Nice alternatives for lodging and the best dining in Havana, Cuba.