How to Book Airbnb in Cuba

Currently (January 2016), you can only book a casa particular through Airbnb from the USA (not even from Cuba itself). Payment has to be made with a US-based method as well. The process however, is not as simple as with any other places they offer listings in. In fact you're not really supposed to book there unless you're a "licensed US traveler", but you still can ;)

Here are some important tips after having to figure all this myself -- which would've been hard without writing/speaking Spanish, I recon. The truth is either in Spanish or English, the info. about this topic is extremely lacking out there... UNTIL NOW

Or are they?

In Cuba you can't just put your house up for Airbnb! Only government permitted bed-n-breakfast (arrendador divisa, see right figure) didn't help create a new market it Cuba like in other parts of the world, it just helps people in the US (for now) find these places without having to pay an expensive guide on-the-ground to plan the entire trip. Go DIY!

  • Don't believe the pricing. Most of the times it's wrong (not always). If it seems too cheap, it's because the owner is probably only listing the price per room, regardless of how many people and rooms you're trying to fit in the house..
    Whether this is because they are unfamiliar with all-things-internet or as a deceptive marketing tactic, the fact is it's currently the norm and you have to always ask for a final quote as loud and clear as possible.
    Additionally, the price in USD you pay for the room will probably be 10% higher than what the owner is advertising, because they are charged 10 or 20% to convert USD into Cuban currency. In the end this all means you'll still owe them a balance in CUC for any rooms after the first. Make sure you have an understanding in advance.
  • Availability isn't up to date. You really need to ask if the place is available and receive a response before trying to book squat. This means don't ever use "Instant booking" for Cuban listings.
    Keep in mind the owners have these listings in many other places and they aren't necessarily professionals of the hospitality industry... They also seem to be very laid back people, who don't operate at New York City speeds.
  • Do I need to be a US Citizen? Nah. But Airbnb required that you check the "I'm subject to US laws" and select a purpose for your visit in the check-out page. It lets you, however, give any country you like in your address. It will also ask for the email address of all the guests so they can get the same info from them (purpose of visit and address) and the booking won't be sent to the owner until everyone replies... Annoying.
  • Escape Airbnb? Some times owners will suggest you can find them via email or some other website and creatively circumvent Airbnb's filters for sharing contact info. This is a delicate topic because if you're not sure what you're doing, you may very well get scammed. But then again, actually booking through Airbnb is more expensive and doesn't even cover the entire price so the rest of the money may still get you into a misunderstanding once you're there so... I see both options as comparable risks.
Hope that's useful for anyone out there! I know I looked up this Cuban Airbnb experience before and found nothing so, there ya go. Fasten those seat belts!