Updated: Jun 25
Who knows the destination better than your own host when you're abroad?
This is a story about an AirBnb experience, probably the best one I've had so far, that can explain the incredible potential of the platform in a Country like CUBA, which is still facing difficulties on a social and economic level. In this amazing island a host can be for you a lot more than the simple owner of the accommodation and I will tell you why!
Let me introduce you to Leidy, the typical Cuban Mama. With her husband and daughter, they own Leidy Laura Hostal which is actually their own house with two extra bedrooms for guests. This is called a CASA PARTICULAR, the most common type of accommodation in Cuba, which basically allows you to sleep by the locals. It's located in MORÓN, a few kilometers away from the famous stunning beaches of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo in this magical tropical island.
She was our first local meeting after the taxi driver at Varadero's airport. I can't even tell you his expression when we told him: < We need to go to Moròn >. It was a 5h drive and absolutely atypical for tourists so he must have thought we were totally CRAZY!
At first sight Moròn looked like a simple village, very different from the imagine of Cuba that you have in mind. Not a lot of restaurants, not a lot to do, no tourists at all. I started wondering if I did something wrong in the itinerary, if maybe we should have stayed closer to the most known cities. But no, this just turned out to be the beginning of an absolutely authentic journey: only simple things, a small concert having place in the main square, people dancing on LATINO rhythms, a few stands with local street food and families presenting typical handcraft on a table at the entrance door of their own house.
Leidy welcomed us with a typical delicious MOJITO (the first of many) that we enjoyed in the peaceful terrace full of colors and flowers. Then, she cooked for us a succulent dinner characterised by very simple ingredients: a small soup as entrance, prawns, rice, a lot of veggies and fresh fruits. In fact, we immediately understood that the Country is actually still suffering the effects of the US embargo. We had a great time chatting with Leidy and her husband. They gave us suggestion, little hints for our next visits and explanations about Cuban culture and society. It's a safe destination, but it's important to always be careful and keep in mind that it's a poor Country with high levels of criminality.
The following day Leidy proposed us to take care of organising our trip to discover Playa Pilar, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. The taxi driver was a friend of her and we got to know him very well during the day: I was so curious and excited that I could't stop asking him questions! You have to know that Cubans have a poor knowledge of the English language so when they meet tourists who can speak Spanish, they are super keen to have a nice conversation and to give explanations. I was informed about the hectic economic situation, but I only realized its poverty once there. Life is extremely hard, they have to struggle every day to be able to maintain their families and the devastating tornado in 2017 made the situation in the area even worst. It was so sad to hear about a man losing his home, his job and restart a new life, but doing it with the typical smile and energy that this people have.
That intense and authentic trip ended with a delicious PIÑA COLADA on a wood shack right on the sea admiring a stunning sunset in the background: definitely an amazing spot on the way back to Moròn! (Parador La Silla). We then had the same driver for the departure to Trinidad, again Leidy had the transfer arranged for us. Before leaving she surprised us with small souvenirs to bring with us during the rest of the itinerary. She wanted to thank us for the amazing time spent together and we were so grateful to this special woman who made us fell as part of her family. She treated us her us children not as tourists and I can still hear her voice saying < Gracias mi amorrrr >.
What makes this possible in Cuba is that INTERNET is still very limited so in case you get lost there's no Google Maps, no TripAdvisor for restaurants suggestion, no Uber for a lift. You have to talk to people, ask them for information and this is why you can feel a stronger HUMAN CONNECTION. It's difficult for us to think about being disconnected, but I swear, this allowed us to be even more involved and passionate during the holiday, we met wonderful people and we learnt a lot.
Casas Particulares are not just a way to find an accommodation when travelling, but to interact with the local population, to let them suggest you the best spots, to organize tours and transfers, to cook for you a typical dish, to learn about their lifestyle and prospective.
What made this trip so special is the incredible relationship we had with local people. Before leaving, we wrote down an itinerary based on the time we had and the cities and activities we were interested in. Apart from that, the real journey was created on site day after day with the help of these people that we met.They gave us a room to sleep, they cooked for us, they found taxi drivers to move to the other villages, they organised our tours according to their personal local connections. We were happy to give them our money directly without the need or an intermediary contruibuing to the local economy. And this is very important, especially in Cuba where a great part of the tourism, revenues is kept by the government.
I felt so involved that sometimes I also left pieces of cloths to the families we met: it felt so good to be able to help someone whose life is so different from the one you have while visiting another Country.
In Cuba a host can be the perfect guide for you, so experience the destination as they would!
Thank you Leidy :)
My wonderful Cuba Team: Juliette, Paco, Juju, Caro, Popo
Have a look at the entire itinerary here!