Before Airbnb, Cuba had Casas Particulares

| I’m sitting on a balcony at the edge of Old Havana, watching the city wake. The streets bustle with buses, pedi-cabs and vintage cars as the sun lazily frees nearby buildings from shadow. An elderly woman a few apartments over lowers a basket of money on a string. A man on the sidewalk swaps her cash for a bag of food, and she reels her groceries up, deft as an angler.

Later that day, my husband and I sit on that same balcony, sipping rum and asking our hosts Roberto and Isabelle about life in Cuba. Though our Spanish is stilted and childlike, they are patient with us.

They speak with pride about Cuba’s health and education systems: despite decades of nationwide poverty, literacy rates consistently hover near 100% and life expectancy is on par with the US. They express hope that in the coming years, their government will find a balance between the revolutionary fight for equity and the country’s need for overall economic improvement.

This home, which belongs to a Cuban family but hosted my husband, myself, and another traveling couple, is one of Cuba’s Casas Particlares. It’s like an Airbnb (and, truthfully, we booked it through Airbnb), but is part of a tradition of locally immersive housing goes back decades.

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