The Obama family will be taking in the sights of Cuba this week — and soon, you could do the same. Just before the president’s plane touched down in Havana for a historic visit, his administration announced that it will allow travelers from around the world to visit Cuba through Airbnb.
The San Francisco-based online platform connects users with local residents who offer up their homes for lodging purposes. Airbnb launched in Cuba in April after the United States moved to normalize diplomatic relations with the country. But only U.S. citizens were allowed to book the roughly 1,000 lodgings then available. Now, all travelers can book an Airbnb in Cuba if they are traveling to the country for one of 12 purposes approved by the U.S. government, including family visits, professional research, humanitarian projects and “people to people” educational trips.
In the past year, more than 13,000 Americans have stayed in Airbnbs in Cuba, making the country the company’s fastest-growing market. That’s surprising, considering that only 4 percent of Cubans had access to the Internet when Airbnb launched there and the service is run completely online. Lucky for Airbnb, it was already fairly common for local travel agents to connect foreigners to Cubans who wanted to rent out their homes. By enlisting those travel agents in its cause, Airbnb was able to quickly get a foothold in a market becoming more competitive each month. Just this week, Starwood Hotels announced that it would become the first U.S. hotel company in more than 50 years to operate in Cuba. It intends to transform three Havana hotels into Starwood hotels, including a “Four Points by Sheraton.”
Though Airbnb seems to be more expensive than going directly to Cuban homeowners, the rooms are relatively cheap compared with those in major U.S. cities. On Sunday, the average cost of a private room was $38 per night, $82 per night for an entire home and $19 per night for a shared room. Here’s a glimpse of what the lodgings have to offer:
City: Havana, Cuba’s capital
Price: $46 per night for one bed
Review: “We must admit to feelings of trepidation being one of the first airbnbers to go to Cuba, not knowing what to expect. But the pictures of Casa Densil looked beautiful, so we took the plunge. And what a wonderful experience we had.”
City: Vinales, Pinar del Rio province
Price: $46 per night for two beds
No reviews. Description: “Our guest can enjoy the beautiful view from the terrace, and drink some cocktails as Mojitos, Cuba Libre, the front Porch, etc.”
City: Baracoa, Guantanamo province
Price: $25 per night for four beds
Review: “Roberto and his wife are the best. They’ll prepare breakfast for you at any time of the morning and can recommend any number of excursions. The rooms are clean, water runs hot, and the air conditioning is great.”