When travelling around Cuba, staying in a casa particular is pretty much the best way to go. No, you won’t get to experience the biggest luxury, but in a country where people have only recently been allowed to have their own business, you won’t want to do it any other way. However, there are big differences between casas.
Playa Larga is a bit off the beaten track (read our post about Playa Larga here), but a fair amount of tourists do find there way to this laidback beachside town. The best area to stay is the neighbourhood Caletón, which has an abundance of guest houses painted in bright colours. Many of them are located very close to or on the beach. So, if you’d like to spend a couple of days with your feet in the sand, this is probably THE place to do that if you’re travelling on a low(er) budget.
We, however, stayed in Casa Ana, which is located about 5 minutes away from the beach. Now, why should you stay there instead of booking a casa with sea view?
Well, apart from the gorgeous garden and the many birds, the main reason to go is for the hosts, Ana and Giraldo! There is no way to describe how sweet they are. We became part of their family, especially once we got stuck there for a couple of nights more than planned thanks to the Coronavirus.
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Playa Larga consists of a main town and a beachside area called Caletón. To get to the latter, take the street to the right at the war monument before you get into Playa Larga. Follow the main street for about a kilometre. You’ll pass a kind of square with a bunch of bicitaxis waiting in front of the panadería (bakery). A bit further on your right, you will find a gated area with sober buildings – communist style. This is the clinic where a doctor is available for tourists 24 hours a day (yep, been there done that).
The first street on the right will make you walk straight into the two houses of Casa Ana. Yup, two houses that are actually two different casas, but they operate under the same name. You can find the Casa Ana we’re talking about, here on Airbnb. At the end of our stay, Ana gave us a business card, which mentioned the name of the casa actually being Casa Gleybis (after their daughter). You can find it on some websites under that name as well (take a look here).
To get to the beach, take the small street back to the main road and cross it. Follow the dirt road straight ahead and it will bring you to Playa Caletón in about 5 minutes. On your way, you’ll pass a couple of restaurants, many many many guest houses and an ice-cream shop that will make you lift your eyebrows but that sells the best helado en cono (ice cream on a cone) we ate on our trip.
As mentioned, there are two separate guest houses surrounded by a pink gate. The first house (a kind of salmon pink) is owned by Anabel and her husband Adrian while the second house (painted half pink and half white) belongs to Ana Rosa and Giraldo, who is Anabels brother.
Ana & Giraldos small house offers two guest rooms. The smaller one with an exterior entrance and the second one inside the main house.
Room 1: the smaller, outside bedroom
The smaller room has a double and a single bed, a refrigerator inside the room and a small rack on the wall to put luggage. The bathroom is simple with a sink, toilet and shower – including a colourful shower screen as usual in Cuba. It’s not the biggest room, but still a nice place, especially because it comes with a private front porch. It’s a great spot to sit in your chair (not a rocking chair though) in the shade while reading a book (or smoke one of your new cigars!). You can walk around the house to get to the garden for breakfast, birdwatching or just to relax or chat with Ana and Giraldo.
Room 2: the larger, inside bedroom
The bigger room consists of 2 double beds of which one is in a corner against the wall (great for kids!). There’s also a very big closet (which was heavenly when we ended up staying 9 days – such a luxury to take everything out of our suitcase). The bathroom in here also has a sink, toilet and shower along with some funky green tiles.
When you are staying in this room, you also have free use of the sitting room in front of the guest room. There’s a refrigerator and 3 sofas. You can sit on the main front porch with its typical rocking chairs too if you like.
The rest of the house
There’s a door separating the sitting area from the rest of the house, with is theoretically only for Ana and Giraldo, but you can leave the door open whenever you like (or close it if you prefer that) and walk right through to the garden. The longer you stay the more you’ll be allowed to use the house as your own. I’m currently writing this from the dinner table, while N is playing with Ana inside her bedroom and Kath is doing laundry. Just proving my point.
THE GARDEN & BIRDWATCHING
Both houses have a large tropical garden that attracts many birds. One of the main selling points of these casas is the possibility of birdwatching. Even in the first part of the garden – where we usually sit for breakfast – you see lots of hummingbirds and other indigenous feathered friends. When you go in deeper, there are a couple of sitting areas where you can watch more birds, butterflies and tropical plants. There’s also plenty of shade in their garden and a big river behind it (not safe for little kids! But it’s very deep into the garden).
To see an abundance of birds, head over into the neighbours’ garden and walk all the way to the end. Here you’ll find a bigger sitting area with many feeding places for birds and bees. You can sit there for a while and watch all the tiny Cuban birds fly around. If you head even further, you can cross the river and hop onto a little island.
BREAKFAST & DINNER
Breakfast is served in the garden under a covered picnic table. As usual, you receive way more than you can possibly eat. But keep in mind that there’s usually a shortage of something in Cuba. The first couple of days of our stay they were lacking eggs, so that meant that the breakfast wasn’t what they usually offer – although there were still plenty of yummy things.
The full breakfast consisted of bread (regular or toasted, whichever you prefer), cheese, butter, honey, torrejas (pain perdu with syrup, yummy yummy), pancakes, cookies, usually 2 kinds of fruit (pineapple, banana, papaya or guayaba), coffee, hot milk and sugar (and you could probably ask for tea as well, but we never did) and a can of fresh juice (usually pineapple, but sometimes guayaba).
The breakfast costs 5 CUC per person, as is common in casas particulares. Kids don’t need to pay unless you specifically ask for a full breakfast for them (which we never did, we already always had to tell Ana the breakfast was way too much).
You can ask Ana to cook lunch or dinner for you whenever you like. This will cost you 10 CUC per person and she’ll usually ask you what you would like. N and I had lunch at Casa Ana one time when Kath was feeling sick. Ana made us chicken with white rice and some raw vegetables: cucumber, cabbage and tomato. As a side dish she made some very yummy fresh banana chips (chicharritas). As a starter, we had tomato soup with a kind of pasta and lots of vegetables.
As great as the casa, the garden and the breakfast were on their own, the real reason to stay here is for Ana and Giraldo. On all our travels, we’ve never met anyone as sweet and helpful as them (and we’ve met many friendly people before!).
Even before the troubles with Covid-19 began, they were looking for ways to make our lives easier. Living in Cuba isn’t simple and neither is travelling. Common things as shops, food and internet don’t exist here in the way we are used to. So, when we inquired about a bakery, they told us it only has bread available early in the morning and then in the late afternoon again. And they promptly brought us some later that night. Giraldo goes out to buy bread every day, so they told us it wasn’t a problem to bring a couple for us.
This was how it went with just about anything. When N. wasn’t eating because of her tummy, Ana made her some pancakes just the way we make them at home. And when they found out how crazy for bananas our little girl is, they gave her a big bunch especially for her so she could eat one whenever she wanted.
We really became and felt part of their family and that’s the most important reason to come and stay at Casa Ana / Casa Gleybis. You won’t be disappointed!