Accommodation & Hotels
If you want to experience something of the real life of Cubans, the best places to stay are casas particulares, which are private houses licensed to offer lodging services to foreigners. A casa particular is basically a private family establishment that provides paid lodging, usually on a short-term basis. This type of establishment would more usually be called a bed and breakfast or vacation rental in other countries. In general, under this term, you can find full apartments and houses, rooms inside people's homes, mini-apartments or rooms with separate entrance (studio or efficiency-type rooms). The business may be operated either as a primary occupation or as a secondary source of income, and the staff often consists of the house's owner(s) and members of their family who live there.
Casas particulares are cheaper than hotels (average CUC 20-30/room high season; 10-15 low season) and the food (breakfast CUC 4-5, dinner CUC 8-13) is almost always better than you would get in a hotel. Casas particulares are plentiful even in small towns; they are somewhat more expensive in Havana than elsewhere. Note that any service offered by a casa particular other than accommodation, such as driving you to the bus station, will be added to your bill, regardless of whether this is stated up front. Items such as bottled water supplied with your meal will also have a charge. Always make sure that you talk to the owner about what things will cost when you arrive to avoid unpleasant surprises later. These houses are under a lot of restrictions by the government, so make sure that you are staying at a legal "casa". A legal house will have a sticker on the front door (often a blue sign on a white background), you will notice these as you walk past houses. Upon arrival, the houseowner will need to take down your passport details and how long you will be staying for. Some Cubans do offer illegal accommodation and although they are cheaper, the quality of the food and service is generally lower. If found, the Cubans will risk a large fine and it is best to avoid illegal casas completely.
If travelling around the island, it is recommended to ask the casa owners if they have friends or family in the city you are going to. There is a network of casas and the family will gladly organise for you to be met by their friends off the bus at your next destination. Because most casas particulares are small, rarely with room for more than about 5-6 guests, it is advisable for anyone wanting to stay at a bed and breakfast to make reservations well in advance of their travel date. Many casas particulares belong to associations, have a web presence, and are described in various books and travel guides. You can arrange your accommodation in advance, either by asking your host to recommend someone and by using a casa particular association (note, however, that the party making the introduction will almost always receive a commission, which you end up paying as it will be included in the accommodation price). Some will let you book accommodation over the internet before your trip, and will go out of their way to arrange accommodation for you while you are there. You can make a reservation by calling ahead using either the casas phone or a public one. Alternatively, you can use a site specialised in vacational accommodation in Cuba like wildcaribe.com or BB Inn Vinales that let you search a house that suits your needs, check the availability of rooms on the dates that interest you and confirm your booking. Since mid-2016, the US government has permitted Airbnb to list accomodations in Cuba.
For the best rates just arrive in a place and knock on a door to see the room and ask for the price. If you do not like either of them go for the next door. Every city and every village has way to many casas for the few tourists that come. Due to the taxes the casa owners have to pay to the government the lowest price for a room is CUC 15 in high season; 10 in low season. Some might ask you to have at least one meal at their casa to give you a cheap room price. If traveling by bus you will be sometimes welcomed by casa owners at the bus station that will present you with pictures of the room they offer. Those will most likely accept room rates of CUC 15, even breakfast for CUC 2 and dinner for CUC 5. Agree on a price and then go with them as all casas have almost the same standard. But beware of jineteros(hustlers) trying to lead you to a casa, where they will get a commission and you will be charged the extra. Make sure you talk to the casa owner.
Cubans hosting foreigners for free is technically illegal and risk a large fine if caught. Some will bend the rules, but be cautious if you choose to take up the offer (e.g. don't walk out the front door if you see a police car nearby, especially if you look obviously foreign).
In some Cuban cities and tourist resorts, like Varadero, Playa Santa Lucia and Guardalavaca, local authorities determined that casas particulares would represent a threat to the hotel industry, and passed some legislation placing regulations and limits on the industry forbidding the operation of these establishments.
Note that accommodations may state that they provide wifi, but an internet token must be purchased. See "Connect" section.
Most small cities and larger towns have at least one state-run hotel, which is often in a restored colonial building. The prices range from around CUC 25 to CUC 100, depending on what you are getting. Resorts and high-end Havana hotels can be significantly more expensive.