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Your Home in Havana

Whether They Showcase the Old City, the Skyline or the Sea, Havana's Hotels Offer Plenty of Diverse Places to Stay
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

To get an indication of Cuba's booming hotel market, consider that Havana now has a small inn catering to cigar aficionados. Cuba's capital now offers accommodations for just about any preference, from ultramodern business hotels to full-scale beach resorts to small exclusive inns.

Since the early 1990s, foreign investors and the Cuban government have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on building and renovating hotels on the island--especially in the capital. A decade ago, Havana had only 4,000 rooms available to tourists, according to the Ministry of Tourism. By next year, the agency estimates that number will approach 50,000. Most of the expansion is the product of joint-venture projects between Cuba and foreign hotel groups, primarily from Europe, although the Cubans have been responsible for a fair amount on their own.

Despite the improvements, however, you can still go horribly wrong in selecting a hotel in Havana. One friend from London recently spent a difficult week in the Hôtel Deauville--now under renovation--which he described as a "roach hotel with no hot water and disgusting food." A number of hotels in Havana still look like low-income housing or urban crack houses.However, one needn't visit such haunted houses. A hotel in Havana can be an oasis, a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. There's nothing better than a rich cigar and a cool mojito cocktail next to the swimming pool after a long day walking the dusty streets of Old Havana.

The best hotels in Havana certainly can hold their own with those in most other Latin American countries, but for the greater part, they are second-rate by global standards. Don't compare any of these hotels to the best in Europe, North America or the Caribbean. They just don't have the panache or nuts-and-bolts service of world-class hotels.

Poor service is the worst problem. Many Cubans have no concept of what the hospitality business is about. From reception staff to waiters and even managers, they often give the impression that they don't care about their clients or their jobs. It doesn't matter if you order a drink at the bar or ask for a fax to be brought to your room--there is a good chance that it will take close to forever to complete your request. And even then, they still expect to be tipped. Havana seems to run on dollar tips these days.

Another problem with Cuban hotels--especially in Havana--is their policy to bar most locals from their premises. This is primarily to keep young women and men from hustling and hassling their customers in lobby areas and bars, but the guards at the entrances and elevators sometimes lend a prison-like atmosphere to even the best hotels. And they are not beyond bothering hotel guests and their legitimate friends.

Such drawbacks make the high prices all the more annoying. Room rates are expensive by anyone's standard for the quality, especially if you arrange your room directly with the hotel. Most per-night rates average about $80 for a single, $150 to $250 for a standard double and about $400 for a suite. It's much better to use a travel agent to book your room, since Cuban hotels are very aggressive in price discounting. Some reduce prices by as much as 50 percent.

Location is important when selecting a hotel in Havana. The list of hotels below are grouped by address. Those under the heading of Central Havana are within walking distance to nearly everything in Old Havana. Hotels listed under the Vedado group are about a 10- to 15-minute taxi ride to Old Havana, while those under Miramar are 20 to 30 minutes away.

The hotels under each heading are listed in my order of preference. Rates are per night, in U.S. dollars, and range from singles to doubles to suites. Outside Cuba, phone and fax numbers need to be preceded by 53-7, the codes for Cuba and Havana, respectively.


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