Where to Stay in Havana Cuba
I visited Cuba for one full week, exploring Santiago, Cienfugos and Havana. The first two are small towns, Santiago being notable for it’s many historic battles. I’m not a history buff and while the ocean side fort was beautiful, I felt that the town is not necessarily essential for first time visitors to Cuba.
Meanwhile, Cienfuegos is often pictures on postcards – it has a beautiful main monument styled in the classical French style of architecture but by and large the town is very small and also (in my humble opinion) worth just an afternoon visit.
I found Havana to be stunning and absolutely unique compared to many other Caribbean cities. I jokingly refer to 2016 as my Caribbean year of adventure since I by chance have happened to visit over 5 countries in this idyllic Atlantic paradise (Grenada, Mexico – Chichen Itza, Riviera Nayarit, Tulum, Cancun, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and now Cuba) and was really looking for something different.
Havana is just that. The combination of politically charged history, vibrant Cuban culture and magnificent colonial European architecture really made this city stand out to me – so much so that I published my first photo diary in this post here.
I think many people will want to visit Cuba and infrastructure on the ground is rapidly progressing to accommodate this demand.
Here are some of my suggestions on where to stay, where to eat, and miscellaneous tidbits of advice for your vacation to Havana!
Types of Accomodation in Havana
Travelers to Cuba have three main options for lodging: the large, historic government run hotels, rooms or small apartments via AirBnB and locally run casa particulars. Here are some of the best options for each.
The Best Hotels in Havana
1. Hotel Saratoga
Stay here to live large like Beycone, Katy Perry and Madonna. This hip baroque style hotel is conveniently located in Old Havana and features multiple bars and restaurants. Sunbathers will love its proximity to the beach and Instagrammers will love the incredibly insta-worthy rooftop pool. Just don’t be shocked at the price!
2. Hotel Nacional de Cuba
This is the historic, #1 hotel in Havana that has seen iconic legends like Winston Churchill, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway and more grace its rooms. Old world glamour is evident everywhere in its art-deco interiors, just slightly worn through the passages of time.
To truly revisit Havana in its pre-embargo heyday, you’ll want to stay at the Hotel Nacional.
3. Hotel Florida
I visited Cuba via cruise and didn’t stay overnight at any hotel but walked through the lobbies of the most iconic. If I would revisit, Hotel Florida is where I would stay – it features a gorgeous Spanish courtyard style architecture with beautiful columns and checkerboard floors.
Hotel Florida is conveniently located in Old Havana near Calle Obispo which is pedestrian only making it perfectly safe for those wanting to experience Havana’s vibrant nightlife.
AirBnB Options in Havana
4. Magical B&B – Located on the Malecon near the sea, this is one of the most popular listings on AirBnB. Rates: ~$50/night for a private room
5. Casa en la Habana – this is a great option for a family or group of friends, as the private apartment is modern and comfortably fits 4. Rates: ~$100/night for the apartment
6. Casa Colonial Antigua – a bright, clean room for more budget conscious travelers. This location is slightly farther from the main sites but still within a 15-20 minute walk. Rates: ~$35/night for a private room
Casa Particulars in Havana
The Local Housing Option
The final option is to show up and ask around to locals for a casa particular. Cubans typically have a wide network of friends and family and if one family is booked up, they’ll help refer you to someone with availability.
If choosing this option, here are a couple things to keep in mind:
- Casa Particulars are not “unofficial” – they typically register with the government for the legal right to operate and will issue you a receipt for your stay. They’ll also ask for your passport number to write down for government records
- Cubans rent out a spare room in the home and so rates are for the full room. Single travelers unfortunately don’t get a discount.
- If you’re heading on from Havana, your host family can arrange for accommodation in the next couple towns you’ll visit. They’re savvy and will maintain the same price that you paid for the first night at each subsequent home so if you think you may have overpaid, just start the search over in the next town
- By and large, most local rooms are of similar quality and rates are roughly 10 to 30 CUC per room, with a little more for homemade breakfast in the morning. Curious about Cuban wages and the dual currency system? Read this post for more info about daily life in Cuba.
Where to Eat in Cuba
When Fidel Castro’s brother Raoul took over the country in 2008, he allowed the gradual privatization of hotels and restaurants, forming today’s bed & breakfasts and paladar restaurants. You can read more about Cuba’s interesting political and economic journey from the embargo to today in this post.
Consequently, you have two main eating choices: government restaurants and those operated by locals. While the menus tend to be very similar, you’ll find slightly better service at the latter.
What’s on the menu? A traditional dish that I personally loved is ropa vieja, which translated means “old clothes” and features stewed shredded beef with vegetables slow cooked in a pressure cooker. Another popular offering to tourists is lobster. I had this twice and while portions were extremely generous both times I found the seafood to be overcooked and rubbery. Some restaurants might be a hit though!
For drinks, make sure to try Havana Club rum and Mojitos. The best drink makers tend to be tucked away and hidden.
Here are a couple of the best restaurants in Cuba:
Paladar Dona Carmela
My tour guide moonlighted as a night security officer at this not-so-secret celebrity spot. Beyoncé and Jay Z dined here (their picture hangs inside) and the menu focuses on traditional Cuban dishes like roast pork.
This is an incredible spot, located in a crumbling building in Centro Havana. From peeling paint to a grand central staircase you absolutely need to try a meal here, even if prices are slightly higher than elsewhere. The quirky interior, unique menu and incredible city views make this a must try spot!
This gorgeous restaurant has multiple dining rooms both indoor and outdoor and features the classic “steak or lobster” 3 course menu. At the end of the meal, we were treated to Romeo and Juliet cigars, which made for a fun souvenir!
La Fontana Havana
Come here for the local Cuban classics: beans, chorizo, pork chops and more and stay afterwards to dance the night away. La Fontana Havana is known for its excellent drinks and live jazz, making for an unforgettable meal!
Some Final Tips for Visiting Cuba
Health insurance is technically an official requirement for all international travelers to Cuba (read more about why here). Travel insurance typically comes with medical coverage in addition to property protection and trip cancellation aid – I recommend Allianz.
You can check rates for Cuba here.
Wifi is available at additional cost and can be bought on the ground for a price. I simply went unplugged for the week except for one day at the beginning and end – I wanted to see if there would be a Cuba snapchat geo filter – there was!
For the most part, hotels will sell wifi to you directly. If staying at a casa or AirBnB you can go find internet on the streets and will have to sit in the designated public squares to actually access the wifi.
In addition to downloading an offline Google Map of Havana, you might want to download ‘Cuba Travel Guide’ on the App Store. It’s free, has offline maps and offers points of interest for travelers. Unfortunately I learned about this from a friend during the trip and couldn’t get strong enough internet to actually download it so I walked around Havana sans map or any directions. I did download it when I returned and it’s quite handy.
If you are reading this in Havana don’t worry! I left the Fathom cruise ship without any maps completely solo and while I briefly wondered if that was a practical idea, it ended up being quite fine. I have a pretty good sense for direction and what is also helpful is that there are 4 main squares in Old Havana which form a general arc that connect one to another.
In that sense, it felt very ‘Madrid‘ and Spanish like! At each main square, there is a tourist map in English with helpful directions which points out the main monuments and sights.
What are you most looking forward to in Cuba?
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