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My recent weekend in Cuba was absolutely amazing! If you haven’t done so already, check out my recent posts on Who Can Go to Cuba?, Tips For Traveling to Cuba, and How to Get to Cuba (and Back): Flight and Award Options. Also, know that I’ll soon be publishing more travel info about what to do/see/eat once you’ve arrived, and hotel and lounge reviews—so please stay tuned for more posts!
As incredible as the trip was, getting two hotel rooms upon arrival in Cuba wasn’t an easy feat, so read on for my personal experience with booking a hotel last-minute and some general tips/recommendations for booking hotel in Havana.
After reading last week’s exciting news from the White House regarding more relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba, I made a snap decision to go. After all, I’m based in Miami, a mere 228 miles from Cuba—and I never shy away from an adventure. I teamed up with my close friend, TPG International Correspondent Lori Zaino, and we began to assess our options. After a long and tedious process of booking our flights, we thought the hotel would be the easy part—but it really wasn’t.
At present, you can’t just jump onto an OTA like Orbitz.com and search for hotels in Cuba, just as you can’t search online for flights. Also, U.S.-based hotel points won’t help you in Cuba. There aren’t yet any large U.S. hotel chains in the country, but according to a recent Huffington Post article, chains like Hilton and Marriott are hopeful that the U.S. government will permit them to open hotels in Cuba in the future. For the time being, you’ll find popular international hotel chains like Spain’s NH and Meliá, the latter of which has 26 properties peppered throughout Cuba. (I’m a big fan of Meliá, by the way, as you’ll see in my review of their Madrid Reina Victoria property.)
Our Hotel-Booking Experience
Switching the focus of our online search to international hotel chains, we soon found that just about everything was full, for two important reasons: 1) this is the high tourist season in Havana, and 2) most hotels in Cuba require a two-day advance booking, including the famous Hotel Nacional. Dread crept in as we realized we should have researched hotel options before booking our flights, but it was too late for regrets. We asked friends in Spain to help us search, hoping they’d have access to more hotel options than we did in the U.S., but to no avail.
Our Plan B was to call travel agents in Canada. We finally got in touch with one, A Nash Travel, that really saved us! Although all the hotels in Old Havana (where we originally wanted to stay) were completely booked, one of the A Nash agents, Martha, was able to get us two rooms at the Hotel Memories (formerly the Occidental Miramar) in a high-end neighborhood of Havana called Miramar, about a 15-minute drive from Old Havana. According to TripAdvisor in Canada, the hotel is ranked #26 out of 75 hotels in Havana—and was one of our only options—so we decided to give it a go.
We were able to make the booking payment through the agency, who tack on a $25 fee for this service—a small price to pay to be able to put the charge on my U.S. credit card, my Chase Sapphire Preferred, and earn double points for this travel expense. The rooms at the Hotel Memories, which were more like semi-suites, ended up being about $140 per night with taxes and fees, and the hotel was actually quite nice, with beautiful views of the ocean. I’ll go into much more detail in a future review of the hotel.
Once we arrived, the hotel hadn’t yet received our payment (Cuba’s technology tends to be far less modern than what we’re used to in the U.S.) so we couldn’t gain access to our rooms. They wouldn’t accept any of my U.S. credit cards, but luckily Lori had a Spain-issued credit card that they did accept, and the hotel put a hold on her card in the event that our previous payment didn’t go through. Throughout this whole process—which took place upon our arrival at about 2:30 a.m.—the staff was friendly and helpful, doing their best to make the process pleasant despite our the late hour and our exhaustion. By the end of our stay, the hotel finally received their payment from our travel agency and all was fine, but having that Spanish credit card was extremely helpful during during this unexpected issue.
It bears mentioning that if we’d simply booked ahead, we most likely wouldn’t have encountered this problem. That being said, if you book on short notice, make sure you have a foreign credit card or plenty of cash if you expect the hotel to let you enter your reserved room.
Where To Stay (If You Can Book Ahead)
Although we didn’t stay at any of the following properties—which we learned about through word of mouth and internet research—I want to let you know about some hotel options you have in Havana. Note that you have three main neighborhoods to stay in which are marked with an X on the map below: Old Havana, Vedado (home to many locals), and the luxury Miramar area.
For A Sense of History
Hotel Nacional, Vedado: Quite possibly the most famous landmark in Havana, this hotel has hosted famous guests such as Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Ernest Hemingway and even the most famous Cosa Nostra mafia families back in the 1940s.
Saratoga Hotel, Old Havana: This property dates back to 1879 and has hosted many performances of famous Cuban orchestras, like Anaconda. Make sure to get help from friendly and knowledgeable concierge, Yaneisis.
For Modern Comforts
NH Capri, Vedado: If you’re looking for modern amenities and a rooftop pool, this is your spot.
Melia Cohiba, Vedado: The Meliá overlooks the ocean for beautiful sea views in a high-rise, modern building. Many locals suggested we stay here, but of course, it was completely booked.
For Luxury and Location
Iberostar Parque Central, Old Havana: Though this hotel is set in the old city center, it has a contemporary design and up-to-date amenities.
For A Relaxing Stay Away From the Busy City Center
Hotel Memories, Miramar: We stayed here because we had no other options, but ended up liking it due to its tranquil, sea-view location, large swimming pool and friendly service. Stay tuned for a review filled with more details.
For Something A Little Different
Finally a hat tip goes out to TPG reader Alexander, who recommended staying in a casa particular, a private room in an apartment or house, for an authentic Cuban experience and a chance to get to know locals; sites like Cuba Junky and Cuba Casas are good resources for finding casa particulares all over the country.
The Points/Miles Angle
Since Americans can’t redeem points at any hotels in Cuba (hopefully someday), the best option if you’d like to earn points for a hotel stay here in Havana is to book through a Canadian travel agency where you can use your U.S. credit card, especially one that will give you double points for travel like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. What you’d pay in fees to change money and pay in cash is the same as the surcharge the travel agency will charge you. Again, I would highly recommend A Nash Travel Agency—they really saved us from having to sleep on the beach.
Does anyone have any other hotel recommendations for Cuba? Please share in the comments section below. With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.
With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.