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In an effort to find the best hotel or Airbnb rental possible in Havana, Cuba, I decided to stay in eight different properties as a way to figure out which one was the best for each type of traveler.

It was my second trip to Cuba, and I already knew that, thanks to the embargo, hotels there don’t offer the same type of luxury amenities, simply because they just don’t have the same access to them as hotels in other countries. I wanted to see how Cuban luxury stacked up, as well as find out if a more local Airbnb experience could top a fancy (or mid-range) hotel. I was also curious to see how being able to interact more with the locals would enrich my travel experience overall. Here’s a look at the four hotels and four Airbnbs I stayed in this time around.

1. Meliá Cohiba: Modern, but Pricey

This property is best for those seeking modern amenities, free (albeit slow) Wi-Fi and rooms with sea views, or for those willing to splurge, as this was the most expensive hotel hotel I stayed at on this trip.

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Here’s looking at you, Meliá Cohiba. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The Meliá Cohiba is a high-rise hotel towering above the Malecon seawall in the largely residential Vedado area of Havana.

The large bed and spacious room at the Melia.
A look at the large bed and spacious room. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

Most rooms offer amazing sea or city views, and the vibe of the hotel is modern luxury the second you walk in. Of all the lodging experiences I had, this hotel is probably the most updated of all, with newer and more modern furniture, decor and amenities. The front desk goes above and beyond here, too, as you might expect at a luxury hotel.

The sea views from my many windows.
The sea views from my many windows. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The pool area is a nice place to relax during the heat of the day, and the rooms are large and luminous, with huge, comfortable beds. The Wi-Fi here is free and you can connect up to two devices at a time, but note that it’s really slow — as it is in pretty much all of Cuba — and as a result, business travelers may not be able to get much work done. Also note that some rooms only have bathtubs, not showers. This hotel is a popular one, so book early if you want to stay here.

The pool at the Melia.
The pool at the Melia. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

2. Hotel Saratoga: A Trendy Boutique With Incredible Views

Boutique-hotel lovers, anyone wanting relatively fast (and free) Wi-FI, those with some cash to spend (the suites can be very pricey), or people who just want to chill out by a rooftop pool: this one’s for you.

The funky lobby at the Saratoga.
The funky lobby at the Saratoga. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

I’m love staying at boutique hotels, so the Saratoga was my favorite hotel experience in Havana, mainly thanks to its insanely cool rooftop pool (pictured at the top of this post) and its incredible city views, which you can see below.

The Saratoga
The Saratoga’s rooftop pool offers amazing views of the Capitolio, the Parque de la Fraternidad and Havana Vieja, Image courtesy of Michael Y. Park.

Since I’d purchased the cheapest room possible, my room didn’t have a window to the outside world, only to an atrium bar area, which wasn’t ideal. Besides this small issue, the room itself was pretty cool, with trendy furnishings and a funky bathroom decked out in green tile — there were separate bathtub and shower areas, too, which was nice.

My window...overlooking the bar area.
My window overlooking the bar area. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The lobby is stylish, but be careful — the staff here may try and scam you. Oddly enough, I was actually accused of stealing a hand towel at the end of my stay, which was a first.

The Saratoga has a boutique feel, which I loved.
The Saratoga has a funky boutique feel, which I loved. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The free Wi-Fi is fast and amazing, offering the easiest and best speeds I had in Havana. Skip the $30 breakfast and instead head across the street to Hotel Inglaterra, where non-guests can enjoy a lovely breakfast buffet for about $7.

Watching the sunset on the roof of the Saratoga is priceless!
Watching the sunset on the roof of the Saratoga is priceless. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

3. Hotel Telegrafo: Budget Digs in Old Havana

Anyone on a budget who still wants a hotel experience or those wanting to be near all the action in Old Havana should consider staying at Hotel Telegrafo. This is also the ideal spot for travelers who value location over luxury.

The Telegrafo.
The front of Hotel Telegrafo. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The property is clean and well-kept, though not the most updated when it comes to furnishings. Rooms are decently-sized and come with everything you need, like a safe, blowdryer and shower, among other features. Anyone who plans to be spending little time in the room and more time out and about should give this one a look.

The rooms are dated but well-kept and clean.
The rooms are dated but well-kept and clean. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

There isn’t a pool, but there’s a breakfast buffet included in the price. Internet is accessible via ETESCA cards, which you can purchase in the hotel lobby or around town.

Another angle from my bedroom window. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.
Another angle from my bedroom window. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

Be sure to request a room overlooking busy Parque Central for great views of the city below.

The view from a room at the Hotel Telegrafo.
My view from a room at the Hotel Telegrafo. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

4. Hotel Nacional: Leisure in a Landmark Building

Hotel Nacional is a great option for leisure travelers and anyone else who wants to stay in an iconic, historical landmark in one of Cuba’s local neighborhoods.

The iconic Hotel Nacional.
Havana’s iconic Hotel Nacional. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

If you really want to feel like you’re a part of Cuba’s incredible history, staying at Hotel Nacional will take you back in time. It really feels like the building hasn’t changed much since the days Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn and the most infamous Mafia dons in the world paid a visit — it was also featured in The Godfather: Part II, so movie buffs will love it here as well.

Hotel Nacional
Don’t forget to check out Hotel Nacional’s Hall of Fame. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

Though the rooms aren’t as updated as some of the other hotels on this list, staying here is still a very special experience.

A room at the Hotel Nacional.
A room at the Hotel Nacional. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

Plus, amenities like the grand pool, Hall of Fame, Cabaret Parisien show and the beautiful building itself more than make up for it.

The pool at the Hotel Nacional.
The pool at the Hotel Nacional. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

If you choose not to stay here, you can still enjoy one of the daily tours starting at 10:00am and get a look at the grounds. For a more detailed account of my stay at Hotel Nacional, check out my official hotel review.

5. Casa Colonial (Airbnb): A B&B Feel in Non-Touristy Havana

Groups traveling together, families or anyone who appreciates a beautiful colonial home should stay at Casa Colonial, in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

The gorgeous Casa Colonial.
The gorgeous Casa Colonial. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

This stunning yellow colonial house dates back to 1923 and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two outdoor terraces, a bar, dining area and living area (shared with the host).

Enjoy a cocktail at the house bar.
Enjoy a cocktail at the house bar. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

Each bedroom comes with air conditioning, a closet and a safe.

Casa Colonial (5)
A peek at one of the bedrooms. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

It’s really more of a bed and breakfast, as you can ask the staff to make you something for breakfast, lunch or dinner for an additional cost.

The living room.
A look at the living room. Image courtesy of the Darrel Hunter.

The front terrace looks out over the shaded sidewalks of Vedado, while the back terrace is perfect for a few evening beers. There’s even a movie projector.

The front terrace.
The front terrace. Image courtesy of the Darrel Hunter.

The house is rented as a whole, meaning you’ll have to rent all three bedrooms and two bathrooms, making it perfect for families or groups of friends, but probably a bit much for solo travelers and smaller parties.

The view from the terrace.
The view of residential Vedado from the terrace of this Airbnb. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

6. Tropicana Penthouse (Airbnb): A Rooftop to Die For, But Overpriced and Small on the Inside

This one is best for couples on a romantic getaway, those traveling solo, anyone wanting to splurge, and travelers who want the best views in Havana.

Lounge outside on this amazing rooftop.
Lounge outside on this amazing rooftop at the Tropicana Penthouse. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

With almost 360-degree views of Havana’s smoky skyline and the sparking seas below, this Airbnb rental may just have the best rooftop in the entire city.

Nightime views.
Nighttime views. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The studio apartment — complete with all the amenities one could want, like air conditioning, a kitchenette with a Nespresso machine and a rentable cell phone — also sports a stunning wraparound rooftop terrace about three times the size of the actual apartment.

The studio.
The studio at the Tropicana. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

With plenty of sun and shade, you can relax on the terrace and enjoy the incredible views day or night.

Rooftop (1)
Never a bad angle from this rooftop. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

This apartment isn’t cheap though — in fact, I paid more to spend the night here than at any other hotel or Airbnb, so be prepared to spend a lot (approximately $335 per night). The owner also requests quite a high deposit, so make sure you have enough cash on hand to cover it. Only book this apartment if having outdoor space and views is that important to you (or if you have an unlimited budget), otherwise, it’s overpriced, considering the size of the indoor studio area.

Sunset sea views.
Sunset sea views impress. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

7. A Quaint Cuban Apartment (Airbnb): Live Among the Locals

Travelers on a budget, those wanting a truly local experience and couples on a romantic getaway should look into this apartment that lives up to its name.

The charming front patio.
The charming front patio of the Quaint Cuban Apartment. Image courtesy of the Darrel Hunter.

This might be one of the cutest apartments I’ve ever stayed in, thanks to its super-local location across from a fruit market in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. With a small front patio where you can watch the world go by, it’ll seduce anyone wanting to experience the real Cuba.

The living room.
The living room, where everything is black and white. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The inside is completely renovated, with two bedrooms and two en suite bathrooms, as well as a small living room and kitchen. Each bedroom is air conditioned and has a safe.

One of the bedrooms.
One of the two bedrooms at this Airbnb. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The hosts, Osmary and José, will make sure you have everything you need for the perfect stay.

8. Bayview Penthouse (Airbnb): Hidden Chic in Old Havana

This property is best for families, those looking for a modern rental property and people who prize outdoor space — there’s a rooftop and barbecue grill — and a central location.

Views of the bay from the Bayview Penthouse.
Views from the Bayview Penthouse. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

Don’t be alarmed by the state of the front door or stairwell at this Old Havana rental. Many Cuban buildings may appear to be derelict, but once you enter the apartment, prepare to be wowed here.

The apartment is filled with windows and light.
The apartment is filled with windows and tons of natural light. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The space, filled with loads of natural light and energy, seems to glow at dusk.

A cool bar and kitchen area.
A cool bar and kitchen area. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The bathroom connects both bedrooms, which can sleep a total of six people.

One of the bedrooms.
One of the bedrooms. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The highlight of this rental is the small rooftop terrace, which comes with a grill and overlooks the bay.

The small but lovely outdoor terrace.
The small (but lovely) outdoor terrace. Image courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

The host lives next door and is available for anything, including cooking breakfast — for a little extra — which you can enjoy on the roof in the morning.

Bottom Line: Lower Your Expectations But Prepare to be Wowed — and Stick with Airbnb for the Most Local Experience

Staying in several of Havana’s hotels and Airbnbs pleasantly surprised me. Each one had its own special charm, and you really can’t go wrong with any of these properties, though I will say the Tropicana Penthouse Airbnb is pricier than it ought to be. There may be moments where you find something isn’t 100-percent up to par, but doing as the Cubans do and relaxing your expectations a bit can fix that.

Staying in Airbnb properties provided the opportunity to forge a special connection to the Cuban people that I didn’t get when I was staying in hotels — if you don’t speak Spanish though, staying in an Airbnb may be a little more difficult, as not all hosts speak a lot of English. Furthermore, staying in the local neighborhood of Vedado — where Hotel Nacional, Melia Cohiba, Quaint Apartment and Casa Colonial are located — rather than tourist-packed Old Havana provided a whole new outlook on Cuban culture, though you’ll have to take a taxi over to Old Havana to see most of the usual sights there.

Finally, if you’d prefer to pay for your stay with points, not cash, you now can now book a stay at the Four Points Sheraton Havana using SPG points. Check out my review of Hotel Miramar, where I stayed with TPG on my first-ever trip to Cuba a few years ago, for more lodging options in Havana.

Have you been to Havana, and if so, where did you stay? Tell us about your experience, below.

Featured image of Hotel Saratoga’s rooftop pool courtesy of Darrel Hunter.

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