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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.
The Meliá Cohiba is a high-rise hotel towering above the Malecon seawall in the largely residential Vedado area of Havana.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Be sure to request a room overlooking busy Parque Central for great views of the city below.
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.
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.
Though the rooms aren’t as updated as some of the other hotels on this list, staying here is still a very special experience.
Plus, amenities like the grand pool, Hall of Fame, Cabaret Parisien show and the beautiful building itself more than make up for it.
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.
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).
Each bedroom comes with air conditioning, a closet and a safe.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
With plenty of sun and shade, you can relax on the terrace and enjoy the incredible views day or night.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 space, filled with loads of natural light and energy, seems to glow at dusk.
The bathroom connects both bedrooms, which can sleep a total of six people.
The highlight of this rental is the small rooftop terrace, which comes with a grill and overlooks the bay.
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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