Many of the things that Western travelers take for granted like reliable hot water, phone service and fitness centers are things that are considered luxuries in Cuban hotels. The bar has been raised in recent years but not to a level that would be considered four-star in the U.S. In fact, it is not wise to expect that a hotel reservation will be honored unless you book with a company with connections. Many visitors report having confirmed a booking only to arrive and be told that there is no record of it and no room.
When choosing a hotel in Havana, there are two distinct groups of properties: the boutique ones and the larger, corporate ones. The advantage of the boutique properties, such as the Hotel Santa Isabel and San Felipe Y Santiago de Bejucal, are their locations right in the heart of Old Havana and their authentic, historic charm, since they are located in 18th-century buildings. However, those ancient structures are also the root of their disadvantages, namely, noise and unreliable services such as electricity and hot water. The advantage of the larger properties, such as the Hotel Saratoga and the Parque Central, are amenities like rooftop pools and WiFi and more consistent service and infrastructure. Additionally, since many of the small hotels have few rooms and often host last-minute groups, which are booked through the Cuban government tourism offices, the independent traveler may find that their room has been given away even if booked months in advance. Again, working with an established company with connections is your best protection against this, because if it happens, they will be able to find you an alternate.
Word of warning: The Hotel Nacional, which in Havana’s heyday was the city’s grandest hotel is not a property that we would recommend. Go for a look to see the dining room where the mafia bosses held their summits, but do not consider booking here unless you would like to stay in rooms that feel as though they have not been renovated in fifty years.
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