Where to stay in Havana
I consider Havana a home from home, having been 3 years in a row and with my trip back there this year already planned, I can’t see me ever wanting to stop going back. The whole atmosphere of the City is electric, the buildings are interesting, the people are charming and the whole buzz of the night life is addictive.
When it comes to accommodation there is so much to choose from, everything from Hotels, private Casa’s to rooms within a Cuban family home.
On our first visit we decided to play it safe (much to the annoyance of many people we had known to go before us) by choosing a package holiday, splitting our time between Havana and Varadero.
For our first time this was exactly what we needed it to be, we felt like we had a secure base with food included, bonus.
In Havana we stayed in two separate hotels, the first was Hotel Havana Libre, this was perfect for location and our room overlooking the Malecon was huge and the breakfast was a great choice. The second Havana hotel was the Hotel Riviera, the room was nice but other than this we wouldn’t go back, it was a little bit too far out to walk into old Havana and the breakfast was shocking.
For Varadero we stayed in an all-inclusive beach resort and had our own 2 storey bungalow, which was great. For this visit we loved Varadero and the chance to chill out on the immaculate white sandy beach, along with the chance to swim with dolphins. However, other than this we were not in any rush to return. This experience was great, but we all felt it wasn’t Cuban enough to encourage us to return. (The complete opposite of Havana)
The second holiday, we opted for the Hotel Nacional. We did consider Casa’s, but managed to get a really good deal on the hotel so decided to treat ourselves. The hotel is beautiful and grand and the swimming pool and pool bar are perfect for relaxing. But I think other than this, we had both decided this would be our last hotel visit in Havana.
Last year we opted for a Casa, after searching through hundreds (seriously) of them we managed to find one through Suite Cuba, in the FOCSA building.The only trouble we had with Casa’s were their locations, our worry (we do over worry) was that if it is on a small street and we get into a taxi and the driver doesn’t know where the street is (this is highly likely) what are we going to do? Because we are definitely not the best with directions, especially not in Spanish. So what better compromise than to choose a Casa Particular in the most famous building in Havana.
I can safely say from now on, Casa Ana Julia on the 22nd Floor in the FOCSA building complete with 3 bedrooms, living room, dining room, 2 bathrooms and a balcony overlooking the Malecon, is now our home from home.
Casa standards (as well as hotel standards) can vary dramatically. Some can be basic with a room in a family home, a hand held shower and minimal hot water whereas others (like our casa in the FOCSA) can be of a higher standard than some of the hotels we stayed in. It is worth asking lots of questions to avoid disappointment, booking through an agent likeSuite Cuba is a big help as they have English speaking advisors, and if you specify your exact requirements they can narrow down the search for you.
The thing is, this is Cuba, anything can happen. You could check into a hotel to ‘guarantee’ the luxuries just to find out your air con is broken, the hot water is not working, or the bed is uncomfortable… The same goes for a casa.
Some top tips on choosing accommodation in Havana
· Would you like to experience a little piece of local life? If yes choose Casa
· Would you like a swimming pool included? If yes choose Hotel
· Would you like home cooked food? If yes choose Casa
· Would you like to improve your Spanish? This can be done anywhere in Havana, but living with a family will definitely be a big help
· Would you like Cuban friends to visit you? If yes choose Casa (some casa’s do not allow guests, you will need to check beforehand)
More can be seen on my Casa V Hotel article including pro’s and con’s to both sides.
All the best bits from the Nacional such as the tourist advice centre, currency exchange, swimming pool and internet use were available to non guests too. So we could walk in and use them just the same. I’m glad we chose hotels for the first couple of visits, while we got our bearings and learned about Cuba. But now I would vote Casa every time as it gives you freedom and a chance to immerse yourself in a little piece of Cuban life.