My wife and I spent 4 nights in Havana prior to moving on to 10 nights in Varadero. (February 2013)
In Havana we stayed at the Nacional.
We had already done a fair bit of research before our trip using primarily this website TA. We had found mixed reviews, and the general comment that the hotel was “tired”. Read on.
We enjoyed our stay here. The Nacional is an old hotel with a lot of history. It is inherent in such a hotel that if it is to maintain its character, it can not be modernised too much. Our room (a standard) was more spacious than we expected. It was clean, properly equipped and well maintained. During our stay, we had a problem with the toilet flush. We reported it, and it was fixed promptly.
The hotel as I’ve already mentioned has a history, and daily tours are done, led by a retired historian. I don’t know if it’s the same guide every day, but we found ours very good. She was interesting and pleasant , and made sure that we (us two) were able to enjoy the tour, even though we were the only two english speakers in the tour of about 10. The tour goes through several of the rooms that we would not normally have entered, plus a tour of the underground bunker in the grounds.
The hotel has two money exchanges. One next to the reception, and one downstairs on the way out to the pool. The one at reception doesn’t seem to be open so much, but as far as we could tell, the rates are the same. Cuban money exchanges (cadecas) do not charge commission, so you can change as little as you need as and when you need it.
We had ensured that before we travelled, we had credit cards that would be accepted in Cuba. Many top names are not accepted because of their affiliations with the USA. We took the cards in case we spent more than the cash we had. We didn’t need to use the cards, but we believe there is a significant charge added to any transaction by card (assuming it is accepted). We met someone who had been relying totally on their credit card, and then found that the card they had was not accepted anywhere because of its american affiliation. This person was having a lot of trouble and anxiety getting access to currency.
The Nacional is not located in Central Havana, but slightly to the west. We still found it conveniently located. There are some nice restaurants nearby, and Central & Old Havana are easily accessed, either by taxi (about 5 or 6 pesos), or even by walking (about 30 minutes). We opted for the taxi as we were doing enough walking once we got there.
We also decided to have a ride in an open top classic car. Organised excursions were available for a 5 hour trip with a lunch included, but the price of 300 pesos per car put us off a bit. We also just wanted to do the experience – 5 hours wasn’t required. Therefore I spotted a car that fitted the bill coming into the hotel grounds, called him over and negotiated a price for one hour (30 pesos). We enjoyed the trip around Miramar and along the Malecon..
We had found a couple of restaurants near our hotel (via TA). Our favourite was El Idillio. Its about a 20 minute walk away, but had a varied menu at reasonably prices and we enjoyed the food, bast Lobster ever!. Another restaurant (Café Laurent) was recommended on TA and was closer to the hotel (5 minute). We pitched up, but it was full – reservations only. Shame, it sounded very nice.
During our stay, there was a Russian delegation also staying. This was a bit of an inconvenience, as they had commandeered one set of lifts and their security personnel were quite officious. I think they were being overly prohibitive, however this hotel, because of its history and character, is the one used for this sort of foreign visit, so we had to put up with it. We still enjoyed our stay.
Our board package included breakfast, in the basement restaurant. This was a buffet breakfast, with several cooking stations for eggs and pancakes. It was quite an enormous spread, and I found it impressive. There were some momentary shortages, but staff would respond. We always managed to find a table. Their coffee (from the machine) and bread and pastries were exceptional. Much better than we had expected from other reviews.
Outside the hotel grounds there is a taxi rank (always negotiate a price), and a short walk in either direction are shops that sell bottled water. Our first 2 days we managed to get 1.5L bottles at 1 peso. Then there appeared to be a shortage and only 0.5L bottles could be found and these we 50 cents. This was still cheaper than the local bars or the hotel.
Our stay was 4 nights, and we found plenty to do in that time. Before booking, some of the travel companies were only offering 3 nights. We’re glad we found one offering 4, as we would have found 3 to be a bit pushed.
Make sure you do your research before travelling. I always make a list of things I want to see and do so that we can organise our available days. Try to get a map of Havana before you travel. They are available from the hotel (but at 3 pesos). Not excessive admittedly.
If you want a bland Hotel stay at one of the big chains. If you want character and history stay at the Nacional.
Go with the flow - you are in Cuba
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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We are very pleased and satisfied with your comments forwards Hotel. Thanks very much to share through the trip advisor.
As you know this web, as you did, it is consulted by a lot of persons from all over the world and this influenced in our guest Trip decision. Thanks again.
It is very important for the hotel to have improved your expectations with the hotel history, and with the services we offer.
This encourages us to make our job better. It is our pleasure to welcome you back in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.