There really is no other hotel in Havana---at least that we saw, or that other friends have stayed at in Havana---that can compare: this is a national landmark that has played an important role in Cuban history, with an incomparable location on an oceanfront promontory with extensive grounds and unbeatable views of the ocean, the Havana skyline, and the Malecon.
We stayed for 9 days during the 2014 Jazz Festival (a perfect time to go, for obvious reasons), as part of a Cuba Explorers Tour (also highly recommended, at almost half the price of comparable U.S. ‘educational’ tours). Expect what you get with a large, historic tourist hotel: lots of tour buses, lots of comings and goings and things going on, etc. If you’re looking for an intimate or precious or hipster ambiance, this isn’t the place (try the mostly restored old town section for that). And don’t expect the level of room amenities and excess associated with 5 star hotels in the U.S.
Our room on the 5th or 6th (can’t remember which) floor faced the lovely and comfortable courtyard/patio area (perfect for late night drinks and music every night) and the ocean and skyline: aim for rooms facing that way. It was very quiet, spacious, clean, and perfectly comfortable, with windows that actually opened to the warm ocean breezes (which eliminated that damp, musty smell that one often gets in closed rooms in older hotels, especially in tropical climes). The beds were a little hard, but adequate, and it had the usual amenities. Yes, the breakfast buffet was hectic---less so on the one time we had dinner there---but again, to be expected at a big hotel at peak season, and the food was certainly perfectly fine for a buffet this size (other tour members who had rooms on the floors above us went to a smaller, separate buffet for those floors---inquire about that if it’s an issue for you). Yes, there’s the occasional wait at the front desk, and the advice there wasn’t always useful or delivered with the level of ingratiation that has come to be the norm in the U.S., but overall, the service in the lounges, bars, restaurants and in our room was friendly and helpful.
But you’re here to see Havana, right? And this is the place to do it. Most Jazz Festival venues are walkable from this hotel (some longer than others), and cabs are plentiful too (the only practical option for longer distances, like the beach at Santa Maria, also highly recommended). We walked everywhere from here, and yes, safely (including at night, to the clubs in Miramar and to the old town), but then, we’re walkers. And then there’s the history: don’t miss the hotel tour, if only for the Missile Crisis bunkers; ours was led by a woman who had been part of the military brigade during those days, and so her perspective was unique.
Staying at this hotel really added to our experience of Cuba and it’s history in a way that would be impossible to replicate elsewhere.
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- Also Known As:
- Nacional De Cuba Hotel
- Nacional De Cuba Havana