Hotels in Cuba
In Cuba, there are state and semi-state hotels. The semi-state ones are operated in cooperation with foreign hotel companies. In this article you will learn what to consider when selecting and reserving hotels in Cuba.
The distinction between state and semi-state hotels is important, as the purely state hotels are in most cases very simply equipped. A considerable backlog of renovations must be expected in the facilities and rooms. Most of them are also poorly managed and generally not very recommendable. Only a few of the state hotels have been renovated in recent years and are in an acceptable condition.
The state hotels are operated under the brands Gaviota, Gran Caribe, Islazul and Cubanacan. In order to get a realistic picture of the national category of these hotels, in most cases at least one star must be deducted, but frequently two or even three stars.
In case of the hotels managed by foreign partners, they fall into the upscale or luxury segment. They mostly have an acceptable to good quality rooms, service and food. Overall, however, even the hotels operated in cooperation remain somewhat below international standards.
The distinction between state and cooperation hotels is also reflected in the catering. While the state-run hotels serve primarily Cuban food, guests in the international chains receive imported goods.
Which hotel is the right one?
The choice of a hotel should be carefully considered. In a three-star hotel corresponding to the Cuban standard, you can expect rooms in poor condition, inedible food and lousy service. It should come as no surprise when air conditioning systems are noisy (or defective), bathrooms are polluted with mold and furniture is more than worn out.
If you want to book a tour with a tour operator, you should also take a closer look at which hotels are included in the offer. It is nearly the rule that in smaller vacation places (such as Viñales) state hotels are included in the tours.
Only a few state hotels have been recently renovated and are in a little better condition. These hotels are of acceptable quality. Travelers without high standards can spend the night there quite cheap.
Most of these hotels are located in the smaller provincial capitals but not in places where many tour groups frequent. In Varadero almost all state hotels are in a very bad condition and in Havana it is also the case that only hotels in the upper, better the luxury class, are recommended.
Decent hotels are relatively expensive in Cuba. A double room in an upscale hotel (national category from 4 stars) is available from around 100 per night. Most hotels have WIFI for a fee (subject: Internet). Only very few better hotels of international chains have introduced free Internet in the meantime.
Discerning travelers should only book hotels that are operated in cooperation with an international chain. The Spanish Iberostar chain has the most collaborations with 20 hotels, closely followed by the Meliá group with 17 hotels. Other branded hotels are operated by NH-Hotels and Kempinski. Recently, two Kempinski hotels of the 5-star superior category opened, one in Havana and another on Cayo Guillermo. Most of the cooperation hotels are located in the important tourist regions such as Varadero, Havana or one of the beautiful Cayos.
Hotels are, in most cases, significantly more expensive than private accommodation, at least when you consider the pure overnight costs. Due to the complicated supply situation and the relatively high prices for food it is quite economical to stay in all-inclusive hotels in holiday regions such as Varadero or Guardalavaca.
In cities or on round trips, you should consider staying in a casa particular. This is especially the case in smaller cities, because there are often no hotels managed by international chains.
Since the US embargo was tightened again, some hotels can no longer be reserved online on all platforms. The hotels of the Spanish Meliá & Iberostar chains are primarily affected. The information that the hotels are fully booked is misleading; experience shows that they have capacities (as of January 2020). If a hotel cannot be booked on one of the major US platforms, it is advisable to switch to other tour operators. If booking.com does not work, you can switch to fti.de .
Bookings should always be made in advance from your home country. The best way is to make your own selection on the Internet. In the Travel Guide you will find recommendations for accommodations in the respective regions and vacation places.
Booking in Cuba is not recommended, as on the one hand the prices in the local hotels are usually much higher and difficult to compare. Another disadvantage is that there are no references to assess the quality of the hotel.
There is now relatively good Internet access in Cuba, so hotels can theoretically also be reserved online on site. However, it can be problematic if the payment processing of the booking systems is handled by US companies. In this case it must be expected that bookings cannot be made due to the embargo. Some providers are also blocked in Cuba. It should also be considered that credit cards of American institutions usually do not work.
From Cuba it can sometimes help to go to another WIFI network or to use another device (laptop / smartphone). If it still doesn't work, a VPN usually provides a solution.
The US Embargo: Travel Reasons & Occasions
Regardless of where you want to make a booking, you will often not pass by a US American company. It may seem paradoxical, but the accommodation market in Cuba is firmly in North American hands. The most extensive offer of hotels can be found at booking.com.
In order to develop their business in Cuba, these US companies have received special permission from the American government. However, you are obligated to inquire about the reason for the trip when booking. For US citizens, this decides if travel to Cuba is permitted.
In this context, travelers who are not United States citizens, can use any reason for travel stated in the list. Anyone who is still in doubt should choose »Support the Cuban People«. This information is always correct. Every trip to Cuba undoubtedly supports the local people.
The statements circulating on the Internet that visitors would face fines or other sanctions when traveling to Cuba are false. If the American government wanted to further isolate Cuba, it could revoke the special permits it has granted at any time.
Indeed, such destructive imperialist actions can unfortunately not be ruled out. Only recently, in October 2019, US airlines were revoked from their permits to fly to Cuba, which had been granted only a few years earlier. Only Havana Airport was exempt from this restriction. In addition, foreign airlines were forced under threat of sanctions to terminate existing leasing contracts with the Cuban state, which had a considerable impact on domestic air traffic. Cruise ships were also prohibited from docking in Cuban ports.