In Cuba, boutique hotels occupy gorgeous colonial buildings with stone facades adorned with intricate carvings and balconies. Interiors unfold like a treasure trove of Old World artifacts and auras. Sunlit, colonnaded courtyards enchant and original historical details — arched stone columns and hundred-year-old wood furniture — endure. Though the available amenities and overall quality vary among our top Cuban boutique hotel picks, all have an undeniable charm and romance.
The 96-room Hotel Saratoga is a chic, historic luxury boutique right in the heart of Old Havana. The lobby sets the tone guests can expect throughout; it's historically elegant, with marble tile floors, impressive local art, and a marble staircase with wrought-iron banister. Upstairs, the 24-hour mezzanine bar (one of two swanky on-site bars) is perhaps even more impressive with its high glass ceiling and white wood latticework, all if which make it feel a bit like a grand Old Florida establishment. Rooms at Hotel Saratoga are traditional and elegant, though the standard Deluxe Patio Rooms are not not up to the advertised five-star rating -- but this is typical for Cuba. Amenities include quality coffee/espresso makers with free pods, iPod docks, flat-screen TVs with channels in multiple languages and DVD players, safes, and minibars. The infinity rooftop pool at Hotel Saratoga may not be the biggest in Havana, but the size is perfectly adequate for this intimate hotel and the setting is decidedly chic. The restaurant has Moroccan-inspired decor and serves Italian, Cuban, and international food for all three meals.
Established in 1867, Hotel Santa Isabel is one of Havana's finest landmark hotels with iconic Spanish Colonial architecture that epitomizes most travelers' vision of the city. The vibe is regal, bordering on stuffy, but the sophistication is understated and inviting. Common amenities are limited to a beautiful patio bar and gourmet alfresco restaurant which both provide a taste -- literally and figuratively -- of the city's rich history. All 27 rooms are equally dated and appealing with flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning, minibars, and optional balconies with views of Plaza de Armas. Rooms at Saratoga are more modern, but less charming.
Hotel Raquel is a historic hotel with gorgeous historic architecture and impressive common spaces, including an atrium with a stunning stained-glass skylight. Like Santa Isabel, it's in a prime Old Havana location that's close to restaurants, nightlife, and popular tourist sights. Its 25 guest rooms are fairly basic, though have some charm, and come equipped with private balconies, air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and en-suite bathrooms -- but guests complain of poor water pressure in the showers and occasional cleanliness issues. There's no Wi-Fi here (also true for Casa 1932, below), and food at the on-site restaurant receives mediocre reviews, but perks include free breakfast, a small fitness room, and a lovely rooftop terrace with a charming wrought-iron gazebo, plenty of greenery, and views over the city. For better features check out the upscale Hotel Saratoga -- though rates are higher and breakfast is not included.
A meticulously curated guest house with antique treasures, Casa 1932 sits on a calm and residential street typical of Havana -- lined with colorful rows of crumbling colonial homes in pretty, faded pastels. By contrast, this building proudly stands in mint condition with a neutral stone exterior, marked by a regal cast-iron emblem at its entrance. Its three rooms, each with private bathrooms, are immaculately presented, curated with Old World flair. Categories (and rates) range from Economic, Executive, and Deluxe. Guests rave about the spectacular breakfast (which costs extra); the exquisite decor; the warm host; and the location in a calm, non-touristy residential pocket walking distance to museums, nightlife, and the Malecon. Overall Casa 1932 offers an authentic and unique Havana experience. Old Havana is a 25-minute hike from the property, though, so travelers who want to explore the city on foot might prefer Santa Isabel, which is adjacent to the historical Plaza de Armas (the city’s oldest and most beautiful plaza) or Hotel Raquel, located right in the center of touristy Old Havana, on a busy corner rich with local life.
The atmospheric, mid-range Hotel Telegrafo has an excellent central location, parked right at the end of Prado Street and looking toward the Malecon. It’s an ideal spot for sightseeing, and the Telegrafo itself could be counted among the area’s landmarks. It dates back to the 1800s and is famed as the first Havana hotel with telephones. Hints of that history are still on display in the hotel’s courtyard and restaurant. Its 63 rooms are simple but have flat-screen TVs with satellite channels, and some have balconies. A few maintenance issues are ongoing, like AC leaks, but these are common throughout Cuba. As an alternative, travelers could consider Hotel Marques de Prado Ameno, another historic property with a central location.
Situated in a historic building from the 18th century, the Hotel Marques de Prado Ameno is 16-room, mid-range property in Old Havana location. It shares its amenities and services with the historic Hotel Florida (where guests check in), which offers two atmospheric bars and a restaurant -- plus there's a restaurant and bar on-site at the Hotel Marques de Prado Ameno as well. Breakfast is included, but guests remark that it's mediocre. Note that many past guests have also complained of poor service, and that rooms do not match the elegance of the common spaces; for the price, they're quite basic, and fall decidedly short of the hotel's advertised four-star status. For immaculate rooms and a spectacular breakfast (though it costs extra), consider Casa 1932, located in the residential pocket of Centro Havana. It's a 25-minute walk from Old Havana, but it is still near many must-see local sights, including the iconic coastal promenade, the Malecon.
Located on the site of a restored 18th-century mansion, Hotel Conde de Villanueva pays homage to the history of the Cuban cigar through its decor. It's central to many of Old Havana’s restaurants, shops, galleries, and historic attractions. The list of amenities -- including a lovely, but small, restaurant, a cigar bar, and a large, open-air courtyard -- is short, even for a three-pearl hotel. All nine rooms are equally historic and dated in terms of decor but they have air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, minibars, and optional hot tubs (though many don’t work). There is no Wi-Fi anywhere on the property; this is common in Havana, but Marques de Prado Ameno guests can access Wi-Fi in that hotel's lobby for a fee.
As a former monastery, the three-pearl Hotel Los Frailes offers plenty of history and a healthy dose of religious-themed kitsch, right down to staff members dressed as friars. Beyond the tiny lobby bar, free hot breakfast, and loosely affiliated restaurant a short walk away, the best feature is its location near dozens of restaurants, shops, galleries, and attractions in Havana’s busiest, most tourist-friendly quarter. Each of the 22 rooms is clean but dark, and comes with the essentials of air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and coffee-making kits; some offer minibars and balconies. Pope Benedict XVI blessed the hotel during his visit in 2012. Although it’s a bit dated, Hotel Conde de Villanueva offers similar rates and amenities in a more dramatic, sophisticated setting.
This no-frills value hotel in a residential part of Vedado is intimate, with just 30 rooms and few features. It occupies a neocolonial-style home dating to 1940 that once belonged to the wife of Fulgencio Batista, and its large porch with rocking chairs and preserved historic details are notable aspects -- though the competitive rates are probably the biggest draw. Rooms are clean, if basic, and up to four guests can fit in a single room. It's a perfectly serviceable option for the price, but leisure visitors should note that there's no pool and Old Havana isn't within walking distance. They might prefer Hotel Los Frailes' central location on Teniente Rey, with many of the city’s most popular historic attractions -- Plaza de Armas (Havana’s oldest plaza), Castillo de la Real Fuerza, and Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Cuba -- five minutes away on foot.