The U.S. embargo has caused a lot of supply issues for Cuba, and this is extremely evident in the country’s hotels. Worn, stained linens, plumbing issues, faulty ACs, and scratched furniture are commonplace, even among the nicer hotels. Despite these common problems, on our visit to Havana, we found a handful of properties that are truly upscale by any standard.
Most luxury hotels in Havana trumpet their celebrity cachet. Not so at the Hotel Saratoga, which prides itself on its discretion. There's a wall detailing the hotel's history, but no hall of fame here, and non-guests aren't allowed at the rooftop pool. The bars are a highlight due to their swanky ambience; the bar off the lobby has a clubby atmosphere with dark woods, and the second-floor mezzanine bar has live piano music every night. The restaurant has Moroccan-inspired decor and serves Italian, Cuban, and international food for all three meals, but the breakfast isn't included in all rates. The 96 traditional rooms come with coffee/espresso makers with free pods, iPod docks, flat-screen TVs with channels in multiple languages and DVD players, safes, and minibars. All of this helps Hotel Saratoga feel like a true sanctuary from the noise and bustle outside.
The upscale, 457-room Hotel Nacional de Cuba is the country's grande dame, with fascinating history, from a major mafia meeting in the '40s that took place on site to tunnels in the gardens used during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The common spaces, including the lobby and the ocean-view gardens, are gorgeous, and the food impresses. Rooms are charmingly traditional if a bit dated for some tastes (and occasionally musty), but they're still among the nicest in Havana. Just note that Old Havana isn't within walking distance, and that the common spaces are often milling with tourists.
The upscale, 397-room Melia Habana has a firm place as one of the top handful of hotels in Havana. Its huge outdoor pool is the largest of any city hotel, many of the spacious, clean rooms have sea views, the 24-hour lobby bar is vast and elegant, and there are multiple restaurants, from a 24-hour cafeteria to a buffet to a formal Asian a la carte. It's a hub for business travelers as well as the occasional celebrity (Katy Perry and Mick Jagger both stayed here). Guests who upgrade to the Level get free Wi-Fi -- a rarity in Havana. Its Miramar location is a 15-minute drive to Old Havana, but there's a free shuttle.
This 220-room upscale 19-story chain hotel is one of the most modern options in Havana. It reopened in 2013 after a 12-year renovation, and its decor is inspired by its 1950s roots. A lovely rooftop pool, cool bar, modern gym, stylish Italian restaurant, free breakfast buffet, and attractive, well-maintained rooms (half with sea views) help make this a standout option for the price in Vedado. Leisure travelers should note that it's about a five-minute taxi ride to Old Havana.
Removed from the city center, the four-pearl Quinta Avenida Habana sits in the tranquil neighborhood of Miramar surrounded by embassies and an ecological park. The area has its advantages, such as ample space for a freeform pool that always seems to have open loungers. A free shuttle also takes guests to Old Havana in 15 minutes. Its 186 rooms, including eight suites, have lovely bathrooms and balconies, some with sea views. But the property lacks Caribbean character, and some maintenance issues mar the otherwise upscale offerings.