Some things will never change in Havana, like some of the city’s landmark hotels full of history and character such as the Nacional (favoured by the celebs back in the day) or the authentic Sevilla (basic in parts but its 9th floor restaurant boasts amazing views and the patio bar serves a mean mojito). The array of vintage vehicles lovingly maintained and showcasing the most incredible range of colours – many are in use as taxis and some are available for a memorable guided tour of Old Havana (Habana Vieja) including a drive along the famous Malecon which is an 8km sea drive best experienced as the sun sets. Pot holes and derelict buildings within the bustling streets of Old Havana are also still common so you need to watch your step when strolling through this extraordinary labyrinth, fortunately protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of course the sound of salsa and the scent of cigars are very much still part of the scene…
In recent years there have been some subtle reforms that make Cuba an even more enticing holiday destination. Along with a significant increase in the value of tourism, there has also been a much wider availability of some foreign goods such as a cool, crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Chile which comes in very welcome after a hot day of sightseeing. Modern cars are plentiful so if you prefer a Mercedes for your taxi, you could be in luck although let’s face it ‘when in Rome’ a Lada suffices! Wi-Fi is readily available nowadays in some public areas or hotel reception for a small fee.
Private enterprise is allowed and locals have been able to run their own restaurants and even open up their homes as B&B accommodation known as Casas Particulares. Many are wonderfully preserved colonial buildings and provide an intimate boutique hotel experience – behind large front doors, tucked away off simple streets and often accessed up steep staircases are some archetypal Deluxe casas, notably Casa Vitrales & Casa El Madero, with interiors from a bygone era. The multi-tasking owners are on hand to help carry your luggage to your room, serve your breakfast and give expert advice on making the most of your time in the city. Expect fascinating views from simple roof terraces across nearby roof tops and neighbours’ laundry! Casas offer a genuine insight in to the real Cuba, ideal for those looking for a sociable ‘homestay’ experience and are classed as either Standard, Superior or Deluxe. They have en-suite facilities – the bathrooms are adequate with a decent shower but don’t expect a hand towel or bath tub.
If that’s not your thing and you expect to stay in the lap of luxury then finally Havana has an option for you – the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski recently opened its sophisticated doors and it is the place to stay! A distinct step above the other quality hotels in the city, the building originally was a stylish shopping arcade built in the late 19th Century. After a mesmerising day in this enthralling city there is nowhere better to dine and relax in refined surroundings and the rooftop restaurant, bar and pool offer one of the best views of the old city and, in particular, of the grandiose Capitol building (Captitolio Nacional). The spa is also laudable and the breakfast is splendid; you could forget you’re in Cuba within these contemporary designer walls with brand new fixtures and fittings!
There has never been a better choice of where to stay in Havana and the city now boasts a vibrant restaurant & bar scene adding to the diverse experiences available in this shabby but imposing place with the current revolution taking place being a culinary focused one!