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Dilapidated in parts, but with its full complement of elegant dignity, Cuba has escaped the worst things about the modern world, as well as having missed out on some of the more convenient things. Half a century of embargo shows, but that’s why this county is so unique and unexpected. Havana is vibrant, magnificent and magical, Cuba’s coastline of alternating white sand and jungle hasn’t changed since the days when pirates buried their treasure on these shores, and there are some heartbreakingly charming colonial towns and cities which it’s hard not to fall in love with. The interior is still a bit wild: abandoned coffee plantations are edged with crocodile infested swamps on one side and rugged mountains hiding secret revolutionary bases on the other. And the best places to stay in Cuba are dotted in amongst all this.
Most visitors see Havana and the beaches of the northern coastline, but if you go beyond this you’ll find one of the last destinations which you can really feel like you’re exploring. While also knowing enough about this country’s history for it to feel exciting.
The trade and travel bans which have prevented Cuba keeping proper pace with the rest of the world might almost be considered a gift to visitors to Havana, because this city is magical! From the old American cars to the bright, peeling colours the graceful old houses are painted, to Che Guevara - who looks back at you from numerous walls, murals and t-shirt covered chests, to the crumbling sea wall and the constant rhythm in the air. Pirates, revolutionaries, Hemingway, salsa: Havana’s history is so rich with fascinating stories that you could spend your whole visit unravelling the past and entirely miss this city’s indefatigable charms.
Santiago de Cuba is considered by many to be Cuba’s cultural capital, and many of us know it as the place from which Fidel Castro launched his revolution. It’s also where the first Bacardí factory was located. And it’s got some seriously inspiring religious architecture. But what most visitors will feel when they come here is this city’s proximity to the Caribbean, rather than to the west.
Camagüey is also known for the arts it produces and the culture it treasures. Like a smaller, sometimes even more suave Havana, Camagüey has the same pastel coloured colonial townhouses and warren of close knit streets. The bars are often as fresh and colourful as the galleries, and the historic centre of town is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For a taste of colonial Cuba under the Spanish visit Trinidad, which hasn’t really changed that much since about 1850. This is where the sugar barons came from, and there are some breathtakingly extravagant colonial mansions, complete with all the mod. cons. of the time, like china by Wedgewood and chandeliers imported from France. And when the day-trippers leave the local music scene hots up.
If you want revolutionary tales you should visit Santa Clara. Che Guevara’s liberation of Santa Clara in 1958 marked the end of the Batista regime, and there have been mini-revolutions happening here ever since. This is where new trends evolve and boundaries are pushed. It’s also where Che’s remains are housed.
Varadero, on the Hicacos Peninsula, is one of the largest resorts in the Caribbean, with one of the most beautiful stretches of white sand you’ll probably ever see, or even imagine. Expect big hotels and an endless summer holiday vibe, but not so much in the way of the real Cuba. If you’re looking for a more Cuban feeling costal city try Cienfuegos, which is an elegant, French-built, nautical feeling city built around a spectacular bay. It’s oft referred to as the ‘Paris of the Caribbean’.
Cuba’s islands are another reason to visit. Isla de la Juentud is close to Havana, and has the kind of perfect white beaches the Caribbean is much loved for. The Jardines del Rey group are known for their resorts, and for their diving and snorkelling. And the national parks are incredible. Go to Viñales national park for its caves and mountains, the Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra for its cloud forests and for Castro’s hidden rebel headquarters, and the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, which looks something like Florida’s Everglades, for its birdwatching, and for its diving - this is where the Bay of Pigs Invasion took place.
What Not to Miss
- Havana’s central handicrafts market, the Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Deposito San Jose is definitely worth adding to your itinerary,
- as is the Museum of the Revolution, housed in the former Presidential Palace and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes - art museum.
- And of course you need to explore Habana Vieja, or the Old Town - it’s especially beautiful in the early hours if you can manage it. But you should definitely be out enjoying the live music scene in the evenings, so you might have to make a difficult decision here.
- If you are interested in religious architecture or cemeteries, then the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón with its eerie and elaborate memorials is worth a stroll through.
- Then there are Havana's museums - of course there’s a Hemingway museum, but there’s also a Napoleon museum.
- Stroll or drive to Havana’s Malecón, with its mishmash of architecture, from art nouveau whimsey to neoclassical tradition, to square, solid, modern structures, lit up like a dream at sunset or sprayed by waves on a blustery day.
- After all this sightseeing you should head straight for the Tropicana for a Cuba Libre. No, really, you should.
- Santiago de Cuba’s Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca fort overlooking the harbour is UNESCO listed, rife with a history of drama and the views are fantastic. It has massive batteries, bastions and walls, and they fire the cannons daily at sunset.
- Santiago de Cuba also has Cuba’s oldest colonial residence, the first souvenir’s house, built in 1522.
- Colonial Trinidad is almost a living museum to the Spanish sugar trade.
- Deep within the beautiful cloud forests of the Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra is the Comandancia de la Plata, a well camouflaged and remotely positioned camp built by Fidel Castro in 1958. There are just 16 buildings, which is just what there were in the 50s, the largest being Casa de Fidel, which has seven different possible escape routes running from it.
Use our guide to the best places to stay in Cuba and start to plan your trip to this fascinating destination before it catches up with the twenty first century!
The best places to stay in Cuba
- Santa Isabel is a stunning colonial mansion on a beautiful plaza, now converted into a 27-room hotel with romantic decor, a rooftop bar and an excellent restaurant. There are plenty of original details, like the Spanish feeling courtyard and the sweeping marble staircases.
- The Palacio Marques Felipe also has 27 bedrooms and has been converted from a colonial aristocrat’s residence in Old Havana, this one was built in the 18th century. While the facade is classical, the interiors are contemporary and there’s a stunning view from the rooftop terrace.
For a Beach Escape
- The Meliá Jardines del Rey is an all-inclusive beach resort in Cayo Coco, with almost 1,200 colourful, modern rooms. There’s a huge range of restaurants and places to eat - with everything from Japanese to Italian on offer. You’re right beside an idyllic stretch of private beach by the Playa Flamenco, and they run all sorts of watersports and activities out of the hotel. It’s great for families too.
For Classic Cuban Style
- Havana’s Saratoga is a Cuban icon, known for its classical grandeur and unrivalled views. While the look is pure heritage you’ll still find all the mod. cons., plus there’s a chic lobster restaurant and cocktail bar.
- Or, while in Havana, you could stay at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which is awash with old school glamour. The spacious rooms are filled with antiques and the palm-fringed pool has a certain retro charm!
- The Iberostar - Grand Hotel Trinidad is a large, colonial era hotel in the heart of Trinidad. There are just 36 adults only rooms and suites, some with balconies overlooking the pools - they have an indoor and an outdoor pool. Elegant and charming.
- The Meliá Jardines del Rey is an all-inclusive beach resort in Cayo Coco, with almost 1,200 colourful, modern rooms - including some great family configurations. There’s a huge range of restaurants and places to eat - with everything from Japanese to Italian on offer. You’re right beside an idyllic stretch of private beach by the Playa Flamenco, and they run all sorts of watersports and activities out of the hotel.
For a self-catering Apartment or private Villa
- If you’d prefer to stay in an apartment or private villa we recommend you visit our online partner, booking.com.
- Havana’s Jose Martí Airport is 9 miles southwest of the city and well served by public transport links to the centre. Santiago de Cuba’s Antonio Maceo Airport is linked to Cuba’s Caribbean neighbours, and it’s possible to get charter flights to some of the larger resorts, and to Varadero.
- If you want to hire a car we recommend you visit our online partner, Rentalcars.
- Hurricane season in Cuba runs between August and October, it’s wet in June and July, but between December and May the island is dry and sunny and the skies are blue.
Still not sure which is the best place to stay in Cuba for you?
- Refine your search to the best places to stay in Havana,
- or contact one of our friendly Gurus for advice.
Best Hotels in Cuba
Saratoga 96 rooms from $372Havana (esquina a Dragones,)
The most iconic hotel on the island. Typical Cuban style with its classical facade and heightened grandeur, blended with contemporary design for chic effect. Roof top pool with unrivalled views over Havana, lobster restaurant and Cuban cocktail bar, and spa services. Romance, heritage, and style.Roof terrace - Fabulous roof top with pool and stunning views.Chic - The chicest hotel on the island.Views - From the roof top.Luxury
Hotel Nacional de Cuba 362 rooms from $221Havana
A bastion of the former days of Cuban sophistication this hotel is awash with old school glamour. Classy, spacious bedrooms are decorated in antique furnishing and dark woods. There is an impressive museum and sitting room. Lovely gardens overlook Malecón sea front.Swimming Pool - Indoor/outdoorFull of characterTraditional
Meliá Jardines del Rey 1176 rooms from $153Cayo Coco, Cuba
All inclusive, beachside resort in Cayo Coco. Rooms are colourful, modern and ideal for families. There are plenty of restaurants, form Japanese to Italian - something for the fussiest of eaters - plus an array of activities. There is also an idyllic strand of private beach offering water sports.On the beach - Located on Cayo Coco Beach.Seaside - Ideal for a seaside holiday.Kids Club - Fully staffed.Spa
Iberostar - Grand Hotel Trinidad 36 rooms from $135Trinidad, Cuba (Martí y Lino Pérez 62600,)
A large colonial luxury hotel in the heart of the historic city of Trinidad. Absorb the Cuban charm and friendly atmosphere whilst sipping mojitos in grand style. For adults only, elegant rooms and suites have all modern amenities and some of the suites have balconies overlooking the pools.Restrictions on children - Over 15 years onlySwimming Pool - Indoor/outdoorSights nearby - Well located for major sights.
Palacio Marques Felipe 27 rooms from $99Havana
A colonial 18th century building with stature, previously an aristocratic residence. A classical facade with contemporary interiors. Rooms and suites are simple, some have hot tubs and DVD players. Stunning views over the city from the rooftop terrace. Well positioned in the Old Town, good value.Roof terrace - Spectacular views over the city.Value chicOutstanding location - Fantastically located on the Plaza San Francisco in the heart of Old Havana.Private Hot Tub - The best rooms have hot tubs and DVD players.
Santa Isabel 27 rooms from $96Havana
A stunning colonial mansion set in a privileged location on a plaza. Sweeping marble staircases, classical facades, balconies, and a charming Spanish courtyard. Romantic bedrooms and suites have antique furniture, stunning city scapes from the rooftop, and an excellent restaurant.Romantic Break - Sweeping marble staircases, charming balconies, and colonial chic rooms or suites.Roof terrace - Magnificent views over the plaza from the rooftop.Air conditioningTraditional - A stunning 18th century mansion turned boutique hotel.