10 Places to Avoid the Cuba Hotel Crunch

by  Julie Schwietert Collazo | May 10, 2016

Since the U.S. and Cuban governments began their rapprochement process in December 2014, a record number of American travelers have taken trips to Cuba. The number jumped 77 percent from 2014 to 2015, and so far, more than one million Americans have visited Cuba in 2016, according to a New York Times report. The somewhat sudden arrival of Americans has stressed Cuba’s tourism infrastructure, a fact that’s all too familiar to the many travelers who can’t find hotel rooms. In fact, the lack of lodging is so acute, that the same New York Times article claimed that taxi drivers in the town of Viñales have been renting out the back seats of their cars to weary travelers who can’t find any other place to lay their heads.

If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, secure your accommodations as early as possible. If you have difficulty booking a hotel, search for available rooms or apartments via AirBnB or ask someone who has traveled to Cuba for their casa particular recommendations (Cuba’s version of the bed-and-breakfast).

Not sure where to start the room search? Here are 10 spots, both in Havana and beyond, recommended by recent and repeat travelers to the island.

1. Casa particular of Carmen Yoli y Medina, Calle San Lázaro 1154 (between Infanta and Calle N), Havana

Like most of Cuba’s original casas particulares -- the ones that operated in the days before AirBnB -- this one offers clean and simple, no-frills rooms within the owner’s home. There are two rooms, each with its own private bathroom and air conditioning. Guests also have use of a large kitchen and dining area. The location is ideal, just a short walk from the University of Havana and all of the main attractions of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, including the famous ice cream emporium, Coppelia. Rates range from $25 to $30 depending upon time of year. Make reservations online or by emailing the owner, Carmen Yoli, at yosamuelito2006@yahoo.es.

2. Hotel Terral, Malecón, corner of Lealtad, Havana

This hotel occupies a coveted spot on Havana’s Malecón, or avenue that fronts the sea. As one of the capital’s newer hotels -- it opened in 2012 -- its decor and amenities are more contemporary than many other Havana hotels. With just 14 rooms -- all of which are unusually spacious -- reservations go fast here, so book as early as possible. Rates start at $68 and go up to $114 for a junior suite with a Jacuzzi and terrace. The neighborhoods of Old Havana and Vedado are within easy walking distance.

3. The White House (AirBnB listing), Malecón, Havana

While not ideal for messy travelers or those who have kids in tow, The White House, an AirBnB listing with rates that start at $47 per night, is a gorgeous apartment that -- as its name suggests -- is decorated in all white. Perfectly positioned on the Malecón, with a balcony that offers sunset views over the Havana Bay, this property has earned universal five-star reviews on AirBnB. Breakfast is included for an additional $4.

Cienfuegos / flickr

4. Hotel La Unión, Calle 31, corner of A-54, Cienfuegos

There are other hotels in Cienfuegos, notes Annika Hipple, who first visited Cuba in 1997 and leads tours of the island, but Hotel La Unión is central and tends to be the go-to choice for tour groups. Given this, reservations can be a challenge to secure these days, but if you’ve got plenty of lead time, La Unión should be your first choice in this city.

In part, that’s because of its location -- on the main pedestrian street and just a block away from Parque Martí -- but also because of its prices and amenities. Standard rooms start at $61; each has air conditioning, a private bathroom, and satellite TV. “The rooms can be a bit dark, but they're pleasant,” Hipple says. “The building itself is from the 19th century and beautifully restored.” She adds that the hotel has, “A nice bar with seating in one of the interior courtyards, a pretty big lobby with large windows open to the street, and a lovely pool area. There's also a rooftop bar with good views of the cathedral (and you could pick up a WiFi signal from up there the last time I stayed.” Staff is friendly and helpful. Hipple recommends that guests who are sensitive to noise ask for an interior-facing room, as those facing the street can be a bit noisy.

5. Hotel Jagua, Punta Gorda, Cienfuegos

While not as central as Hotel La Unión, Hotel Jagua appeals to travelers who like a quieter, less central location, says Hipple. Built in a 1950s Modernist style (it opened at the end of 1959), this hotel is lighter, airier, and quieter than Hotel La Unión, and it overlooks the Bay of Cienfuegos. The breakfast buffet is extensive, if busy, and a hotel pool and lobby bar offer visitors attractive spots to hang out and relax.

6. Hotel Los Jazmines, Carretera de Viñales #25, Viñales

Set atop a hill overlooking the valley of Viñales, the pastoral views at Hotel Los Jazmines offset some of the property’s shortcomings. As with most hotels in Cuba -- and those in the provinces outside of Havana in particular — this one is basic in decor, amenities, and service, all of which could use a refresh. But a pool and an on-site restaurant, where the breakfast buffet includes hot items (among them, an omelet station), also compensate for the aspects of a property that can’t be held fairly to Stateside standards anyway.

Viñales / flickr

7. La Ermita, Carretera la Ermita Km. 1.5, Viñales

If you’re headed to Viñales and Los Jazmines is booked, La Ermita is a viable Plan B. As with Los Jazmines, the view is everything at La Ermita, and you can enjoy it from the poolside bar, breakfast building, and some choice rooms, says Hipple. Note that many guests have indicated they’d have liked a cleaner pool and water pressure can be a problem here, especially in upper level rooms. Rates start at $60; for $115, guests can book the “Tropical-Plus Room,” which includes a variety of amenities, including three free hours of Internet per day, a massage, one dinner, and a minibar with six drinks, including a bottle of rum.

8. Hostal Cuba, Calle C #2A, between Calle Real y Avenida del Mar, Trinidad

Among the 85-plus reviews on TripAdvisor for Hostal Cuba, not a single one rates Hostal Cuba below “Very Good.” Inside, rooms are spacious and guests rave about the multi-course dinners, which you can request for an additional fee; breakfasts and lunches are also available. A rooftop terrace with chairs and chaise lounges overlooks the water and makes for a comfortable place to chill out. Rates can be requested through the website.

9. Hostal San Basilio, Calle San Basilio #403, Santiago de Cuba

A central location -- about five minutes on foot from the main plaza and even closer to the popular Casa de la Trova -- Hostal San Basilio is both convenient and charming. Rooms are on the smaller side in this colonial building, but they’re clean and have reliable air conditioning and hot water. Keep in mind that Santiago is known for its music, so the fact that this isn’t necessarily the most restful lodging doesn’t mean that’s an anomaly in this town.

10. Beachfront La Pesquera, Villa Clara

There are astronomical lodging rates to be found in Cuba -- just check AirBnB’s listings in Havana, where some apartments go for as much as $1,000 per night -- but in the provinces, deals abound. One of them is Beachfront La Pesquera. For $105 per night, you can rent this three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, with daily cleaning service and the use of the home’s pool.

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