Hotel Nacional, Havana, Cuba

It's about a 1/2 hour drive from the airport to the downtown location of our hotel. There are at least half a dozen brand new modern resort hotels in Havana, but we chose to stay in a national landmark that is eloquent of the glory days of Havana as a resort town. The Hotel Nacional was gangster Meyer Lansky's base of operations at one time. Today, it is a newly (1998) restored and very stately old hotel that exudes old-world charm and elegance like nowhere else I've ever stayed in the Caribbean.

Join me on a little photo tour of this beautiful old hotel...

The Hotel Nacional

Here is the stately entrance, which is reach via a long drive from the road through a gated entry. Very upscale and well manicured. In fact, this was one of the few old buildings that seemed really well kept.

The little vehicle parked in front is an open-air cab built from a scooter. It has three seats behind the driver. We never wound up taking one as they had much nicer Mercedes taxis lined up for important visitors such as ourselves!

Taxis are cheap here. It costs $5 to $10 to go anywhere. $60 for a very nice 3 hour driving tour for three of us. We had the same driver the whole stay; his name was Abel.

 

Several beautiful old convertibles were available for hire in front of the hotel.

The lobby is beautiful, and again, very old-worldly. It has a real antique feel to it. There are concierges, security people, and bellmen all in formal uniforms. Frankly, they looked like they would be awfully hot, but this didn't seem to be the case. The hotel was well air-conditioned inside.

While I was there I saw a wedding and a fashion photo-shoot being done on the grounds. The guests are all foreigners. Cubans can't stay in these hotels at all. There were Americans, Europeans, Mexicans, and South Americans. At least half appeared to be in Cuba on business and the other half were tourists. Predictably, most of the Americans we saw were tourists, and fairly young.

The Nacional is a pretty good deal. We got first class rooms on the Executive Floor (what we'd call the Concierge Level) for under $100 per night. There is a web site with the details at http://www.cuba.tc/Havana/cuhavnacional.html.

Since it was the wee hours of the morning, after check-in, we toddled up to our rooms to go to bed. The rooms were nice, and were furnished in antiques. The bathrooms had been recently redone. Overall, I'd say they were very similar to older US hotels, such as the St Francis in downtown San Francisco.

The only odd thing about the room is that the air conditioning works with a key card, and they like you to take the card out when you leave the room. There's even a television, which is hooked into some kind of satellite to receive European TV. We didn't spend much time looking at it, but there was another that was left tuned to European CNN out in the floor lobby. Interesting that the Cubans are willing to allow this (we were told they can't have VCR's and here they are watching foreign television), but Cuban Nationals can't stay here, so maybe they aren't worried about it.

This is my second brush with lodging in a communist country, my first being stays in St Petersburg and Moscow some years ago. This hotel was definitely nicer than the ones we stayed at in Russia.

The Nacional would definitely do as a base of operations in Cuba!

The next morning we awoke hungry, and proceeded out of our rooms to discover what was available. Since we are staying on the Executive Floor, there is a small floor lobby with a nice spread laid out for us.

There is fruit, both fresh and dried, cereal (basic corn flakes and such), and some Cuban pastries laid out. In back is coffee and hot water with tea bags. Despite my love of coffee, I've gotten into the habit of drinking hot tea unless I'm certain the coffee is good.

The milk and cereal is so-so, so I switch to oatmeal for most breakfasts, with an occasional Cuban pastry thrown in. We later found out that milk is a rare commodity here. It is rationed, and Cubans older than 6 get no milk except powdered. Probably ours was powdered and that's why it tasted funny.

The Cuban pastries were interesting. They're tasting, but not anything I'd covet in quantity. They are much less sweet, much doughier, and much less pretty to look at than the pastries we're used to here.

 

 

 

I had to snap a photo of the beautiful fresh water fish tank they have as well. I wish my home aquarium looked this good. The plants were especially lush and varied, and they had a number of great looking fish as well. I'm not sure how they manage it on this island since all of this had to be imported. It was a nice luxurious touch to decorate the floor.

With our appetites sated, we were ready to tour the grounds and see what amenities the Hotel Nacional had to offer. First stop after going back downstairs was the Veranda. The back of the hotel has a big u-shaped veranda that looks out on the bay. It's very pretty, and not too hot in the shade. Waiters offer drinks, and there are exotic songbirds as well as peacocks to make it more interesting.

The Veranda goes around the entire back of the hotel. On the left is a large ballroom that's closed. You can peek in the windows and imagine the dances that must have been held there in the pre-Castro era. I found myself wondering whether all the hotel's floors were open for guests, when I saw this unrestored momento of a bygone era.

On the right, as you face the hotel is a series of private party rooms. This is where weddings and business meetings take place. As you continue to walk around you pass a little outdoor postcard shop, and then there's a classic old bar that overlooks the pool. More on that bar in a minute, let's get back to touring the grounds.

In the evenings, a cool Cuban Jazz combo plays. I love the sound of the muted trumpet. It so captures the Cuban retro-high-style feel!

They also prepare little gourmet treats of BBQ chicken, guacamole, and salsa to snack on while you listen to the musicians. When you get tired of the pool, this is an excellent spot to enjoy a Mojito and a Cuban cigar!

The young tourists typical of Cuba...

Here is a view facing back in towards the Veranda. There's a pretty little fountain here that figured prominently in a fashion photo shoot and the photography for a wedding we saw. It's very picturesque!

Looking away from the Veranda, we get a very pretty view of the bay.

Hotel Tour, Continued...

 
All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.