Cuba Travel Guide
By now, everyone's seen the images of a cigar-wielding Jay-Z, strolling hand in hand with his wife Beyonce through the streets of Old Havana. No doubt, Cuba is high on most of our travel wish lists, so it almost seemed unfair that the pair should not only be granted special licenses to travel there, but also parade around like royalty under the flashes of hundreds of paprazzi cameras.
Perhaps most memorable of all was a photo taken of them waving from their balcony at the Saratoga Hotel.
The 96-room hotel is pure Havana elegance: the three-sided, white-and-pink facade is wrapped with wrought-iron balconies; inside, the look is continued with marble staircases, plaster columns and large murals depicting Cuba's scenery. We like picturing Mr. and Mrs. Carter lounging on the rooftop pool, sunlight glinting off their Havana Club cocktails, teaching Blue Ivy how to dance the rumba.
Though the building itself dates back to 1933, the hotel recently re-opened in 2005, and remains Havana's top five-star hotel. Rooms feature big ol' claw foot tubs, double-glazed windows (to keep out the roaring Havana traffic noise), and views of the National Capitol Building across the street.
We're guessing Beyonce and Jay-Z opted for a top-floor suite, but for the rest of us normal folk (who will end up touring the city sans mob, rates start at $195/night.
[Photo: Raymond Espinosa/AP]
We are suckers for a room with a killer view. We find that we are even more likely to forgive some minor hotel inconveniences if we can stare out the window at something pretty--yeah we are that shallow. Let's help out our fellow hotel mavens by uploading rooms with killer views to the HotelChatter/Flickr photo pool, or by sending the photo along to us. We will feature our favorites in this space from time to time. Remember to tell us the name of the hotel and the room number of the hot view.
You know, most of the Killer Views we bring you are either shots of pretty mountains or pretty beaches. So here, how about this: now we're bringing you a shot of some pretty mountains in a place where there are also pretty beaches. See what we're doin' here?
This is a shot from Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, a fairly small, modest all-inclusive resort down in Cuba. And cheap, too: we checked on a couple nights in April and found an all-inclusive room for 26 Euros about $37 USD. Nice, right?
This shot comes to us via Martin Cathrae, and it's the view as you're walking between your guest room and the "main area of the resort." If you can look past the Terracotta roof, you'd be happy to take in some good ol' Cuban views at under $50.
Perhaps (we hope) because these guests were on their honeymoon, hotel staff went to all the trouble of twisting and contorting a bunch of towels into this love-heart flanked by two, well, towel-people. Strange-looking people, though, because their arms start at the top of their heads. But the idea is sweet.
However, not only is the towel art completely over-the-top, there's even a handwritten note in the middle of the artwork--we're just bummed it's too small for us to read. What a pity that some of the time and effort used to create this whole towel origami thing wasn't used in modernizing the bedspread instead.
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is one of the hotels that will allow its countrymen to stay there now.
Some big news on the Cuban tourism front today: Cubans can now stay in hotels that were typically reserved for foreign tourists.
Cubans will be allowed to stay in the hotels beginning at midnight Monday, said employees at several Havana hotels. Word of the change came from Tourism Ministry officials, the employees said.
Sadly, this initiative is largely symbolic as many Cubans can't afford the hotel room prices which range from $60 to more than $200 a night. The average income in the country is $20 a month.
For years under Fidel Castro's rules, Cubans could not stay in their own country's hotels but with the succession of Raul Castro, he has been lifting many restrictions such as allowing Cubans to own cellphones and computers. Again, these are mostly symbolic since average Cubans cannot afford such items.
Still this might create a mini-hotel boom for country's capital of Havana. The tourism ministry expects at least 10 hotels to be built between 2008 and 2010.
Since we Americans still can't travel to Cuba, we have a dearth of Cuban Hotel Stories. If you got any, send 'em our way. Photos always appreciated too.
Amy, of NewYorkology fame, sent us the above snapshot of the legendary Riviera Hotel in Cuba. Turns out she visited the joint at the turn of the century, back when the Yankees were still winning World Series titles, and Cuba was Cuba.
She says of her February 2000 visit:
Indeed it looked like it was entirely unchanged from the '50s. It did smell a little musty, but not too bad. And I think the power would go out n some floors for a few hours at a time. But the view was stunning and that pool was just over the top.
This is definitely a hotel with tons of "potential," and could become a great property with the right type of renovations and service improvements, so don't screw it up Accor, or you could find a horse head on your pillow.
French hotel group Accor SA has taken over management of Cuba's Riviera and Capri hotels--the famous mafia hotels of pre-revolutionary Havana.
"We are very excited. Our imaginations are already hard at work. We can do many things with these two classic establishments and their nightclubs,"
Accor executive Eric Pyre said.
Our imaginations are running wild as well. Castro, Cocaine, Communism, and Crime. The four Cs -- what else could a tourist want?
Actually, despite the Bush administration tightening restrictions on Cuba, the country's tourism revenue has jumped considerably in the last couple of years, and most people know that the above Cuban stereotypes are mostly a thing of the past.
We still want to get to Cuba before Castro is out of power, and Accor
ruins the authenticity of renovates these old mob haunts.
· Cuba's mafia hotels get new owner [CNN]