Accommodations

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Accommodations

Accommodations include large, modern hotels; smaller, restored colonial classics; and rooms in casas particulares (private homes). All hotels belong to one of five state-owned chains: Cubanacán, Gaviota, Gran Caribe, Habaguanex, or Islazul. To improve its tourist infrastructure, the government has entered into joint ventures with foreign hoteliers such as Spain's Meliá and Canada's Blau; American chains such as Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton have yet to set up shop here. To get the best deal, book your room in advance.

Casas Particulares

Since 1996, Cubans have been allowed to rent out rooms to visitors. Homes with a license to rent will have a blue triangle on their front door or window. Havana now has hundreds of these casas particulares, and other towns frequented by foreigners have at least a few. The rates are excellent (CUC$25–CUC$50 daily, payable in CUC cash), and the accommodations are often charming. Some casas particulares are mansions that may have passed their heyday but still have the power to impress; most offer such amenities as private baths and air-conditioning. A number of them are also licensed to serve meals to guests, and Cuban home cooking often puts the institutional buffets at the big hotels to shame.

Quality varies widely from one casa to the next. Some owners will welcome you as one of the family; others will be strictly businesslike in their dealings with you. It is difficult to book reservations for private homes through a tour operator, but the vacation rental site Airbnb now lists hundreds of properties, with more listings coming on all the time. A good strategy is to book your first two nights at a tourist hotel, and then investigate nearby casas particulares. Many atmospheric buildings in Habana Vieja have rooms for rent in them—look for the blue triangles and other signs. Casa owners also tend to offer their rooms at city’s bus terminals. Shop around, and don't be shy, ask to see the rooms before booking. Just beware of recommendations from street hustlers; their desire to take you to a casa particular is based only on the commission they get, which will invariably affect the rate you pay.

Contacts

Airbnb. www.airbnb.com.

Hotels

Construction of new hotels took off with the opening of tourism in the 1990s. It continued in fits and spurts, depending on the state of the world economy, but, these days, expansion is going gangbusters. The island has some 61,000 rooms and counting. All new hotels and resorts are up to North American and European standards, and many of the older ones have undergone renovations. Still others exude what could politely be called "faded elegance"—you may be charmed, or not—and some have simply faded. Most new accommodations are in massive beach resorts whose room count is frequently measured in the mid-three figures; Cuba's first four-figure hotel, a 1,100-room beachside resort in Cayo Coco, opened in 2015. These resorts offer an array of services—from day tours to nightly entertainment and children's programs—and include most if not all food and drink in the room rates. Urban hotels are still lacking in number: Havana, a capital of more than 2 million people, could stand more quality lodging than it has, and smaller cities may have only a couple of decent hotels each. Rooms in all hotels invariably have air-conditioning and cable TV; many also have refrigerators and other modern conveniences.

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