Two Hotels in Cuba
Hotel Nacional de Cuba -first of two hotels in Cuba
Hotel Nacional de Cuba was built in 1932. The luxury hotel is in a mixture of Sevillian, Moorish, and Art Deco styles of architecture. The hotel is a National Monument and has been inscribed in the World Memory Register. It is co-located with Santa Clara Battery on Taganana Hill in the heart of Havana (Vedado.) Both Santa Clara Battery and Old Havana are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The site commands an expansive view of Havana Harbor, Old Havana, and the Malecón.
Vintage cars in vibrant colors at the hotel’s front entrance add to the hotel’s allure.
Celebrities and politicians from the U.S. loved to visit in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Gary Cooper, Sir Winston Churchill, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, and Ava Gardner are just a few whose portraits adorn the walls of the Hotel Nacional bar. The hotel is also famed for hosting the Mafia Bosses Summit in 1946. The grand and impressive first-floor lobby offers a breathtaking view of the serene ocean beyond. The harbor is pristine; there is not a single vessel to spoil the scene. Portraits of its most famous customers adorn the walls, adding to the hotel’s glamour.
Eddie and I rode from the hotel to the heart of Havanna in a 1914 Ford Model T. The Model T owner said it was the oldest vintage car in Cuba. His grandfather gave it to him as a legacy and a way to earn a living. He refurbished it in a stunning bright pink metallic color. Classic buildings along the streets housed bookshops, restaurants, museums, and hotels. It was a feast for the eyes and a photographer’s dream. We returned to our hotel just in time to witness a beautiful sunset while musicians played gentle Latin music. The Battery Garden was filled with peacocks strutting around as we sipped mojitos in the soft tropical breeze. I couldn’t help but feel like a celebrity of the Golden Age cinema.
Hotel Encanto Barcelona Cuba – second of two hotels in Cuba
San Juan de los Remedios was founded by the Spanish in 1578. Because of its rich history, the Main Square, Plaza Isabel II, is a historical treasure and a National Monument. The Hotel Encanto Barcelona was once a colonial mansion and anchors one end of the plaza. Everything within the city is within easy walking distance. It holds a merit award for preserving architectural and historical value in a colonial town.
The hotel was once a private residence but now boasts an elegant inner courtyard and a spacious front room featuring a restaurant and bar. The top-floor balcony offers the best view of city life in the plaza three levels below. In the mornings, a street sweeper leisurely clears debris from the walkways while a group of schoolchildren in brightly colored uniforms cross the plaza. People of all ages walk or ride their bicycles to work or school. Local merchants begin to open their elaborately painted doors as the day progresses. The ubiquitous vintage car passes through the square throughout the day.
We took a pedicab to visit a tobacco factory nearby, accompanied by an adorable street dog. During a walking tour, we learned about the history of Las Parrandas de Remedios, the oldest and most significant Caribbean festival. We visited the Parish Church of San Juan Bautista, where we heard the fascinating story of its thirteen gold altars, hidden from pirates in the 1600s. Later, we enjoyed sweet Cuban rum on the hotel balcony, watching the moon rise over the plaza in a soft blue-violet sky.
How We Got There
Travel organizations and private individuals offer educational visits to Cuba. We selected Road Scholar, the self-described “university of the world” for travelers aged 50+. The itinerary provided an intimate immersion into Cuban culture, including guided visits with musicians, photographers, dancers, artists, and private citizens in their homes. The authentic Cuban food was exquisite and served in captivating settings, usually private homes or Paladares. Cuba’s architectural beauty and the warm charm of the Cuban people made our trip an unforgettable experience.
Learn more about travel writer Marie Goff at the Travel Notes and Storytelling About Page.