More than often, staying at a value hotel in Cuba means coming face to face with wear and tear, maintenance issues, and Wi-Fi limitations. Snags aside, these hotels offer access to the country’s spectacular beaches and beautiful and colorful capital for fair rates. Here are the top hotels for travelers going to Cuba on a budget.
The horseshoe-shaped Sol Palmeras is a sprawling resort in Varadero. The family-friendly all-inclusive is notable first for its sheer size: Its 608 accommodations are serviced by six restaurants, seven bars, and two massive pools. Guests can elect to walk the breezy paths lined with palm trees, though getting from one side of Sol Palmeras to the other is a hike, so often shuttle rides are required. Sol Palmeras is boisterous and big on activities, especially the kid-friendly variety. Free water-sport rentals, a game room with Wii and PlayStation2, and a shooting range join the typical diversions of sun and sand, including Varadero’s notably beautiful beach. The 408 rooms and 200 bungalows are excellent for families, with multiple bedrooms, mini-kitchens, dining spaces, and interconnecting rooms available.
Parked right at the end of Prado Street and looking toward the Malecon, the atmospheric, mid-range Hotel Telegrafo has a storied past. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the hotel was a gathering point for the well-to-do. The name came from the hotel’s biggest claim to fame as the first hotel with phones in all of the rooms. Touches of the hotel’s grand past are still in full view, like the restaurant’s ceiling crowned with ornate medallions. Other more recent additions, like the stained-glass and tile mural in the courtyard bar, blend seamlessly with the vaulted arches and exposed brickwork that rises to a looming skylight. And colorful modern furnishings keep things fresh and contemporary. Despite this generally attractive package, a few maintenance issues were present when we visited, including air-conditioning leaks, cracks along the marble steps, and an out-of-commission elevator -- but travelers should note these issues are common throughout Cuban properties.
Mid-range Hotel Colonial unfolds like a charming Spanish village -- bordered by a stretch of white-sand coastline for which Cayo Coco is renowned. As Cayo Coco’s first ever resort, the place could really use some updates, but guests appreciate the Old World charm and many return every year. Brightly-colored colonial buildings contain the 458 rooms and wrap around its two sweeping pools and palm tree grounds. The rooms are simple but come with furnished balconies and pool, sea, or garden views. There’s plenty to eat and drink on-site -- some guests love the all-inclusive food, while others leave unimpressed. Hotel Colonial's fitness center and sprawling spa center are both off-site, which may be a drawback for some. Those travelers might prefer Sol Palmeras, whose gym (opened in 2015) with sauna and beauty salon/massage rooms are both on-site.
The mid-range, 293-room Hotel Roc Barlovento is the most affordable adult-only option in Varadero. It's the first resort along the Varadero peninsula, located at the beginning of the downtown area. This means guests can walk to shops and restaurants, but the resort's footprint is smaller, and the beach less secluded. Basic, dated rooms lack ocean views, but they're fine for the price. All in all, it's a good value, but those looking for rooms with ocean views might prefer Hotel Colonial Cayo Coco.
The adult-only, mid-range Hotel Los Cactus isn’t flashy or fancy, but it offers a pleasant all-inclusive vacation with a surprising amount of local touches that give guests a sense of being in Cuba. The grounds are blanketed with local flora, and the staff serves up spit-roasted pig or fresh coconut water in the shell. But it’s the usual resort draws of white-sand beaches and a lively pool, both with bar service, that are the main attractions for guests. Its 270 rooms are cheery, if a bit dated, but they give a perfectly adequate place to crash out at the end of a day of sun and sand. Same as Hotel Roc Barlovento, Hotel Los Cactus' rooms have dated decor and lack sea views.
With 1,035 rooms, the mid-range Memories is one of the biggest resorts in Varadero. It's also one of the family-friendliest, with Varadero's only waterslide at one of the two pools, and activities to keep kids of all ages entertained. The beach is beautiful, and the baby and kids' clubs are great (we saw little kids having a grand time with staff members in cartoon costumes). But the resort is also dated and worn and the sprawling size can mean a long walk to the sand. All resorts in Varadero seem to have issues keeping up with laundry (it typically has to be sent far off-site), but Memories in particular has problems because of its scale -- it never has enough clean towels (many guests reuse their beach towels for the entire stay). Still, it's one of the best options for families in this price range in Varadero. Travelers could compare rates with the Sol Palmeras, another family-oriented resort, though maintenance issues exist there as well.
The lower-middle-range Be Live Experience Turquesa is an all-inclusive resort with a smaller stature at 268 rooms including 26 bungalows. The breezy open-air lobby with splashes of signature turquoise gives an inviting welcome, and the pristine beach and sunny pool are also appealing. But rooms with drab furniture and some maintenance issues, lack the same charm. Still, the three on-site restaurants (compared to Memories' six), multiple bars, kids’ club, and mini-golf, among other activities, could offer enough diversions that guests won’t linger in their rooms except to sleep.
The 324-room Sercotel Club Cayo Guillermo is smaller than other sprawling all-inclusives in the Jardines del Rey chain, so the vibe here is much more intimate. The main, original area of the hotel is family-friendly -- and shows its age -- while the newer Club Prestige section feels like its own mini-resort, catering to adults only with an exclusive feel. The resort's layout requires minimal walking, grounds are beautifully maintained, and there's a gorgeous beach, but Sercotel is far from perfect, so luxury seekers will be disappointed. Some past guests complain of poor maintenance in rooms, while others seem satisfied. All units come with patios or balconies, AC, mini-fridges, and safes, but some have old tube TVs, and there's no in-room Wi-Fi.