While luxury hotels and resorts are hardly difficult to find in other Caribbean destinations, in Cuba they’re in short supply. Our reporters scoured the island to find the top properties out there. Take a look at their findings, while keeping in mind that some of the selections aren’t exceptionally modern or stylish by international luxury standards.
Paradisus Princesa del Mar is a rarity in Cuba -- a true luxury, all-inclusive resort in Varadero, known for its picturesque beaches. The resort is split between its standard accommodations and its upper-tier Royal Service wing. Its 798 rooms opt for elegant, subdued furnishings. All rooms include balconies or terraces with either ocean or pool views. Royal Service rooms include additional perks like jetted tubs, butler service, and some offer direct pool access. The action here centers on the beach and the resort's three pools, two of which have swim-up bars. There are also seven restaurants, though some guests find the food underwhelming. Tennis courts, live entertainment, and a cigar bar add to the resort's appeal. Be aware that this is an adult-only property; families could consider the Paradisus Varadero Resort & Spa as an alternative.
This adult-only all-inclusive resort is easily one of the best in Varadero. There’s a true emphasis on personalized service, there are ample activities ranging from yoga to the weekly foam party, the beach is perhaps the biggest and best stretch in Varadero, and just about everything is covered by the all-inclusive package, from butler service, to top-shelf liquor, to access to the spa facilities, to lobster at the seafood a la carte restaurant. The classic colonial style found in the 404 rooms is appealing enough, but it's not at the level of luxury found at other advertised five-star resorts in the Caribbean. And while all rooms have balconies or terraces with views of the pool or trees, none of the rooms sport ocean views. (Some rooms at Paradisus Princesa do.)
Even though the 397-room Melia Habana doesn't live up to its advertised five-star status, it is still one of Havana's -- and one of Cuba's -- best hotels. Indeed, the upscale hotel -- not a beachfront all-inclusive, like Paradisus Princesa or the Royalton -- has seen its fair share of high-profile guests, including Mick Jagger and Katy Perry. Its huge outdoor pool is the largest of any city hotel, the 24-hour lobby bar is vast and elegant, and there are multiple restaurants, from a 24-hour cafeteria to a buffet to a formal Asian a la carte. The spacious rooms rank among the nicest in Havana. All have wicker love seats, flat-screen TVs, minibars with soda and beer (Level guests also get liquor bottles), safes, and coffeemakers. The terrace is the most significant amenity, and one that most competing hotel rooms lack; some rooms have excellent sea views. Wi-Fi is available in all rooms (not a given for Havana hotels), but it's pricey (Level guests get unlimited free Wi-Fi).
Most luxury hotels in Havana trumpet their celebrity cachet with walls of fame and staff members who are only too happy to regale you with stories of their notable past guests. Not so at the Hotel Saratoga, an elegant boutique hotel who prides itself on its discretion. There's a wall detailing the hotel's history, but no hall of fame here, and non-guests aren't allowed at the chic rooftop pool with great city views. All of this helps Hotel Saratoga feel like a true sanctuary from the noise and bustle outside. The historic hotel lacks the scale of Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which has sprawling ocean-view gardens in Vedado, but the tradeoffs are significant: Guests here get nicer rooms instead, and a location that's walking distance to Old Havana's attractions (Nacional is not right in Old Havana). Guests should expect to pay premium rates for this experience, but in return they'll also get extras that are otherwise unheard of in Havana, such as free Wi-Fi. In all, Saratoga is the top luxury option in Old Havana and arguably all of Havana.
The upscale, 457-room Hotel Nacional de Cuba is typically more affordable than Saratoga and has even grander common spaces, but it's not right in Old Havana and its rooms aren't quite as nice. Nonetheless, this is the country's grande dame, with gorgeous common spaces, including the lobby and the ocean-view gardens, and a truly fascinating history. Rooms are charmingly traditional if a bit dated for some tastes (and occasionally musty), but they're still among the nicest in Havana. Just note that Old Havana isn't within walking distance, and that those grand common spaces are often milling with tourists -- as to be expected from a hotel that is also a national monument. Those willing to sacrifice the historic ambience here in favor of a modern look should consider the nearby NH Capri La Habana.
The 794-room family-friendly Paradisus Varadero is a sprawling luxury resort with broad appeal and plenty of wow factor -- thanks largely to the stunning lobby, huge ocean-view pool, and beautiful white-sand beach. Rooms are clean, with traditional style and free minibar items; the Royal Service rooms are well worth the upgrade. The enormous grounds means lots of privacy and a big stretch of beach, but also plenty of walking or waiting for golf carts. Food is above average for Varadero, if not as good as at other luxury all-inclusives elsewhere in the Caribbean, and the spa is one of the area's best. Travelers seeking a more intimate resort might prefer Ocean Varadero El Patriarca, which has more modern style.
Paradisus Varadero's neighbor, the 420-room Ocean Varadero El Patriarca, is also family-friendly and large, but more manageable, as it is possible to walk everywhere (though there are buggies on hand for those who want a lift). And unlike at most resorts in Varadero, rooms at El Patriarca are actually a high point. They're modern and stylish, with flat-screen TVs, minibars stocked with free drinks, and bathrooms that have separate showers and tubs even in the standard category (not the case at the Paradisus Varadero). There are 72 Privilege rooms located around Privilege pool, near the beach. These are for adults only and well worth the upgrade -- mostly thanks to the in-room Wi-Fi (extremely rare for Varadero). But while some Paradisus Varadero rooms have ocean views, none at Ocean Varadero El Patriarca do. Other perks include a big pool with swim-up bar, a beautiful beach, a la carte restaurants that don't require reservations, and great evening music at the swanky piano bar.
When the upscale Melia Varadero opened in 1991, it was the luxury property of the area, but now its sister property Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa holds that title. Still, this resort has much to recommend it. It's less sprawling and more centralized compared to other neighboring resorts (Paradisus Varadero), and its features include a gorgeous white-sand beach, two pools, five restaurants, basketball and tennis courts, a kids' club, and meeting rooms. Wi-Fi is available in both public areas and rooms, a rarity for Cuba. Melia Varadero's 490 rooms are split between two categories: The standard rooms have an old-fashioned look with dated bedspreads and bathrooms, while the executive-level rooms look far more chic with dark-wood furniture and stylish artwork. But all rooms have balconies, and some offer truly stellar views.
The 220-room NH Capri La Habana reopened in late 2013 after a 12-year renovation, making it one of the newest and most modern hotels in Havana. It lacks the grandeur and garden grounds of the Hotel Nacional across the street, but those who prefer a more contemporary style will be happier here. The hotel originally dates to 1957, when it was a mafia hangout, and some of its original character was preserved in the renovation -- for example, the original terrazzo floor in the lobby, the light fixtures, and a statue in Carrera marble. A lovely rooftop pool, cool bar, modern gym, stylish Italian restaurant, free breakfast buffet, and attractive, well-maintained rooms (half with sea views) help make this a standout option for the price in Vedado. Leisure travelers should note that it's about a five-minute taxi ride to Old Havana.