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Hotel Nacionale de Cuba

Updated on July 19, 2014
Hotel Nacionale and a typical classic Cuban car
Hotel Nacionale and a typical classic Cuban car

Travel back in time with Hotel Nacionale de Cuba

From the soviet style customer service, the meat and white bread cuisine and the Cuban missile crisis museum on the front lawn, Havana's Hotel Nacionale takes guests on a journey back in time to a world of glamorous film stars, mobsters, revolutions and the start of the cold war.

Hotel Nacionale de Cuba, main lobby
Hotel Nacionale de Cuba, main lobby
Photos from Fidel Castro's many visits to the hotel.
Photos from Fidel Castro's many visits to the hotel.
The trenches in the gardens. The hotel was Castro's headquarters during the Cuban missile crisis.
The trenches in the gardens. The hotel was Castro's headquarters during the Cuban missile crisis.
Canons on the lawn. According to staff these were primed for use against an American invasion during the missile crisis.
Canons on the lawn. According to staff these were primed for use against an American invasion during the missile crisis.
The bartender rustling up some Mohitos in the Cigar Bar
The bartender rustling up some Mohitos in the Cigar Bar
Photos in the Hall of Fame
Photos in the Hall of Fame
Life size statue of Francisco Repilado
Life size statue of Francisco Repilado
The outdoor Galleria
The outdoor Galleria
The outdoor Galleria
The outdoor Galleria

Food and drink

When we stayed there were three or four restaurant's and bars to choose from. My two favorites were the outdoor Galleria and the Cigar Bar. Both of these served a great selection of well-priced and very well-made cocktails. It being my birthday the day we arrived I insisted on sampling one of the cigars available from the Cigar Bar. The bar tender was so impressed I actually made it through the whole thing that he gave me another one to take away as a birthday present.

We didn't make it to the main Comedor de Aguiar Restaurant or the buffet both of which had a bit of a school prom ambience. Our local guide convinced us the food was over-priced and not that great. He took us to one of the many nearby restaurants instead where we enjoyed some fantastic garlic prawns and classic Cuban black bean rice.

We did have lunch at the pool bar where they served burgers and pizza. The food wasn't great but the cocktails made up for it.

A buffet style breakfast was included in our accommodation. It came with tea, coffee, fresh juice, plenty of tropical fruit, as well as hearty Latin American style cooked breakfasts and omelettes made to order.

Accommodation and facilities

Hotel Nacionale is not five star accommodation as we know it. The furnishings in our room reminded me of my Grandma's house. The carpet was worn, the plumbing was bad and the sunken double bed had a roll together that would have been completely intolerable without the generous quantities of cheap rum cocktails we were consuming.

That said, the room was clean, tidy and functional with a faded charm that left me wondering what famous film star or politician may once have sat at the very same desk I was.

Given we spent most of our time in the outdoor Galleria Bar, or sunning ourselves beside the large swimming pool the quality of the room wasn't a major problem. Hotel Nacionale also has a pretty decent fitness room which is something I always look for.

The Service

With the notable exception of the Cigar Bar, service at Hotel Nacionale was generally lackadaisical and at worst borderline passive aggressive. To give one small example the foreign exchange refused to give us small denominations, telling us to go to the reception to get change. When we went to the reception they told us they didn't give change and suggested we go back to the foreign exchange. In the end we had to go to the bank to get change for our large denomination notes.

Normally this sort of thing would enrage me but here, in one of the last bastions of communism, it seemed completely right and proper, after all the idea of paying more to get good service is very much a capitalist concept. Curiously the hotel staff's dedication to the socialist ethic didn't extend to tips which they were more than happy, in fact expecting, to receive.

Final words

For all its shabbiness and foibles I loved the Hotel Nacionale and would recommend it unconditionally to anyone visiting Havana. It's in a great location for exploring the beautiful old city and what it might lack in conventional five star luxury it more than makes up for in history, grace and atmosphere.

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