Havana is blessed with accommodations of every stripe. The most enjoyable are arguably private room rentals (casas particulares) of a single room in restored buildings full of ambiance or an entire suite of rooms offering an intimate, unique experience. All listed here have air-conditioning and private bathrooms, unless otherwise noted.
Habana Vieja puts you in the heart of the old city, within walking distance of Havana’s main tourist sights. Two dozen colonial-era mansions administered by Habaguanex offer yesteryear ambience and modern bathrooms, plus there’s a wide choice of private room rentals. The term hostal merely refers to small size.
Hands-down the most sensational offering is Hostal del Ángel (Cuarteles #118 e/ Monserrate y Habana, tel. 07/860-0771 or 5264-7686, CUC30-35). It’s an absolute bargain. Restored by German owner Kenia, this centenary town home is stuffed with gorgeous antique furnishings. A spiral staircase leads to a mezzanine library, and balconies hang over the plaza. Its two bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms.
Centro Habana has many casas particulares, but in this run-down residential district safety is a concern.
Casa 1932 Habana (Campanario #63, e/ Lagunas y San Lázaro, tel. 07/863-6203, CUC30-35) is an art deco wonder with a super antique-filled lounge plus three bedrooms; all have private bathrooms with hot water. Enjoy coffee or cocktails on an exquisite patio.
The most luxurious self-contained apartment in Centro is Casa Concordia (Concordia #151, Apt. B, esq. San Nicolás, tel. 5254-5240 or 5360-5300, from CUC240 nightly). Furnished to boutique hotel standard, this gorgeous fifth-floor, three-bedroom apartment is adorned with fine art ceramics and photography, a 32-inch flat-screen TV and other modern accoutrements, plus plush linens, including in the en-suite bathrooms. The rate includes maid service, and breakfast and car transfers are offered.
Vedado and Plaza de la Revolución
Vedado and Plaza de la Revolución offer mid-20th-century accommodations well situated for sightseeing. Vedado also has dozens of superb casas particulares.
Casa de Jorge Coalla Potts (Calle I #456, Apto. 11, e/ 21 y 23, Vedado, tel. 07/832-9032 or 5283-1237, CUC30-35) is my favorite casa particular in Havana; it’s where I stay, if possible, when in town. This delightful home is run by Jorge and his wife, Marisel, who offer two large, well-lit and well-furnished bedrooms to the rear of their spotless ground-floor apartment, only two blocks from the Hotel Habana Libre Tryp. Each room has a telephone, refrigerator, double bed with firm mattress, ceiling fan, and spacious tiled bathroom with plentiful hot water. There’s a TV lounge with rockers, plus secure parking nearby. The couple and their daughter Jessica (fluent in English) go out of their way to make you feel at home.
A true stand-out, Casa de Marta Vitorte (Av. de los Presidentes #301, e/ 17 y 19, tel. 07/832-6475, CUC30-35) is a sensational four-room apartment that takes up the entire 14th floor and boasts wraparound glass windows. The beautifully maintained and spacious rooms feature antique beds and modern bathrooms, and all have spectacular views. Martha is an engaging conversationalist who speaks fluent English. Marta also offers an impeccably maintained 10th-floor self-contained apartment nearby (Calle 9 #453 e/ F y G, CUC60-70) with two bedrooms and Ikea-style furniture.
A delightful hostess adds to your stay at Casa Elaine Colonial Guesthouse (Av. de los Presidentes esq. 13, tel. 07/832-4108 or 5275-1876, CUC30), a huge centenary home with lofty ceilings and twin lounges with eclectic furnishings. Elaine rents five large rooms, each different in style.
Playa (Miramar and Beyond)
All casas particulares in Playa and beyond are far away from the main tourist sights and you’ll need wheels or taxis to get around.
Inland, Casa de Elena Sánchez (Calle 34 #714, e/ 7ma y 17, tel. 07/202-8969, CUC100) is one of the nicest 1950s-style rentals in town. You rent the entire two-story modernist home. It has two rooms, each with TV, fridge, private hot-water bathroom, and a mix of antiques, 1950s modernist pieces, and contemporary furniture. A large TV lounge opens to a shaded garden patio with rockers. There’s secure parking.
For a complete apartment, top vote goes to Casa de Reynaldo y Yasmina (Calle 17 #3401 e/ 34 y 36, tel. 07/209-2958 or 5241-6794, CUC120), whose ground floor apartment in a lovely 1950s home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a full modern kitchen. Meals can be prepared and served on a shaded rooftop terrace. Reynaldo is a fixer and even rents his chauffeured Audi A4.
If you want to know how Cuba’s elite lives, check out Casa María Torralbas (Calle 17 #20606, e/ 206 y 214, Siboney, tel. 07/217-2248 or 5258-5025, CUC55), a gorgeous 1950s modernist bungalow in an area almost exclusively occupied by privileged MININT families. She rents two beautifully furnished rooms, and you get use of a swimming pool in a lush garden.
Out in Santa Fe, Casa Isabel Betancourt (Calle 1ra #29628 e/ 296 y 298, tel. 07/208-5070 or 5270-4042, CUC20-40) offers a beachfront location in a beautiful coral stone house with TV lounge and two lovely rooms.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Havana.