While the colorful doors to Cuba have been closed to most Americans for more than 50 years, recent political shifts have loosened restrictions and opened up possibilities for entry.
U.S. businesses have already benefited from the change, as Starwood Hotels and Resorts announced in March that it signed three hotel deals in Cuba. The eased restrictions are also working in favor of local companies. Francis Harrison is the founder of Dallas-based travel agency, Conscious Cuba. As of now, she must work with charter companies to get clients to Cuba, but many of the major U.S. airlines will begin offering commercial flights later this year, opening up new possibilities for her. “We [will] no longer have to work with only a couple charter companies,” she said.
Harrison’s love for Cuba started in 2005 when she began studying at the University of Havana. “I tell our people it’s one of the safest places I’ve ever been to.” she said. “They are so excited to have Americans visit, and any time you have an extremely educated population, crime rate goes down.”
Tourism to Cuba is still technically illegal, but the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury allows travel to Cuba under 12 specific and approved categories that range from family visits to humanitarian activities to professional research and professional meetings. If a traveler falls into one of these 12 categories, he or she is free to travel with a general license and doesn’t have to get his or her travel approved by the Department of Treasury. According to OFAC’s Cuba fact sheet, this includes “professional research in Cuba relating to a traveler’s profession, professional background, or area of expertise.”
In order to qualify, a traveler’s schedule must not include an excess amount of free time. So, when choosing a place to stay, you’ll want a hotel that can allow you to seamlessly transition from “professional executive” to “professional tourist.”
Harrison filled us in on three of her favorite places to take clients in Cuba.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba
This historic luxury hotel is located in the middle of Vedado, the center of Havana. Standing on Taganana hill, just a few feet from the sea, the hotel has great views of Havana Harbor, the seawall and the city. Known for its dedication to history, The Hotel Nacional de Cuba has a picturesque garden with an exhibition of two cannons that made up the old Santa Clara Battery. UNESCO declared it a part of the World Heritage Site. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba was also declared a National Monument, and it was inscribed in the World Memory Register. Built in 1930, the Art Deco-style hotel has hosted high-profile guests including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. The rich story of the five-star property is the subject of a historical guided tour, which takes place twice a day, six times a week. This hotel has 457 rooms, 15 suites, a presidential suite, four restaurants, four bars and two swimming pools. A special floor of the hotel is dedicated to executives with 54 dedicated rooms, two suites, seven junior suites, meeting rooms and a 24-hour concierge service.
Prices range from $190 - $385 for Standard Rooms
Iberostar Hotel Parque Central
Two styles merge at Hotel Parque Central with one new tower with a sleek and modern design linked via an underground tunnel to an elegant colonial building. Located in the heart of Havana, both wings of the five-star hotel have rooftop terraces with pools and unbelievable views. Located in Parque Central, the hotel is one of the most culturally vibrant locations. There’s always something going on both inside and outside the lobby and plenty of people watching to take in as it’s located in one of the most densely populated areas of the city. Guests can take in the view of Old Havana from the Nuevo Mundo pool bar or dine at any of the three on-site restaurants. Occupying an entire block, this central location provides easy access to some of the city’s most popular attractions including The Capitol and the Great Theater of Havana.
Prices range from $177 - $507 for Standard Rooms
Touted as a “leading business and meeting hotel,” Meliá Cohiba is also in Vedado and faces the sea. This five-star hotel is just more than 50 yards from the Malecón, or Avenida de Maceo, a five-mile scenic seawall. Floors 18 – 21 of the hotel, named “The Level,” are considered an exclusive “hotel within a hotel,” that provides exclusivity and total privacy. The Level includes an exclusive lounge area, VIP bar and TV lounge. Those who stay in The Level also get extra amenities, think tea time and snacks, daily turndown service, free ironing, unpacking services, wake-up coffee and private airport-to-hotel shuttles. Meliá Cohiba also has seven restaurants and four bars, including Relicario, a masculine leather-clad bar with a cigar sommelier service. Finally, a massive freshwater lagoon pool sits on the hotel’s second floor and is surrounded by shaded palapas and picturesque palm trees. When you do leave the hotel, Old Havana is just a 10-minute taxi ride.
Prices range from $196 - $567 for Standard Rooms