Cuba, and especially the colonial cities strung across the island, contains some of the best-preserved examples of historic architecture in the Caribbean. Spanish colonists began building fortresses in the 16th century (which still stand today), followed by residences and villas, palaces and mansions.
The colonial construction frenzy incorporated many fashionable elements from the era: Spanish-Moorish features dominated, as did columns, arches, mezzanines, vitrales (stained glass windows designed to filter the harsh tropical light), wooden blinds (Persianas), wrought iron gates and grates (to deter burglars), patios, marble floors and stairs, carved wooden banisters and wooden beamed ceilings.
Spectacular examples of these architectural trends and styles can be seen while walking through the historic cores of several of Cuba’s major cities. While the country’s colonial legacy is dominated by bloodshed, slavery and treason, the architectural remnants are undeniably glorious.
When arriving at your historic hotel, with voucher in hand, you’ll be stepping into the receiving hall of a grand colonial palace. Today it serves to receive as well, since this is usually where the hotel front desk and reception are located.
Often, breakfast, coffee or cocktails are served on the terrace or in the (open air) patio. Centuries ago, this courtyard was used by African servants dressed in wide, rustling skirts and white linen blouses who washed, cooked and cleaned in the central area. The ground-level rooms flanking the courtyard were used for offices and storage by the plantation owner, manufacturer or merchant. The living quarters of the family were located on the upper floors, which were also occasionally used for dinners and musical recitals.
As you insert your room key, just think: this room was used in colonial times to accommodate family members or their guests. Perhaps a little Duke or Duchess was born (or conceived) within these walls.
What makes these hotels all the more attractive is that most have only been operating as visitor accommodations for 10 to 15 years, so while their history is ancient, their facilities are relatively new.
Not limited to Havana, historic hotels can also be found in the Cuban provinces. In 2005, the concept of Hoteles E (Encanto) was born. The project’s aim is to rescue architectural landmarks in historic urban areas and upgrade them with modern amenities so they can be put into service as hotels. Hoteles E are designed to support Cuba’s burgeoning cultural tourism sector while emphasizing personal attention in an intimate atmosphere.
The added bonus of these historic hotels is that they have the best, most central locations in the city, usually facing parks or plazas.
On top of that, some are very affordable.