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Written by Kieran Proctor

Review Of The Tryp Hotel Habana Libre – The Former Hilton Hotel In Cuba

The Tryp Hotel Habana Libre, on Avenida 23 (La Rampa) in Havana, has a colorful history. It’s the former Hilton ...

The Tryp Hotel Habana Libre, on Avenida 23 (La Rampa) in Havana, has a colorful history. It’s the former Hilton hotel that was nationalized after the Revolution. And, as the name would suggest, it was a ‘Tryp’ to visit.

I spent 4 days and 5 nights staying in the hotel, paying $173 USD per night, to review this landmark Cuban hotel. Here’s what you need to know about the former Hilton hotel in Cuba and why I recommend, that you stay somewhere else.

Tryp Hotel Habana Libre History

The hotel was originally opened in March 1958. Conrad Hilton himself attended the grand opening, along with a host of foreign celebrities and local politicians. Including the then President (Fulgencio Batista) and his wife (Fernandez Miranda de Batista).

Yet, at the end of the Revolution, the hotel was seized. And it became the headquarters of Fidel Castro upon his entry into Havana, on January 8th 1959. It remained a ‘Hilton’ hotel even after Castro took up residence.

The ‘Tryp Hotel Habana Libre’ remained a ‘Hilton’ hotel, until June 11th 1960, when the new Cuban government nationalized the premises.

Tryp Hotel Habana Libre Views Of Havana

The main selling feature of the Hotel Habana Libre, is its views. From the higher floors, the views out over Havana, are breathtaking. Particularly on sunset and during Havana’s golden hour, just after the sun begins disappearing over the horizon.

The view from the hotel, shown in my video below, is the main reason that people like me pay the exorbitant price tag, to stay at this hotel.

Hotel Havana Libre Prices

If you’re a member of the hotel chain, you can save $20USD per night. I’m not a member. So, I paid the full $173 per night to stay at the hotel for a total of 4 days.

The room price includes a breakfast buffet. But breakfast at the 24 hour cafe attached to the hotel and located on the corner of Avenida 23 (La Rampa) and Calle L, was marginally better. Yet neither were good.

Instead, I’d recommend going one block over to Avenida 21 for coffee and breakfast. I recommend Boné Ma, as I’ve been going there for years and the quality is always high.

The thing to remember when choosing to stay at the Hotel Havana Libre, is that you’re not staying there for the food. Nobody chooses to pay $173 USD per night in Havana, for hotel food. Because hotel food is often the worst food, in Cuba.

If, like me, you’re making the conscious choice to pay $173 USD per night to stay in the Hotel Habana Libre, you’re doing so for the spectacular views it provides out over Havana. And because you’re intrigued by the hotels turbulent history.

Another point of contention for me and a price you should be aware of, is the cost of laundry at this hotel. The prices for a single load of laundry range between $50-$100 USD (payable in CUP). Instead, I chose to use a local lavadero around the corner.

Hotel Amenities And Services

All the rooms are large. They feature huge beds, air conditioning and good sized bathrooms that are advertised as having hot water.

Though during my stay, the air-conditioning was broken. The toilet was leaking and would not flush. And the hot water, only worked on the morning of my fourth day, as I was checking out.

That one hot shower with strong water pressure, cost me $540USD. But, after a month in Havana, it was worth every cent.

The hotel also features a pool and an area to lay in the sun. But I didn’t use the pool, as it looked a little old and worse for wear. And I didn’t want a cold shower after going for a dip.

I was on the 18th floor for the views. The hotel features 6 elevators. Yet, no more than 2 elevators would function at any time. So, getting up and down the building was incredibly slow.

Hotel Habana Libre elevators

The hotel is also in a cell phone dead zone. If you have a Cubacel SIM card like me and can use 4G LTE data in Cuba, instead of the expensive hotel wifi, it won’t work on the hotel premises.

I would also note that the hotel is in a tourist hotspot and for a block in all directions, the prices are a rip off. The streets surrounding the Hotel Habana Libre, are an obstacle course jam packed with scammers and street hustlers.

In my opinion, the Havana police need to come through and chase away all the hustlers in this area. Yet the hotel security close to the entrance of the hotel, does a great job. They’re constantly chasing off all the hustlers looking to scam some tourists, who venture too close to the entrance.

Staff At Hotel Habana Libre

The staff at the Habana Libre were another high point of my stay. Booking a hotel in Cuba can be a huge pain. Particularly if you’re American, or Australian like me. If your cards don’t function in Cuba, because of the US sanctions, you will need to book online.

When booking online the hotels are often partnered with foreign entities. And their payment processors are often based in Spain, Germany or Canada. Thereby allowing the hotel to take foreign credit and debit cards and get around the sanctions.

Habana Libre Reception

When I booked my stay, I first checked with the lovely lady who was attending the hotel reception. She told me I could either pay in euros or moneda nacionale (CUP) in cash, use my card through the machine if it wasn’t affiliated with the US, or pay online. But according to her, there was to be strictly no USD.

I only had USD and I know my Australian cards won’t work through the Cuban payment processors. So instead, I chose to book online and pay through the website. What I thought would be a straightforward process, was anything but straightforward.

The hotel took my credit card and confirmed my reservation. Great, I thought, until I read the email the hotel sent me. The email stated I could only pay the hotel in cash. And only in USD. So I went back to the hotel to check in and that’s when the trouble started.

Hotel Habana Libre email after online payment and reservation

The hotel has a policy on premises of strictly denying all USD payments. But when given the choice of USD or nothing and shown the hotels own email to me, the wonderful counter assistant sorted out all my dilemmas. She called the Hotel Habana Libre’s manager, at close to midnight, to get special permission to accept my USD cash payment.

This single staff member went above and beyond her normal role, to fix all my payment problems. She was amazing. And I would recommend to anyone visiting the hotel, that they should be tipping her. She’s fantastic.

Habana Libre Concierge

Another hotel staff member that deserves a special mention, was the concierge who stored my luggage on checkout. He’s a great guy and worth having a chat with.

The concierge and bell hop can teach you Cuban slang and how it overlaps with other languages, in weird ways. He also knows everything about his city and is an all round great guy.

Habana Libre Security

The security guys are constantly chasing off all the street hustlers looking to scam tourists. And they do a great job. But the sheer volume of hustlers out the front of this hotel, requires a much stronger police presence.

The security guards at the end of each shift, looked like they’d each run a marathon. These guys are fantastic, but they’re completely overwhelmed without police backup.

Would I Stay At The Hotel Havana Libre Again?

Sadly, no, I would not stay at the Hotel Havana Libre ever again. The staff are brilliant and the views are spectacular. But everything else in the hotel, is run down and broken.

The hotel feels like it’s held together with nothing more than bubble gum and duct tape. At $173 USD per night and with so many rooms, there’s no excuse for this hotel to not be spectacular in every way. There’s no excuse for so much disrepair.

Slow elevators I can live with. A cold shower every few days is tolerable. But leaking toilets, no hot water and no air-conditioning for 4 days combined with terrible food, is definitely a deal breaker. Particularly at a price tag of $173 USD per day.

For the level of amenities the Hotel Habana Libre provides, it’s no better than a 2 star motel in my opinion. And it should have a 2 star motel price tag.

For anything over $30USD per night, I would not stay at this hotel again. That is, unless the hotel has a serious upgrade and fixes all of its problems.

Hotel Havana Libre
The exterior of the Hotel Havana Libre

Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?

I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.

My Cuba travel guide will save you a lot of time and money on your next trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can arrive unprepared. Read the most complete Cuba Travel Guide.