I spent three nights in Cuba last year, paying far too much for mostly awful hotel rooms. And I knew then that I was doing it wrong, but I didn’t know how to do it better. I mean, I somewhat did; I should have been staying in a casa particular, the Cuban version of a boarding house for visitors. Not quite hostel and not quite hotel, the casas can range from a spare room in someone’s home to a full-fledged, hotel-ish or BnB operation. Coming from the USA and with minimal Spanish skills I was stuck on how to find them, much less book them. This trip was different. This trip had us staying at the Hostal Florida Center in Santa Clara. And it was perfect.
That’s not surprising given that Hostal Florida Center is written up in pretty much every guide book covering Santa Clara, Cuba as the best property in town. The property is an 1870s building that was restored in the 2000s. Combined with its sister property across the street – Hostal Florida Terrace – it offers ~20 rooms with two double beds. In the traditional Cuban style the rooms could open up to the outside air with French doors covered by security bars to protect your belongings inside. Close up the doors and the air conditioning was solid, as was water pressure, the mini-fridge (stocked but enough space to stow some of your own goodies as well) and wonderfully helpful and knowledgeable hosts. Oh, and perhaps the best restaurant in town for breakfast and dinner, too.
The public areas are a mix of dappled sunlight on tile floors and a rag-tag collection of stuff most generously described as “junkyard chic.” It transported us back in time, like walking through the long forgotten back room of an antiques store, with piles of things likely broken but that no one could bear to clear out. Quaint and quirky.
We arrived just before noon and the hosts offered us a tour of both buildings and our choice of whichever room we wanted. They all mostly the same but we took the corner room on the second floor in the Terrace building to minimize foot traffic and get better air flow/views when the doors were open. The main building hosts the restaurant which can mean more noise early (breakfast) and late (dinner).
The terrace building also sports a bar on the third floor, incredible views of the city and, somewhat amazingly, a wifi connection tied in to the feed from Parque Vidal, the main town square just a couple blocks away. Yes, you still pay for wifi in Cuba – 2CUC/hour this trip. But the signal quality was good enough that wifi calling on T-Mobile worked and I was able to do an interview with BBC while standing on that roof deck and sipping at a glass of Santiago de Cuba Añejo rum.
Great food, too!
After settling in the hosts asked if we wanted reservations for dinner that night. That’s a must-do for at least one night in town. At 10-13CUC ($10-13) the meals are more expensive than elsewhere but there’s a reason it is considered one of the best in town. After ordering a round of the house cocktail (I have minimal recollection of the ingredients, other than rum) we debated the various main course options. Alas, we could not settle on which two we wanted to try. So rather than surf-n-turf for dinner we went with surf-n-turf-surf: lobster, ropa vieja and shrimp. With drinks the total was $38.
Breakfast the following morning was another ridiculous spread. The plates kept coming until our table was overwhelmed. The fruit was delicious and the pastries a varied selection, some better than others. Just pushing through to taste all of them proved more work than I typically expend at breakfast. Added bonus: A German girl at the next table over was celebrating her birthday so a slice of cake was added to the spread. Similar to dinner, the price for breakfast (5CUC/$5) is higher than most other options in town, but it was a tasty and refreshing way to start the day.
How to book?
Hostal Florida Center has its own website which makes booking it directly rather easier than not. We never got that far; instead we found it through AirBnB. And that made the booking incredibly easy. Plus it allowed pre-paymnt with a US-based credit card, reducing the amount of cash to convert (and for USD there is an extra 10% penalty). Not all the Casas have their own website but the explosion of listings on AirBnB makes tracking them down much easier.