Today marks another milestone in the warming relations between Cuba and the United States, as Starwood Hotels & Resorts announces the opening of the Four Points Havana, the first American hotel to welcome guests to the island nation since the 1959 revolution effectively stunted any official relations between the two countries.
There’s been a lot of noise surrounding the reentry into Cuba—and for good reason. Despite some notoriously tricky travel conditions (though they seem to be getting easier every day), and a persistent lack of Wi-Fi, the country’s candy-colored vintage automobiles, ornate Spanish colonial façades, and culture that places immense value on its artistic traditions, are proving seductive draws to travelers hankering for the next frontier—so it’s no small occasion when a new place pops up. The Four Points is part of a historic, three-hotel deal between Starwood Hotels & Resorts and the Cuban government, though the state still officially owns the hotel, with Starwood managing its renovation and day-to-day operations. The agreement marks the first to thumbs-up from the U.S. Treasury Department to conduct transactions through American financial institutions in order to finance some much-needed facelifts to the preexisting properties.
Set on the Quinta Avenida in the scenic Miramar district, the 186-room hotel is surrounded by the stylish ghosts of visitors past—in its mid-century hey-day, the quiet residential district housed much of the city’s elite, an era etched out in stately, crumbling mansions that continue to line the avenue. Now, it’s the site for a number of embassies, and just a 15-minute drive from the Old City. Originally built in 2010 as the Hotel Quinta Avenida Habana, the hotel bills a large freeform pool enveloped in lounge chairs and palm trees—an ideal place to nurse a rum-heavy beverage (and possibly the resulting hangover)—and bright, spacious suites with shaded balconies. Look for a first-rate spa with a sauna and steam bath, plus Don Quixote and El Olivo, the onsite restaurants serving up local specialties, and the lobby bar where you can work on your best Hemingway impression while you take down local beers like Cristal and Bucanera. Or, you could hold tight until the fresh-faced Gran Caribe Inglaterra Hotel, a neoclassical luxury property near the Gran Teatro and Capitolio, and one of the oldest hotels in the city, makes its re-entry on August 31. Though it’s in the midst of a major reno, it promises to be a polished beauty by the time it starts mixing mojitos. The third property, Hotel Santa Isabel, for which Starwood has signed a letter of intent to convert, doesn’t yet have a opening date.
The once-chilly (okay, arctic) relationship between the two countries began to thaw in December 2014, when President Obama famously ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with the Caribbean island nation, declaring an end to a 54-year standoff marked most notably by a trade embargo. The country’s U.S. embassy brushed off its cobwebs in August of the same year, and since then, Americans have become even more ravenous for a slice of the still-McDonald’s-less paradise. It still isn’t all smooth sailing. Officially, travelers to Cuba can’t just go for vacation and must declare one of twelve reasons for travel, which include business trips and family visits. However, with six airlines set to kick off flights to the country in September 2016, replacing the tedious process of booking through a travel agency and taking a chartered aircraft, and the Florida-based Stonegate Bank issuing the first U.S. credit card in the formerly cash-only country, it’s only getting easier to make that 90-mile leap.
From: Conde Nast Traveler