Planning a recent trip to Havana from Montreal, I targeted hotels in the Miramar district of the city. The purpose of my trip was to attend a series of trade events that were going to be held at the Palacio de las Convenciones in the western part of the city so a hotel closer to the convention center would save time on travel. Most business travellers faced with the same criteria would end up staying at the nearby Melia Habana, the Occidental Miramar or even the Habana Panorama but since I travel on a limited budget, I wanted somewhere cheap.
To this end, the Hotel Comodoro kept coming up in my searches and I booked a one-week stay with air (and bus transfers from Varadero, where many of the charters land) for $1085. And this included breakfast daily! How bad could I be, I thought to myself? After all, it is rated a four star hotel.
My flight and bus transfer went without a hitch. Varadero is a ninety-minute drive to Havana but the transfer included a chatty tour guide and we made a pit stop along the way to enjoy the views from a café with spectacular views of an impressive suspension bridge and a lush valley leading to the coast.
I was the last to be let off the bus as it dropped off other tourists to variety of hotels throughout the city. A free city tour. Bonus!
At the Hotel Comodoro, I presented my exhausted self to the front desk to check in (my journey had started around 2:30 AM to catch a 6 AM flight). After about twenty minutes of earnest searching I was informed that they had no record of my reservation. (Just twenty minutes earlier, I had witnessed one horrified guest from the bus being rejected from his original hotel of booking because the hotel was “full” only to be quickly transported to a sister hotel down the street. This was fresh in my mind.) The manager was summoned and he made a call to my local tour representative. A room was magically allocated to me.
And a fine room it was. A bungalow, in fact, that included a large bedroom with a strong air conditioner and security safe (available for surcharge), a spacious living room area with small dining and kitchenette area (a fridge and sink but no cutlery nor china), a balcony overlooking the network of swimming pools and a fully functioning bathroom with plenty of hot water.
The Hotel Comodoro was built on the sea during a hotel boom in the mid-late 1950s when nightclub, casino and hotel developers were given favorable tax incentives to invest in this sector of the economy. Many of these investors turned out to have links to the U.S. mafia and the Hotel Comodoro was a member of this infamous and luxurious club.
Built in 1955 by the Mira & Rosjch construction firm in an architectural style known as Late Moderne, the main building includes bezeled window bands, a kidney-shaped entrance overhang and a curved elevator tower. The hotel has 434 rooms including 158 bungalows (which are designed to look like Italian villas and overlook a series of swimming pool canals).
I had heard of the hotel from other travellers who swore by it and ran into several who were regular visitors and would consider staying nowhere else. I have to say the place does grow on you.
The hotel lobby includes a Parisian style café that serves excellent coffees and mojitos, an Italian trattoria featuring pasta and pizza dishes, a fine dining restaurant that features nightly live entertainment, and a buffet that serves breakfast and dinner. When the hotel is full, as it was when I stayed there, breakfast is a chaotic, every-man-for-himself scene with guests scrambling to find coffee cups or cutlery and waiting patiently for ham to be carved or eggs prepared to order (Tip: deposit a CUC into the egg preparer’s tip jar and you will get express service for the rest of the week!)
The main lobby overlooks the sea where intrepid sun worshippers can find themselves a slice of beach paradise overlooking an ancient swimming pool carved out of the ocean. Those who prefer the higher- end pool life can avail themselves of the more traditional pools that line the bungalow area of the hotel and are served by a 24 hour bar and snack bar. Security throughout the hotel is prevalent and attentive.
Adjacent to the hotel is the Comodoro shopping complex, one of the go-to outdoor, shopping destinations in Havana. A surprising number of clothing boutiques offer up must-have labels that would be familiar in many European stores. Also located here is a fairly large and well stocked super market where hotel guests are well-advised to load up on their water, beer, rum and snacks at very competitive prices. Within the complex are two restaurants- one within the complex’s inner garden and the other a popular sidewalk café where one can take the pulse of the thriving poseur community. I treated myself to a scrumptious chicken dish with rice, salad and fried plantains for a mere 5 CUCs and beers for 1.50 CUCs apiece. The continuous parade of the latest Cuban fashions was free!
So, all in all, my Hotel Comodoro experience was pleasant and it far exceeded my expectations. I would stay there again.
Address: Ave. 3ra y calle 84, Playa, Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba.
Phone: (53 7) 204-5551
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer.