April 2015

Monocle visited Havana in 2011 and posed a question: "How do we develop Cuba without ruining it?" As Cuban-US relations warm, more tourists are flocking to Havana to see the city before a feared mass invasion of holiday visitors from the north; there is concern that Cuba might lose its unique charm. Cuban officials estimate that 1.5 million Americans would visit annually if all restrictions were removed, potentially adding some $2bn (€1.8bn) a year to state coffers.

Tourism is already an industry that generates more than $2.6bn (€2.4bn) for the nation and has been a key part of the Cuban economy. In 2014 the country welcomed a record three million visitors. Cubans are generally welcoming the increase in tourism: privately run B&Bs and diners have sprouted – a necessary addition to the government’s 64,000 hotel rooms and restaurants – and Havana’s airport is set to undergo a $207m (€190bn) expansion. Despite this, Havana is struggling to meet the needs of visitors as it is during the December-April high season. With only more tourists to come, Monocle’s question back in 2011 rings truer than ever.

September 2011



Buena Vista golf club— Havana


Cuba is hoping to revive its ailing economy by opening up the tourist market, giving the go-ahead to a string of swanky new golf resorts. But how do you develop this unique country without diluting its character? Monocle meets one hotel firm that has the answer.

Bellomonte Golf Course, Cuba, Guanabo, Hotel Saratoga, Sol Meliá

Twenty-five miles outside Havana along the coastal highway, the sleepy fishing village of Guanabo sits beside perfect sandy beaches, warm water and ideal body-surfing waves. Cows graze on the nearby hillside, and anyone foolish enough to be out in the heat sits under the shade of a tree. An old rickety locomotive hoots as it chugs along the bottom of the field, and boyish British architect and Coral Capital coo Stephen Purvis points excitedly to the tracks. “The golf course will end near those tracks,” he says, and then looks towards the sea.


Who hangs out in Havana?

  1. Euro men after Cuban girls (witness the Hotel Nacional’s pool at the weekend). It’s not a pretty sport.

  2. Package-tour Spanish holidaymakers who like the idea of a cheap nation where everyone speaks their language.

  3. Canadians escaping during their horrible winter. Half of Québec seems to have spent a week at an all-inclusive beach resort. They only stray into Havana for the day.

  4. Slightly earnest American cultural tourists who make sure they visit every Havana museum.

  5. Businessmen who hang around hotels such as the Nacional. You see lots of unlikely-looking types from other developing nations. Who are those Chinese men who seem to spend their days lounging in the hotel smoking?

Havana’s derelict gems

  1. Jardines de la Tropical: an overgrown, derelict pleasure garden built by the Polar beer company before the revolution. Used for raves and junk fairs. Surrealist grottoes, miradors, al fresco ballrooms covered in creeper. Straight out of a sci-fi film.

  2. Reparto Casa Blanca: this is a hillside village over the bay, with an extraordinary collection of fishing shacks, shipyards, squares and ancient houses. Local architect Julio César Pérez Hernández runs an urban-planning charrette every year, which usually includes a group looking at this place.

  3. The former Hilton hotel: it is painful to see this in such a bad condition. But the 1950s masterpiece is the Hotel Riviera.

  4. The derelict wharfside: found around Havana Bay.


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