This is not a euphemism for jail, rather an issue that surprises and irks a number of visitors to Cuba, the number of hotels with windowless rooms.
This isn’t a purely Cuban problem of course; you will find such a scenario repeated around the world, especially in destinations with a high percentage of ‘heritage hotels’. Anyone who has travelled to Morocco and stayed in a number of riads will understand the issue.
In Cuba, the issue relates almost entirely to old hotels, mainly in Old Havana, where some rooms only have windows that face inwards (often into the corridor) rather than outwards into the street. In part this is down to the age of certain hotels, and the way that hotels used to be built; in part it is down to the fact that many small, heritage hotels weren’t originally conceived as such (ie many were private homes) and have had to be carved up to fit their new role.
Of the approximate 20 heritage hotels located in Old Havana (almost all of which are operated by Habaguanex), all have at least some rooms without external windows. These range from the Hotel Telegrafo, which has relatively few (one of the reasons it is so popular) to Los Frailes, where all the standard rooms lack external windows.
Even clients staying at one of Old Havana’s smartest hotels, the Hotel Saratoga, are affected. All of the hotel’s standard rooms (known as Patio rooms) face inwards; if you end up in a Patio room on the lowest 2 floors your view is over the lobby bar!
At the Hotel Saratoga it is possible to avoid such as a situation by upgrading one’s room. The next category of room after a Patio, known as a Saratoga or Junior Suite, all come with external windows. At most hotels however the only option is to place a request and hope for the best; please do take into account however that you are not alone and that a request is just that, a request. Treat any ‘guarantees’ of a room with an external window with a pinch of salt.
If you really can’t face the prospect of staying in a room without external windows, but can’t afford the Saratoga, there are other options in Old Havana. The Iberostar Parque Central, the number one rated hotel in Havana lacks any history or character but the flip side of this is that all rooms come with external facing windows…….which are double glazed. If you wish to compromise, the Hotel Sevilla next door has the external windows and a fair deal of character (more so in the public areas than the rooms) but without the same quality.
Outside of Old Havana, the Hotel Nacional has character and external windows (some with superb seaviews) but suffers from indifferent standards and a poor location. There are also any number of modern, international hotels with external windows (often firmly locked!) and all mod cons but nothing in the way of charm or character.
The reality of the situation therefore is that, for most visitors, a choice needs to be made – enjoy the history, location and character of one of Old Havana’s heritage hotels but perhaps be prepared to compromise on other aspects of your accommodation.