Traveling to Havana, one "must visit" site for me was the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. It is a grand, elegant and historic hotel in Havana with a beautiful location right on the Malecon. It is considered a symbol of Cuban identity and culture.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba has had many distinguished patrons since its opening in 1930 and the Salon de la Fama (Hall of Fame) in one wing commemorates them. This hall's design is cleverly laid out in decades, and walking down its history lane is great fun indeed.
The hall of famers overlap somewhat with the group I mentioned visiting the Tropicana. Can't help but wonder if many didn't stay here on their visit to the cabaret. Some of the famous who stayed here were Mickey Mantle, Frank Sinatra, Eva Gardner, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, and Marlon Brando, to list only a few. Nat King Cole wanted to stay at the Nacional Hotel when he played at the Tropicana, however, at that time he was not able to stay because of the color of his skin. However Cole had a role in the building of the reputation of the Tropicana, Havana and Cuba and now there is a bust of Cole in the salon.
There were a number of items on display such as a guitar donated by Peter Frampton, a display of the architectural design of the hotel and a letter from Jimmy Carter. In 2002, after leaving office, Carter became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. He met with Fidel and he made a speech in Spanish which was broadcast throughout the island. For you baseball fans, Castro invited Jimmy to go watch some baseball. At the game and at Castro's request, Carter walked out to the pitcher's mound (without his security detail) and threw the first pitch. Carter's visit laid the initial groundwork for normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations which Obama built upon. Also present is a photo of John Kerry at the official reopening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba in August 2015.
For you movie buffs, the Hotel Nacional was the meeting place for the historic Havana Conference of 1946. This was the most important Mafia meeting since the Atlantic City Conference in 1929. The Havana Conference meeting was brought to us by Francis Ford Coppola in Godfather II. (Note, however, it was not filmed in Cuba.) In January 1956, a casino opened in the Hotel Nacional; Castro closed the casino two years after his overthrow, in 1960, but it still serves as a nice conference room.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba was built by a prestigious New York architectural firm on the site of the Santa Clara Battery which dates back to 1797. Elements of the battery, including two remaining coastal canons were incorporated into the hotel's grounds and gardens. This even furthered the feel of the hotel as a museum to me, and yes it is part of a world heritage site.
Also on the grounds is a small missile crisis museum. Castro and Che Guevara held meetings in the bunker during the crisis. Unfortunately it was not open when we were walking the grounds so we did not venture inside. We could have lingered an additional twenty minutes to enter but we were happy to move on. Maybe on our next educational visit to Cuba.
Even though I had never been to Cuba nor to the Nacional Hotel, walking back up the walkway to the back of the hotel, I somehow felt nostalgic. I guess it was appropriate for a walk through Cuban history. Kudos also to the concierge who was really helpful. If you find yourself in Havana, don't miss visiting Hotel Nacional. It is time well spent.