The question of how to get around Cuba took some time as we considered various options. Nevertheless, without wrapping our minds around it, we can unhesitatingly recommend the car to you! Why?
If you travel in Cuba, only by car!
It will be straightforward, that’s the best way :) As standard, as in most of our travels, the car wins mainly in that we can use it to get practically anywhere (where we have passable roads, which we haven’t always encountered ;)), when we want and how we want.
The question is why? To begin with, some pluses as to why exactly in Cuba a car is the best option:
As mentioned above, by car we can get virtually anywhere we want, when we want and how we want, regardless of the weather (the so-called universal truth ;))
Traveling around Cuba by train can be (surprisingly!) an even bigger ordeal than in Poland. We didn’t experience it ourselves, but reading about trains in Cuba before we left (and seeing them on the ground) we were appalled. These are, of course, old depots that can have delays of up to 24 hours. In addition, it is difficult to find any timetable, and certainly already current.
The same applies to local buses. If they appear at all, it’s even hard to get to them :)
There are, of course, special buses for tourists, even at a decent level, but what fun it is to travel on something like that (see the first plus ;-))
There was also a hitchhiking option. Lots of Cubans move this way, which is beautiful. If only we knew Spanish maybe it would be easier, and certainly in Havana, where car sharing can be seen at every major intersection. Nevertheless, seeing dozens of Cubans at road junctions waiting for a ride (for hours!), we were glad we didn’t choose this option.
Highway! Whatever she may be, she just is! And it makes things much easier. Once you find it, it is also a very good reference point.
There are also, of course, a few downsides:
Prices are not the lowest, it’s more expensive than in the Canaries or all of Spain, but cheaper than in Iceland. Fares come out similar to those of a tour bus.
Cuba’s roads are not among the best. Fact, Cuba has a long and wide highway almost all the way across the island. However, it is terribly pothole-ridden, which can be dangerous when driving the permitted 100km/h. Above that, don’t be surprised if you see bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, military vehicles on the highway, and on top of that going against traffic :)
The roads are also poorly lit. At every turn we were warned not to drive after dark, especially outside Havana.
The cars are not in the best condition either. Ours was not even in a good one. Let’s stop at the fact that there was no knob for the handbrake, half of the pedal was missing and the wipers were falling off :) There are, of course, new ones (but only Kia brand), but you never know what you will come across. We just hit it poorly ;)
Nevertheless (6 pros, 4 cons) we recommend you rent a car in Cuba. Provided, of course, that you want to see a bit of the island, and not just lie on the beach on a beach (which, by the way, is also cool ;-)).
Practical tips on how to drive in Cuba
Finally, some more practical tips:
- Remember the word “ponchera.” It is nothing more than a vulcanizer. They are usually small inconspicuous huts with tires, usually bicycle tires, hanging on the door. You are unlikely to buy a new tire for your car there, but they will help you and repair a tire after it has been punctured by crabs, for example(which happened to us in Playa Larga).
- Never, ever stop on the road, even if a “policeman” is waving at you. If the police want to stop you, they will approach you on a motorcycle or car with a rooster. In general, lots of people walk around Cuba dressed in uniforms, a large portion in uniforms similar to police officers. Usually when they wave they just want a lift or to make money off the tourists. You can go on with peace of mind :)
- Crabs. It’s a cool thing. For the first 5 minutes :) When you drive along the waterfront, for example, from Cienfuegos to Trinidad, things are less fun, mainly out of fear of crabs puncturing your tires. Well, there’s no prescription for that other than to drive slowly between the crabs. We witnessed where one driver didn’t care, he drove mega-fast still specifically invading the crabs. After a few kilometers in the pouring rain, he had to change the tire. Fact, it happened to us too, but much later, when we were already in casa particular, well, and besides, it turned out that we had a total bald tire (which made it easier for the pliers).
- As we are already at tires. When you pick up your car be sure to check the condition of the tires, thoroughly! Also the spare wheel. Not just whether they are and whether they have air ;) Check the tread to see if it is even. Check for bulges, cracks, etc. It’s your safety and less stress later when driving.
- If you want to leave Havana on the highway…. there are two options. Or you go to the “tunnel” (you’ll know what it’s about) and drive around, but at least you know where. Or you leave the center of Havana towards the Plaza de la Revolución and then go straight the whole time…. Through the first traffic circle straight. Later there will already be a level intersection, and here you should turn left or right, depending on which side of the island you are going. Simple :)
In summary, getting around Cuba (even by car) is not the easiest or safest thing to do. However, there is nothing to worry about, just rent a car and get on the road! :)