Do you want to travel independently in Cuba? There’s nothing better than a road trip and that’s exactly what we did! Driving in Cuba gives you maximum flexibility both in schedule and destinations you are able to reach. And trust us when we say this is the best way to experience this highly sought-after Caribbean Island. Get ready for an adventure!
Before our trip, we searched the depths of the internet and couldn’t find much about driving in Cuba. This came with no surprise after our trip. We don’t have a number, but the amount of people renting a car and driving in Cuba still is very scarce, which explains the lack of information out there.
To help others experience Cuba on their own, we decided to write down all one needs to know about renting a car and driving in Cuba!
Renting a car
The first step is renting a car. No need to look for the main international car rental companies as they are not operating in Cuba (yet!). All the local companies belong to the government. The main differences between them are the name and the customers they target. In the end, they don’t really differ much.
We went with Rex and a Renault sedan. The other options are Havanautos, Via and Cubacar.
To bust the car myth, Cuba has normal cars and you won’t be renting a classic car from the 50’s. All the rental cars are relatively new and from international brands albeit a bit more limited in choice than in other places.
Don’t expect brand new cars and a service with international standards. We found the quality to be good and perfectly safe.
A downside of the limited availability in cars and models are the prices. Renting a car in Cuba is more expensive than your average rental elsewhere in the world. It is highly recommended to book well in advance, especially during the high season as it sells out quite often. Bookings can be made online.
You’ll need to pay the rental in full when you book online except the mandatory insurance which needs to be paid when you pick up the car. A full tank will also be charged at that time.
One-way trips are allowed and can be arranged for free depending on the car rental company. As long as there’s an office from the rental company in the destination you choose, you should be fine. We saw quotes for places without an office at around 100/150 CUC.
Good to know
Cars in Cuba have distinctly colored license plates and rentals have a red background plate. Be aware this will make you easy to spot. Yes, everyone will know you’re a tourist!
Driving and roads
Driving in Cuba is on the right-hand side and the rest is pretty much the same like everywhere in the world. We didn’t find anything specific or special laws about driving in Cuba.
There are some motorways (autopistas in Spanish) of which the most relevant ones are the A1 (runs east of Havana to the central part of the country plus another section closer to Santiago) and the A4 (Havana to Pinar del Río). The old single-lane carretera central connects the whole country from west to east.
The maximum speed limit is 100 km/h.
Road quality is acceptable. In all honesty, we were expecting road quality to be far worse. You’ll find some potholes here and there but nothing major. We only encountered a couple of gravel roads.
Traffic is a bit more complicated in Havana but not chaotic. If you’ve driven in busy cities you’ll find it quite easy to manage. The best option for most cities is to park and then explore on foot instead of driving.
The reality is that most Cubans don’t even own a car and you’ll be driving a lot without seeing any other cars. When driving through towns and smaller villages, you’ll need to be careful with people using the road for all sorts of things except driving a car. This includes plenty of animals. We even saw cows crossing the A4!
The main issue with driving in Cuba is the lack of signs on the road. And before you ask why you need signs let us tell you that GPS is not exactly allowed. Yes, still technically forbidden! GPS can be confiscated by customs and car rental companies won’t rent a GPS device. The best solution is to do it the old way and buy a decent road map. Quite exciting, right?
This doesn’t invalidate the possibility of having an offline map in your phone to help out. Just keep it away when not necessary.
It’s really helpful to learn at least a few words in Spanish in case you need to ask for directions. This is highly likely to happen if you venture outside the main touristy areas. Plus, the probability of finding someone that speaks English in some areas is close to zero.
Some useful words:
- right, left – derecha, izquierda
- turn – girar
- straight – recto
- street/road – calle
- exit – salida
- near, far – cerca, lejo
- north, south, west, east – norte, sur, oeste, este
- before, past – antes, pasado
- where – dónde
- go to – llegar
- I am looking for – busco
There’s plenty more but this should get you started and motivated to learn more!
Rental cars are supposed to use the best gasoline (94 octanes) which is not available everywhere. Smaller towns won’t have it so keep your tank full when traveling in remote areas. The other two are usually available (90 and 87 octanes). Most cars will work just fine with 90 though.
Parking is relatively easy to find and mostly free. In the center of bigger towns, it may be slightly more complicated. Some hotels and casas particulares will be able to arrange a place for you to park.
Don’t forget everyone knows you’re a tourist and people will help you park in exchange for a tip. Usually, 1 CUC is fine. A few tourist attractions also charge for parking. No more than 1 or 2 CUC.
The future of driving in Cuba
Renting a car and driving in Cuba was part of the adventure that our road trip was. This experience is more than likely to develop in the near future with the changes the country is facing.
International car companies will want to expand into Cuba and this will greatly affect how the market works. Hopefully, bringing the prices down and raising the quality.
A few final tips before we go.
Hitchhiking is part of the Cuban culture and virtually everyone does so. This will be more noticeable outside Havana where transportation is very limited. It’s up to you to decide if you want to give someone a ride. If you ask for directions, expect to be asked back for a lift.
Hustlers can easily spot you, again, by the type of car and plate, and will try to make you stop. Ignore them and proceed. Some can be very persistent and will invent the craziest stories.
Are you ready for driving in Cuba? Let us know what you think about this guide!