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Driving in Cuba: What You Need To Know

Havana - Cuba
Cuba Cycle
Cuba cars Havana

Driving in Cuba: What You Need To Know

story by: Tom Ricketts

If you’re looking for a really unique self drive holiday, then Cuba could well be for you. The long, thin shape of the island makes it easy to get to all the major spots without having to cross huge distances. Conveniently placed at either end of the island are the cities of Havana (in the west) and Santiago de Cuba (in the east), meaning you can easily do a one way trip, or a loop around the island.

Renting a Car
There’s a full range of car types available in Cuba as there is in New Zealand and throughout the world. Unfortunately you cannot hire the old 50’s and 60’s American cars that Cuba is famous for, but you wouldn’t want to anyway, they break down far too often. Many of the old cars operate as taxi’s so you’ll certainly have ample opportunities to at least ride in one.

Licensing
You can drive in Cuba with your New Zealand drivers license. To hire a car you generally need to be over 25, have a full New Zealand license, and a credit card for the bond.

Right of Left
Cuba drives on the right hand side of the road. If you’ve never driven on the right before, don’t feel too hesitant, it’s easy to adjust. When driving in populated areas you can’t go wrong as you’ll be [hopefully] following other traffic going the same way as you. After a day or two, you’ll have it down pat. A good trick is to tape an arrow to your steering wheel pointing right as a constant reminder.

Traffic
With the exception of Havana, traffic is not a problem in Cuba. If you can handle Auckland’s traffic, you’ll have no worries at all. The biggest annoyance is the lumbering old trucks and horse drawn carts which will slow you down. Downtown Havana is busy, but chances are you’ll be starting and/or finishing your Cuba adventure here, so ditch the car and explore the city on foot.

Directions
One of the most frustrating things about driving in Cuba is the lack of road markings and more frustratingly, the extreme lack of road signs! Unfortunately because of the embargo, many GPS units and cellphone aps do not work in Cuba. You will need to make sure your co-pilot is able to read a good ol’ fashioned road atlas.

Pedestrians
All along your journey you will notice large groups of people on the side of the road trying to flag you down as a hitchhiker would. Due to the lack of public transport, Cuban law actually states that citizens must pick up hitchhikers if they have a spare seat! However that law does not apply to tourists. Rental cars have different coloured number plates to local cars which is meant to signal to the locals that the car won’t stop, but they do try to flag you down none the less.

Road Standards
Unfortunately road maintenance is poor throughout Cuba. Sealed roads can be riddled with huge potholes which makes it hard to drive fast, and extremely unsafe to drive at night. Dirt roads are common, particularly outside of the main cities. In the historic centres of most cities, cars are banned from the cobblestoned streets.

One road of particular note is the massive highway that runs straight down the middle of the island. It starts out well in Havana, and is even six lanes in some places! However the road was being built and funded by the USSR. When that country collapsed in 1991, construction on the road stopped, and little has been done ever since. Midway along the highway it abruptly becomes a poorly maintained, two lane Cuban road again.

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