Renting a car is the best way to move around Cuba if you come from abroad, whether you are a tourist or a Cuban emigrant who is simply returning to his country for a visit.
There is no doubt that renting a car is better than moving around by bus, even if it is from the Viazul line (one of the best on the island), and also better than taking a cab or renting a car with a driver.
In this post we will give you some tips on how to rent a car in Cuba. And we will tell you everything you need to know about it.
Cuba cheap car rentals, the best options
The car rental business is, for the most part, in the hands of the state, like so many other things in Cuba.
Despite being a highly demanded service, there are usually few cars and those that are available have been used frequently and accumulate a few kilometers traveled. It is like this.
During the covid-19 pandemic it was news that the country imported a significant amount of cars destined for tourism, but even so, car shortages are still noticeable.
In this sense, one should be cautious and not expect to drive a new, latest model or luxury car on Cuban streets. That is almost impossible.
The price of renting a rental car in Cuba
I have to warn you that renting a car in Cuba is not a cheap procedure.
Despite the recent importation of cars for tourism, there is still little supply and much demand for rental cars in Cuba.
The situation has worsened with the end of the pandemic and the increase in flights to the island. This situation is not likely to improve in the short term.
My recommendation is that you book the car from abroad, before making your trip to Cuba. Is that possible? Yes, it is. Being able to rent a car in Cuba without advance reservation is almost impossible, remember that.
Prices for rental cars start at 50 euros per day, about 52 dollars.
Car insurance is around 20 euros per day (21 dollars). The agencies usually also charge you for a full tank of fuel.
It is advisable that you check the condition of the car you are renting before taking it out of the agency. This is an important tip that you should not forget.
Is there any age restriction to rent a car in Cuba?
The requirements are the following: to be at least 21 years old and not to have reached 75 years of age.
Those interested in renting a car in Cuba must also have a valid driver’s license for at least two years.
What documents do I have to present when I pick up the car in Cuba after renting it online?
It is necessary for those interested to present their valid driver’s license (at least two years old, as I explained before), the original passport or identity card – in case of having residence in Cuba – and the voucher of their reservation in printed form.
Recommendations for those wishing to rent a car in Cuba in 2022
Those who do not know Cuba may have many doubts about whether or not to rent a rental car. You probably don’t know the state of the island’s roads, and you probably have doubts about the lighting, gas station service, or how dangerous it can be to drive during the day or at night.
Do I need an international license to drive in Cuba?
Europeans or Americans do not need an internationally valid driver’s license to drive a car in Cuba.
If you have such a document, fine, fine, take it with you, but it is not necessary.
The must-have app: an offline map like Osmand or maps.me
One of the best tips I can give you before traveling to Cuba is to download a map application that you can use offline inside the island.
Both apps download maps from OpenStreetMaps, they are maps that are usually up to date, and even more detailed and complete than Google maps, although they are not as interactive as the latter.
An updated offline map and a phone with an accurate GPS will help you know where you are and where you are going at all times.
OpenStreetMaps maps include most of the points of interest that a tourist needs to know: names of monuments, hotels, rental houses, places to eat, restaurants, stores, etc. They are usually very up-to-date collaborative maps.
I recommend that you install and use these applications before traveling to Cuba so that you become familiar with their user interface beforehand.
Gas Stations in Cuba
In order for you to accumulate knowledge about Cuba, I will tell you that the rental cars for tourists on the island have a T on the license plate. It is their distinctive sign.
Tourist rental cars usually use special gasoline, which is usually more expensive than normal gasoline, but relatively cheap compared to prices paid in Europe, for example.
Of course, for several years Cuba has been facing a terrible fuel shortage, which is also noticeable in its network of gas stations, which do not always have all the fuel available and sometimes there are long lines of cars waiting to refuel. Keep this in mind. Whenever you can refuel, fill up completely.
There is a wide network of gas stations in Cuba, but shortages can cause problems. Don’t wait until the tank is almost empty before thinking about refueling.
What are Cuban roads like?
Cuban roads, at least the main ones and those oriented to tourist destinations, are not usually chaotic, but they are not in perfect condition either.
Non-main roads, i.e. secondary roads, usually present a much worse picture.
As a driver you should be aware of this and always be alert, even on stretches that appear to be well paved, a pothole can suddenly appear and cause an accident or a major scare.
A not inconsiderable number of tourists suffer traffic accidents in Cuba every year. Most of the time it is due to mistakes made by drivers who do not pay enough attention to the state of the roads and speeding.
Driving at high speeds, on poorly marked and poorly maintained roads, with frequent presence of animals on the road, without paying enough attention, can be a perfect recipe for disaster.
The best advice I can give you is not to forget that you are driving in a country other than your own. Keep your eyes open and all your senses alert.
It is not advisable to drive at night in Cuba. That is the truth. Cuban roads are very poorly lit and potholes or potholes in the road are less visible at night.
Speed limit in Cuba
A good way to interpret the quality of a road is to analyze the existing speed limits.
In Cuba, on the best roads, the main roads, the speed limit is 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph), no more.
On secondary roads the limit drops sharply to 50 or 60 kilometers per hour (31-37 mph). Take these limits as an important sign and be careful.
Hitchhiking or “botella” in Cuba
Cubans refer to hitchhiking as “coger botella”. It is a very common phenomenon that you are sure to find on Cuban roads: people standing under the intense sun, with their hands outstretched, in a gesture of stopping passing cars.
The “botelleros” (hitchhikers) usually show a wad of bills in their hands to entice drivers to stop. The trick usually works, although not often with cars driven by tourists.
Hitchhiking is very popular in Cuba because for several decades the country has been going through a deep economic crisis that is reflected in the lack of public transportation, the means of which are quite limited.
The rules in Cuba force you to slow down as soon as you approach a bridge or level crossing because those places are usually crowded with hitchhikers.
Generally, cars driven by tourists do not stop to pick up hitchhikers. There have been cases of robberies and even kidnappings. It is not a generalized phenomenon, but prevention is better than cure.
Another detail to take into account is that on Cuban roads there are usually many vendors of agricultural products such as cheese, fruit, long strings of onions or garlic on the side of the road.
They are usually quite aggressive and brave sellers who pounce on passing cars.
We must be attentive to these characters or we may be frightened, as the strings of garlic sometimes hit the fuselage of the car, generating a sound that alarms us.
What to do if the police stop you on the road?
If you drive for many kilometers in Cuba, you may encounter Cuban police cars and agents, road patrols, checkpoints, etc.
Being stopped on the road by patrols or police can be a routine act. The agents also stop tourists’ cars, although they used not to do so before. Cuban citizens often rent cars to tourists to use them for smuggling goods.
They can also stop you for breaking a traffic rule or for speeding.
In any case, the best thing to do is to apologize and not argue with the Cuban policemen. They do not usually get angry with tourists, but they do not usually react well to criticism and verbal confrontations. They are used to asserting their opinion. Adopting a humble posture is the best recommendation I can give you.
Secure parking in Cuba
The best way to do this is to leave your car in a guarded paid parking lot.
The owners of rental houses may be able to recommend one.
There are even people who charge a salary for guarding two or three cars at night so that nothing happens to them, sometimes they are people hired by the hostel itself where tourists who have rented rental cars are staying.
Thefts of complete vehicles are not so frequent but more modern cars can be vandalized. The thieves usually take parts such as rear-view mirrors, etc.