The second best way to explore Cuba is to rent a Car.
If you want to rent a car, do so before you go. But you might want to read this post to the end (and our book) before you do so! Once in Cuba the agencies never have the car you want (or any car for that matter) unless you are willing to pay premium money…
Rent a car on the Internet.
Although they have 3 different brand badges in Cuba: REX, Havanauto’s and Cuba Car 9but their website is down at the moment.) All car rental companies belong to the state as you can see here Transtur. So there is no competition. Monopolies make for bad
service, high prices, bad websites and very limited service. Just try to find the car you would like on one of the sites above and you will see. No other operators are available on the market. Forget about AVIS or Budget or any other favorite agency.
Arguments against renting a car
Cars are way more expensive than anywhere else in the world. It’s just very expensive.
There are very few cars available for rent. Very few. Even if you rent a car via the interent you might not get one. (And you might not get refunded either)
At the moment a lot of Cubans rent the tourists cars and drive them as a taxi. They rent long term and pay a little bribe under the table. So there are just not enough cars for regular tourist available…
I’ve set up my office at a hotel that has a rental car agency and pitty the guys hanging around for hours waiting for their car. And sometimes, after waiting 5 hours, they get send off because there is just no car available.
Supplemental costs of car rental
In addition to the rather high prices per day, you will have to pay 10-20 CUC per day in insurance, a deposit (depending on the company but you can do this with your credit card) and the full tank of gasoline (which is not full). And of course the gasoline you will consume during your trip.
When returning your car you will have to pay a 100 CUC fine if you didn’t read our book. (Not that they ask if you read it, because of a trick they pull with the contract. The cost of not reading CubaConga can be rather high).
If you decide to rent a car we explain not only how to avoid the 100 fine but also what to do in case of a flat tire (probability you will get one about 80%).
In March 2017, gasoline was scarce. It might be a problem to fill up your tank! Buy gas whenever you can.
So why do you see all websites promote rental cars?
Because they earn money with that… DUH…
The better solution:
Rent a car with a driver for less
You could decide to rent a car with a driver. A lot of Cubans rent tourist cars for a lot less than you are able to. They fill them up with stolen gasoline and drive taxi all day.
To find such a taxi, ask your casa particular or go to the Viazul station. This will add at least 10 CUC to the price so just book one trip (let’s say Havana-Trinidad which should cost you about 80-90CUC for a whole car). Then talk to the driver and negotiate prices for all the trips you want to make. But you will have to bargain hard! This is a quote I received from yotellevocuba for Havana-Camaguey (580 km):
Hola Sr. (a):
Ante todo un saludo y gracias por su comunicación con nosotros. Sobre
su solicitud el precio de ese recorrido sería de 390.00 CUC ida, e ida
y vuelta de 430.00 CUC.
That is a preposterous price since I’m able to do this trip for 90 (renting a whole car! (And you should be able to do it for about 110)
Having a clue, in this case, would bring the price you pay down to less than 25%! That’s why we wrote our book… Please read it and get yourself a clue!
Advantages of this method:
- You use the car when you need it. If you want to spend a few days in a place you don’t pay.
- It’s a lot cheaper in gasoline. You would have to fill up your tank in an official gas station at 1.40 CUC/liter. Your driver buys it on the black market for half that price.
- You do not have to spend 4 to 5 hours at the renting agency, waiting for your car. (Customer service and State Monopolies don’t go well together.)
- He knows his way around and can act as a guide. You will have lunch and dinner in cheap places that offer great service and good food.
- You won’t get any fines.
- If your driver becomes your friend you will have an ally during your adventures.
- It’s very relaxed to let someone else do the driving. He knows local conditions and understands Cuban traffic better than you do.
- You will not get a flat tire.
We explain in our book how to get and negociate such a deal.
You should know
That the probability of getting into an accident is quite low and the probability people get hurt is even lower. But not 0! If you get into an accident with injuries you might not be allowed to leave the island until the investigation is finished. That might take a month or more… Every year a few dozen tourists get stranded on the Island.
Renting a car in Cuba is different. Almost everything is different in Cuba so please prepare your trip! Read our book for much more advise on how to best cope with Cuba.
You might realise by now that we have a totally diffent view on Cuba than the mean stream Travel guides and websites. That’s because we are residents and spend a lot more time on the Island than the average writer. Here’s for instance how you should handle the street huslers.