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Travelling In Cuba - Transport For Adventurers, Car-buffs And Athletes

Mar 6, 2008
When you travel abroad in most countries, the question of the best way to get around isn't really addressed before you leave... but it should be when travelling to Cuba. A hire car, or a well worked public transport system would usually make transportation concerns an afterthought for when you get there, but with its less well developed road network, travelling in Cuba can be a real experience - and a crucial part of any tailor made holiday! Cuba's transport is a real adventure - here's a guide to some of the ways you can get around:

The City Hopper - Cuba travel by Train

In theory there are trains between a handful of the island's major destinations, including Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Pinar del Rio and Santa Clara, negating the need for one of Cuba's car rental services. The truth is that the majority of the trains are unreliable, and many locals actually find hitch-hiking in a Cuban car a more reliable option! That said, those that are not easily frustrated and want to explore Cuba's rail network, unperturbed by unexpected breakdowns can find approximate schedules under different city descriptions at the stations.

The one exception to the unreliable rule is the Tren Francés service between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. This is considerably more reliable than the other services, due to being donated by France just a few years ago. The service runs on alternate days and is a good bet to get you between two of the island's biggest cities for those not wanting to chance Cuban car rental.

The Adventurer - Government Hitch-Hiking Service

The Cuban government has initiated a novel state run system of allowing visitors to travel the island by road without using a hire car in Cuba. "El Amarillo" ("the yellow guy" - a reference to their uniforms) administrators run stretches of road where certain vehicles are required to stop and pick up hitchhikers. During the day, this will set you back around 20 pesos from one city to the next, making it by far the cheapest way of getting around Cuba.

As well as being cheap, this is an exciting system. As most of the hitchable rides will be on the back of large trucks, basking in the sunshine may sound like the most romantic way to see the Cuban countryside. Some may think it sounds a little dangerous, but thrill seekers will delight in the experience - especially as the roads are almost completely deserted by Western standards!

The Car Buff - Catch a ride in a Yank Tank

Cuba's car rental services offer a day's usage from CUC 65 (£35.80) including insurance, plus the cost of a full tank of petrol. Most of the available cars for hire in Cuba are modern European and Asian models, but in certain quarters, car buffs will be able to catch a ride in a classic yank tank - cars from before the revolution kept in tip-top condition due to the trade embargo preventing newer models flowing in. As these are privately owned, this is usually negotiated with the owner, but its not unusual to negotiate a private ride in a classic American car.

Those who are tempted in by car travel on the island should be aware that car hire in Cuba is (comparatively) expensive, the roads are not well sign posted, and confusing one-way systems can make driving a real challenge for visitors. That said, most car enthusiasts will probably see this as part of the fun, and anyone with an interest in cars owes it to themselves to hire one for at least a day and enjoy road transport in an entirely different environment on their tailor made Cuba holiday. Just don't forget that your Cuban car must be driven on the right!

The Athlete - Cuba travel by Bike

If you're feeling fit, and like seeing the real beauty of the island, you'll find travelling in Cuba by bike pretty hard to beat. The calm roads and stunning scenery make Cuba a perfect and safe place for cycling - outside of Havana, you'll hardly see any Cuban cars! The only problem is that you may be best off bringing your own bike into the country, as the bicycles readily available on the island aren't really suitable for off-road trekking. And of course, the same goes for spare parts - you don't want to break down in the middle of nowhere, with nowhere stocking the spare parts you need to get moving again!

Cyclists are often treated as a curiosity by locals, so don't be surprised to be approached by some enthusiastic Cubans intrigued at your mode of transportation!

The Sailor - Cuba travel by Boat

Finally, if you're looking to explore some of the islands off the southern shore of Cuba, you have little choice but to set sail from one of the two main bases - Cienfuegos or Trinidad. Cuba's waters are calm and tranquil, and this is a delightfully relaxed way of getting to your destination - very much in the spirit of the Caribbean lifestyle!

However you choose to travel in Cuba, you're guaranteed a unique holiday experience. The best option to get a good feel for the island is to mix up a few, and blend in with the unique cultures and atmosphere the Cuban public transport system promotes. A tailor made Cuba holiday wouldn't be bespoke if you didn't explore all the peculiarities of the island's transportation!
About the Author
Emma Lelliott is the general manager of Captivating Cuba, an independent Cuba holiday specialist. With offices in Havana and the UK, Captivating Cuba can offer advice on every aspect of your tailor made Cuba holiday from accommodation to the best diving sites.
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