Private guided touring
Travelling with your own local guide really does add a lot to the experience of Cuba. You'll have a rich
experience with lots to see and do each day, really getting close to the real Cuba. On a private guided touring holiday you can expect to be driven in a relatively modern vehicle, in reasonably good working order, fitted with seat belts, and kept clean. Saloon cars, MPVs and minibuses are the norm.
There's a small network of shuttle buses, or tourist minibuses, that travel between Havana and the main locations of Western Cuba, picking up from a designated point in each place and dropping off their passengers at their hotel at the end of the journey. It's a very economical way to see the country. You take a taxi to the pick-up point (your hotel will arrange this for you). Your bags are safely stowed in the back and you hop on board. Your fellow passengers may be from anywhere in the world, and although the driver or his assistant may speak enough English for your and their immediate purposes, you won't have the arguable benefit of a bus guide's commentary as you
travel. There are comfort stops as needed. When you reach your destination your hotel may not be the first place the bus stops, so a little patience is called for - the system works well if you are prepared to lose some time in this way.
Even easier, and faster, is to be collected from the door of your hotel and driven direct to your next hotel in a
private chauffeur-driven saloon car, MPV, minibus or an official taxi. Your driver may have some English, but
probably not enough for much of a conversation. You will be the only passengers.
Driving in Cuba is an adventure itself, but you can really see a lot and get to know Cuba at first hand. For confident drivers (and unrufflable navigators) this is a great way to see the country at your own pace. Cuba is 1,000km from end-to-end, so it takes a lot of driving to cover it all in one holiday. Instead you'd be wise to focus either on the west, or the east.
You can combine the east and west by flying between the two (central Cuba being the least interesting part of the island), or with two long days on the 'Carretera Central'.
Cars and roads
The cars available for foreign visitors are generally reasonable, and road conditions are really quite good for the low levels of traffic using them. On the main highways you can bowl along nicely, often with little other traffic to contend with. You will need to keep your speed down on country roads - you never know what you might find around the corner.
Finding your way
The two main challenges for the navigator are getting in and out of Havana and finding your way in the countryside. Around the capital the weight of traffic and lack of road signs can make it easy to miss your intended turning. To help you, the detailed instructions we provide for your driving routes include turn-byturn
instructions going in and out of Havana. Most people find these work well for them. Even so, you can easily miss a junction, roadworks might take you on a surprise detour, or your sense of direction may just suddenly go AWOL.
Road signs in the countryside are few, but helpful bystanders are plentiful. Some scratching of heads and a few words of Spanish (best with fingers stabbing at the map or pointing at the name of your hotel), will usually get you where you want to go. We'll supply you with the road maps you need and a guide book, detailed instructions for getting in and out of Havana, and how to find your hotels. Satnav is not an option in Cuba.
Very few Cubans have a car, so in rural Cuba it is considerate and kind to offer a lift now and then if you've got room in yours. But you should never feel you have to. Men and boys can always hop on the back of farm vehicles and pick-up trucks, so you could confine your offers of lifts to old ladies, young mothers and others with feweralternatives and less testosterone. Most are only travelling to the next village or so, but you'll be doing your bit if you can save them the bus fare or a long wait in the sun.
Words to the wise
A few words of caution: Keep your speed down, your eyes open and expect the unexpected.
Keep your fuel tank topped up, in case the next three gas stations are all closed.
Keep an eye on your tyres and check your spare. Try to get to your hotel before dark. Driving on country roads at night is a lot harder, fraught with surprises, and is not advised