Gotta ask you the question, are you thinking of exploring Cuba alone? Think again. While it may seem like an adventurous and cost-efficient option, self-driving tours in Cuba can quickly turn your dream vacation into a nightmare.

Here’s why:

Renting a car is a challenge: this is something you have to do online. If you are lucky, you can do it before you arrive in Cuba.. except if you can’t get on as the site keeps saying no car is available.

If you haven’t managed to do it before you got to Cuba and you try to do it there, still talking online, then you maybe faced with the new fabulous safety steps put in place, that requires you to receive a text message to verify that you are making the payment… Of course the SMS will not arrive, so your booking will not go through. (I wish I had a camera from the last time I was trying to do this and ways to work around it… would have made a great comedy sketch!)

If by some miracle you managed to get a confirmation of your car hire, do not be surprised of any of the following when you turn up at the rental place to collect it:

  • They haven’t received your booking and have no idea what you are talking about
  • They have received the booking, but the car is not available
  • They have received the booking, but they only have one very crappy substitute car
  • You will wait for hours to get your car sorted aaaaaand
  • You highly likely will have to donate some cash to expedite your vehicle that you already booked and paid for online.

WOOHOO! You are now on your way! Only a day (or 5) wasted to try to work this through…

Road conditions: Many roads in Cuba are narrow, winding, and poorly maintained. Dodging potholes, animals, other cars, rice laid out on the road can make driving difficult and stressful, especially for those unfamiliar with Cuban roads.

Maps: While we are on the roads… do you even know where you are going? Google maps don’t work in Cuba, for two reasons – one is it being a US company, it has very limited access to Cuba to map it out. The other is that it is internet based… Surely you have heard me talking about the lack of internet access!

Signs can also be few and far between and sometimes confusing. Especially if you are looking for certain streets once you arrive to a place.

Did you know there’s a fuel shortage: This can add to your driving fun… Do you know where petrol stations are? Do you know which one has fuel? Which one has restrictions on how much to give to each person? Do you have a spare fuel can in your car? Can you get extra fuel from the informal market to ensure that you can keep going? Do you want to spend hours in line to refuel? I am thinking these concerns and actions aren’t on your to-do list for your Cuban holiday…

Language barrier: But in case they are then, let me ask you this – Hablas espanol? Communication in Cuba is mainly in Spanish, and many locals do not speak English fluently. This could easily lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings, and roadblocks while navigating the country. Whilst google translate can be a handy tool… you may not have access to it on the road through the Topes de Collantes.

Stocking up: I have said this before and I will say it again… Cuba has no supermarkets. Most Cubans rely on their network to find simple essentials for their daily lives. You need bread… where are you going to get it? You need a panadol – I hope you brought it with you! You need water – do you know where the next MLC shop is to get it? You want some snacks – hope it is something naturally packed, like a piece of fruit that you may find on the side of the road.

Eating out: Tummy bugs can be nasty! Certainly not something you want to deal with on holiday. So do you know the best places to eat at? Especially one with tasty Cuban food, not necessarily sold at tourist prices and is not yet another pizza (as much as I find Cuban pizzas delicious). Do you want to be one of those people who come home and say, Cuban food is disgusting? Or would you rather be one of those who had some delicious Cuban foodie experience, maybe even a mix of street food, home cooked meal and restaurant delicacies? Heck could even have a go at making your own if you knew where and how to arrange it.

Paying tourist prices: And I don’t just necessarily mean being charged more for things just because you are a tourist and stick out like a sore thumb. You’d also potentially pay more because you are unaware of certain customs and rules that a guide can advise you of and help you navigate. Like the fact that some places you can pay in EUR, USD or local currency and you have to ask, suss the best rates and pay what works out best for you.

Don’t mix up a guide with a hustler: Ok, so you didn’t arrange a guide for your trip, but you are now learning that you would need someone to assist you, and this helpful young chap comes along to assist… showing you to places in town, arranging activities for you. How nice! These guys aren’t suggesting those places for fun! They get a commission after you. It is actually one of the scams we warn people about, because you don’t know if they are taking you a place that has hygienic food processes or are safe operators of activities.

Missed opportunities: Oh, there’d be plenty of these travelling alone… Missing out on having a local who can tell you about the history, share the culture, introduce you to different things and even people. Help you converse with locals in various setting, show you hidden gems – whether it’s a place, a delicacy or a person who can make amazing things.

So there, I have said it! Don’t risk your vacation experience for the sake of needing to feel independent. I love Cuba and her intricacies and I have to say I consider myself extremely lucky to have a local, who also happens to be an experienced tour guide in my corner when we are travelling around Cuba! It’s great to see him in action – tapping into networks, taking us to the local markets, telling me about things that is not on the tourist signs, having experiences you wouldn’t get to trying to go it without a local.

Trust a local guide to show you the best of Cuba in a safe and enjoyable way. Check our tours now to start planning your trip.