If you plan on renting a car upon arrival in Havana, know that driving in Cuba requires some advance knowledge and preparation.
Below, we’ve included nine essential tips that you should keep in mind when navigating the roads.
Top Tips for Driving in Cuba
Buy a Map Before You Go
Make sure that you buy a map already in your home country. The maps you can get in Cuba are more incorrect than the ones you can get at home. The maps that you can get are unfortunately only available in a large scale. (The lowest and best scale I could get was 1:700000 – covering all Cuba. Perhaps there will be better maps on the market soon).
No GPS Allowed
GPS equipment is not allowed to be taken into the country and therefore cannot be used. A good idea is to download maps on your tablet and use them off-line. Most places do not offer WiFi so it will be difficult to download them in Cuba.
Don’t Trust the Signs When Driving in Cuba
Do not rely on signposts. Sometimes they are there and another time there is no sign at all or sometimes even leading you in a wrong direction. So keep on checking with the map, the sun and the compass (advisable to have with you) if available. Also the motorways are not always well signposted.
Beware of Road Damage
Be aware that there can be serious damages to the road surface any time. Especially at crossroads and junctions there are large and deep potholes in the road, especially often hidden under large puddles of water when it is raining or after the rain. Therefore it is wise to drive slowly and forward-looking all the time. Otherwise you will have the problem with a puncture and road service or assistance is poor and limited.
Stick to the Main Roads
Avoid by-passes and just go through the town centres because signposts on the by-passes are rare and often not correct. You quickly end up in deserted or roads that are not drivable for normal cars. The by-passes often seem to be for trucks only to keep them out of town. Sometimes the by-pass starts off as four lane road but ends in a little dirt road.
Look Out for Pot Holes
Be aware that if you are on non-touristic roads that, although the map says that it is a main road, there will be so many potholes in the road or just a dirt road so that you cannot go straight anymore and just circle around the holes that the speed goes down below 30 km per hour. That often means that your timing is completely wrong and you might end up travelling in the dark.
Avoid Driving in Cuba at Night
Travelling after sunset you should avoid. It is dangerous because many vehicles, carts or bikes have poor or no light and there will be many people walking so that the danger of having an accident increases dramatically.
Follow Your Tracks
If you miss a signpost in the towns try to return to your to the place where you know you were right and try again. Otherwise you might get stuck somewhere in town and only after a long time of circling you will find the road you wanted to get to the next destination.
Fortunately there is little traffic in Cuba and it is very slow. That is, why you are most of the time safe and will manage without any problems as long as you adapt to the system. Walkers, bikes, horse-drawn carts go first. Then you will manage. There is no rush even in the bigger cities. So driving right through the town centres does not lead you to a nervous breakdown. Nevertheless you have to concentrate all the time if you do not know the place and have to look out for road signs and – names. And never forget a pothole can turn up ANYTIME.