Welcome to dagsVStheworld’s definitive moto-travel guide to Cuba! (..well, some of it anyway…)
Quick History Of Cuba
The island of Cuba has had an incredible history involving wars, conquests and defeats, slave trading, pirates and the infamous ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ of 1962. This crazy cocktail of events has led to Cuba having one of the most colorful personalities in the world. You will meet people from African, Spanish, American and Portuguese descent, giving the populace a beautiful mix of diversity. Racism is a non-issue here. Everyone is Cuban. And it’s a wonderful thing to see.
Cuba is a communist country and you will see propaganda everywhere, proclaiming the heroic deeds of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries that were involved in the overthrow of the previous Batista government. People are quite poor and the average wage is around $20US a month. Infrastructure is well-worn yet working and the majority of Cubans walk or ride a bicycle to get around. Owning anything of value requires a government permit. Communism at its best! The first language here is Spanish and some English, but be prepared and learn some easy Spanish phrases before you arrive.
Due to Cuba proclaiming communism as its preferred government, in 1960 the USA imposed a financial embargo on Cuba sending the country into hard times that has lasted for over 50 years, despite Castro’s attempts to bolster the economy by dealing with Russia, Mexico and Canada instead. This also led to all the American cars that were here to have limited access to spare parts, so the Cubans ingeniously found ways to keep these classics running and there are literally thousands of these being driven every day on the roads. It’s just an incredible sight to behold!
Go to ‘Cubacar Car Rental’ Havana and see if you can get your hands on a motorcycle or a scooter. The traffic in Cuba is a breeze and the road conditions aren’t too bad either. Things get a bit rough when you head into the country though. You can also bring your own bike in with ‘WOW Cuba’ or failing that you can hire a car or take the very cheap public transport to see this amazing country. Don’t expect it to be on time. (Or even turn up at all for that matter) There are fuel stations everywhere and many are open 24 hours. Fuel is 60c a litre and you have crappy 90/92 octane available. Be prepared to line up and wait, which seems to be a common trend for just about everything here in Cuba.
For information regarding highway travel and routes you can’t beat ‘Cubajunky’ Check em out.
Places to See (well, as far as I got on a 50cc Scooter lol)
Havana (La Habana)
This is the capital of Cuba and it’s a city that’s full to the brim of broken-ass buildings, hot Chevy’s, beautiful women and unlimited character. You can walk the streets and hear off-beat Cuban rhythms being played all over the place. Impromptu jam sessions and salsa dancing break out in cafes, parks and well, whenever anyone feels like dancing actually! People hang out in doorways, in parks and along the beachfront and clubs to whittle away the days. Head to Old Havana and enjoy the ambience. I stayed at Paradise Hostel in Havana
**There appears to be an increase of robbery and petty theft in some parts of the city. Most happen at night, around nightclubs and at the beach. Don’t carry any valuables late at night or wear a backpack as it’s a dead giveaway and you’re immediately a target**
A beautiful 20km strip of beach lined with hotels, casas and shops and is generally quite touristy, although not overly so. I liked the relaxing feel of the place and it’s here you can stock up on all the essential items you will have trouble finding in most other parts of the country, such as razors, soaps, shampoo, and vitamins. The food is of a decent quality too.
Here’s a bunch of things to do in Matzanas!
Playa Larga-The Bay of Pigs (Bayo el Concheros)
Here’s a bunch of things to do in Playa Larga!
Pinar Del Rio
Here’s a bunch of things to do in Pinar Del Rio!
Head through the beautiful countryside from Havana and make your way to the lush green tobacco farming centre of Cuba called Vinales. I rode through mountains, farms, rustic towns and eventually ended up in a beautiful valley that has caves, waterfalls and an incredibly chilled out vibe. Instead of taking the highway, I recommend taking the western route through Cabanas, Bahia Honda, La Palma and onwards to Vinales. The last leg from La Palma to Vinales is quite rough, so i recommend having a bike with decent shock absorbers!!
An awesome old city, where things remain unchanged (err.. broken down and patched together with cheap glue and sticky tape) and the roads are cobble-stoned and have a great rustic quality. Here’s some stuff to do in Trinidad!
Where to Stay
There are camping spots all over the country BUT not all of them are allowed to accommodate westerners (a government permit is needed) Cubans can apply for a permit to rent out rooms in their home and these are called ‘Casa Particulars’ and usually have a sign out the front. Expect to pay anywhere between 15-30 CUC for a room and meals included. Check out Hostelz.com for all the groovy backpacker places. I stayed at Paradise Hostel in Havana.
Check here for a list of countries and the requirements for getting a Cuban Visa. Make sure you have your visa before you board the plane. Some flights will hand them out on the plane as it will be included in the airfare. Mine cost 40 Euros (I bought it at Rome airport before I checked in) Security seemed strict, but fairly relaxed at Havana airport and you can get through with minimal fuss.
The Web has only been available since 2013, so it’s still a very new resource here. There is one internet provider called ETECSA. Some high-end hotels have WiFi but it’s expensive and usually only available in lobby areas. WiFi Parks are spread around the country and you need to purchase a card (usually around $2 (2CUC) and this will get you an hour of internet fun. (Lines for these cards are very long). There will generally be a few colourful characters selling these cards (illegally) in these parks for $3, just ask around and you will find them. Download speeds were fairly good actually, much faster than I was expecting. I was able to upload large files/photos and web pages loaded quite fast. Just don’t flash around your new Macbook or snazzy iphone-most people here have never seen one and you may become a target for thieves.
The Peoples Republic of Cuba has two currencies in circulation. One for tourists and (CUC Cuban Convertable Currency) and one for locals (CUP Cuban Pesos) Here’s how to tell the difference as they both look quite similar. CUC and Pesos
The American dollar was used alongside the Cuban Peso, but the CUC was introduced to phase this out. Now US dollars are generally NOT accepted.
The CUC is pegged to the US dollar so 10 bucks American is 10 bucks CUC. The CUP is roughly 20 times the CUC, so $1 CUC will get you 20 pesos – simple, right?? There are generally long lines for ATMs- many are broken or won’t even accept your card. Mastercard won’t work and VISA will. The most an ATM will give you is 150 CUC. Don’t flash your money around as most of the Cuban people are quite poor and the average wage is around $20 per month. Pickpockets are about, bag-snatching is on the rise and petty theft on unattended bags at the beach is common. Having said that, Cuba is incredibly safe and you shouldn’t have to worry too much.
Best Time to Go
The best time to visit Cuba is now!
- Low Season (May, Jun & Sep) Hurricane Season!
- Shoulder Season(Apr & Oct)
- High Season (Nov–Mar & Jul–Aug)
If you are a tourist, everything will be marked up 1000%. Want to dress like a bum and speak awesome Spanish? Then you will be able to pay in pesos and save some money. The further you are from tourist destinations the cheaper things will be! Shop in the small government stores to get a bargain, but alas, because of rationing they are nearly always out of stock of essential items. If you see something you want-buy it immediately!! It probably won’t be there tomorrow! Taxis are expensive, charging anywhere from $20-$30 US (or the same in CUC) for a trip from the airport, or any trip around town for that matter. This equals an entire month’s wage for most Cubans. So be prepared to be taken advantage of. A lot.
The Caribbean sea has some of the best diving in the world, with incredible visibility, warm sea temperatures and hundreds of wrecks, dive sites, coral reefs and islands scattered about the country, it’s a divers dream. Click here for a great list of diving sites in Cuba.
Cuba- Island of Paradise.