We will first point out the QUALITY OF THE ROADS, essential when deciding for one of these transports:
- Motorways have 2 or 3 lanes per direction. They are generally poorly maintained, full of potholes and patches, although there are renewed stretches and plans to reshape the rest. Since the reservations are little more than grass, people, herds of cows or even tractors cross them just like nothing.
- In those of 3 lanes the shoulder is nonexistent or it is in bad condition, it seems as if they were paved long time ago and after that the road has been paved again but not the shoulder. Cars usually go through the center and left lane leaving the right for slow vehicles (bicycles, horses, trucks) and sometimes even vehicles that move very slowly in the opposite direction. Also in the right lane cars stop to pick up hitchhikers.
- In the two-lane, there is usually one meter of paved shoulder, important for those who travel by bicycle.
- Those of a lane in each direction are in a state between lamentable and directly impracticable, and do not have any shoulder, although some have dirt shoulders made by the vehicles themselves. On our ways to Viñales and Cayo Levisa, the drivers at some point drove on the dirt shoulders because it was in better condition than the asphalt, and to Cayo Levisa was a tourist bus with 40 seats…
Not very recommendable:
- Rentals are expensive, almost as much as getting around by taxi.
- Traffic regulations can be a headache.
- The vehicles are old, though less and less, and maintenance poor, although this, like everything in Cuba, is also improving.
- Many insurances do not cover certain circumstances, the main one: roadside assistance from km 0.
- The tourist could also be forced to pick up hitchhikers.
- The rental vehicles have a sticker, so the tourist will be identified as such at all times. Every time we park, someone will come and ask us for money to “take care that nothing bad happens to the car”.
Once aware of the state of the roads and despite this, Cuba is a great country to ride a bike:
- The island is relatively flat, and the mix of nature and rural forms a charming landscape, although excepting the area of Viñales, the rest could be very similar.
- Cubans are accustomed to them so they are respected properly; most drivers will horn before overtaking a bike, to alert you that they have seen you.
- On the other hand, at night there are hardly any lights on the roads, and spare parts are scarce.
Both the majority of the trains and Viazul buses allow to carry the bicycle for a supplement.
There is much difference between theory and the reality of hitchhiking in this country. Supposedly, is mandatory in Cuba. Not only you’ll see people asking for cars to stop at the usual sites, but there are hitchhiker stops (“puntos amarillos – yellow dots”) on the outskirts of each urban nucleus, where people who want to travel this way queue led by so-called officers “Los Amarillos – The Yellows”, given the color of their uniforms. These officers force the vehicles to stop and pick up hitchhikers for a price between 5 and 20 pesos; is paid to the officer, not to the driver (more for foreigners, it is convenient to say that you are a student not to pay too much). If you hitchhike without the Amarillos, the driver will ask for more money.
It is therefore the cheapest way to travel, but I did not use it and would not use it: the reality is that you do not see an Amarillo anywhere and the cars do not stop. We can waste between 2 and 3 hours to get a vehicle that will take us just one hour journey.
On the other hand, when promoted by the government, hitchhiking is safer than in other countries, but always implies a risk: officials do not write down the names of drivers nor hitchhikers. If you’ve ever dreamed of traveling in the back of an open-air truck, it’s your chance.