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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Travel

Driving and road conditions in Cuba

Posted May 17, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Travel.
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From Lonely Planet forum:

I read and was told a lot of things about roads and traffic on Cuba. The roads were supposed to be bad and full of potholes, highways are crossed by railways without ramps, there are no road signs. I was told that roads are used by pedestrians, bikes, horses, tractors, old trucks etc. all alike, that people are drying corn on the highway, ...
I was told that where there is significant traffic it is chaotic.
On the good side the traffic was supposed to be light.

All except light traffic turned out to be overexaggerated.

Here is how I experienced driving on Cuba.

Getting all those warnings made me somewhat concerned. I decided no to rent the car right away but to have a look on the traffic and learn a bit about local ways by being driven around for a few days. I would rent a car several days after we arrive.

After two days in Havana I started to have doubts. The traffic really is light. Good. Some places had significant traffic but I saw no chaos. Drivers and pedestrians respect traffic regulations (even more than in my country, he, he). If you want chaotic traffic go to Cairo, Egypt.

After the bus trip to Vinales the initial concerns were gone. The highway (“autopista”) is EMPTY by all standards. A few trucks and busses, very few cars, occasional bicycle.
OK, it is highway only because it is three-lane wide in each direction separated by some grass or bushes - no markings on the asphalt, no fences. There ARE road signs. Not as many as we are used to but there IS a road sign before EACH exit telling where it goes.

The road from the highway to Pinar del Rio goes trough the hills and is a very winding road, narrow by western standards (but not unusual for my country) but the asphalt is in a very good shape (seems to be fairly new). It goes trough the woods in some parts and it would be very interesting to drive on it (at least to me). Of course, almost no traffic.

After the trip to Santa Clara by Viazul and to Cienfuegos by taxi, I was convinced that I could have easily rented the car for all the trips we made and were about to make.
The speed limit on highways is 100 km/h and most vehicles drive less than that, even new cars. Except Viazul busses. They are the fastest vehicles on the road!
The road from Santa Clara to Cienfuegos goes trough the plains and is mostly strait, asphalt is in good condition, no potholes. When passing trough the villages and small towns there are some cars, bicycles, horse wagons and similar, but nothing dangerous, chaotic or anything like that. It is the same as driving trough any other village where people are not used to too much traffic.

The streets in Cienfuegos are OK, there are some holes and cracks but nothing serious. The traffic is light, many streets in old center are one way (look for a small rectangular white-on-blue arrow-sign on the house).

We took taxi from Cienfuegos to Trinidad. Couldn’t find any ourselfs in the old city center so we asked our casa owner to call one for us. I guess he took a commission so it cost us 40 CUC (it should have been 30 to 35). The road was good, traffic light, asphalt in good condition, no potholes.

Streets in Trinidad are narrow but two cars can pass each other without problems. In old part of the city pavement is made with cobblestones so driving is a bit shaky, ha, ha.
The street that goes south toward Ancon is pretty busy one with all the vehicle types you can imagine!
We rented a car in Trinidad and were staying in a casa near the old center. The parking was in another house’ yard behind the corner, behind a locked gate. There were 3 to 4 cars parked over night. It was 2 CUC per night. (The casa is great, with 2 rooms on the upper floor, two beautiful terraces, excellent food, nice non-intrusive)

We drove to Topes de Collantes… READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE

Member Comments

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On May 17, 2008, arteest wrote:

On my last trip, from Viñales to Havana, there were hogs in the middle of the autopista in one spot. grin

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On May 17, 2008, Mako wrote:

You may want to skip the mountain road from Cienfuegos to Trinidad…...The road is “NOT SO GOOD ” ;- (

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On February 22, 2009, Anne-Maree wrote:

I just want to make some comments.

Not sure how this driver got to Vinales, but there is a whole section (once you leave the highway) where the pot holes are like driving slalom.  I just drove this road in January for at least the 10th time - it has improved, but the potholes are still there in one section. 

The writer writes :  <<The road from Santa Clara to Cienfuegos goes trough the plains and is mostly strait,  asphalt is in good condition, no potholes.>>

If I read correctly, the driver didn’t even drive this section.  It is not bad, but there are potholes and drivers who do it regularly know where to avoid them.  It is not that I am discouraging people to drive.  Yes, please,  DRIVE ... but be aware that you can suddenly land in a large pothole, so please keep the speed down.  (landing in a pothole can do more than just damage the car; it can send you careering to the side of the road where you can hit a group of people hitchhiking)

Tourists, not Viazul buses, are the worst speedsters in Cuba (although Viazul and other large buses are bad).  They don’t allow for the unexpected. 

<<Due to the rarity of cars on rural roads, pedestrians, bicycles, horse-drawn carts, and farm equipment operators wander onto the roads without any regard to possible automobile traffic. Unfenced livestock constitute another serious road hazard.>>  Copied from a consular update, and it is absolutely correct.

In fact, there are more tourists than locals killed in car accidents in Cuba yearly.  I have even seen two rental/tourist cars in a head on collision.

Most tourists drive well - some just think it is a walk in the park and drive accordingly.  I could write alot more on this, but I just want to advise drivers not to be lulled into a false belief about their driving ability in a foreign country.

I leave you with a quotation :  “Road sense is the offspring of courtesy
and the parent of safety”
Maud van Buren