Hitchhiking in Cuba: illegal or mandatory?

Cuba-by-Phoebe-Whitehouse-3-Che-Guevara-street-art

Hello friends, hitchhikers, travellers!

We have a question and we hope you can collectively help us solve it. We feel the readers of HitchHikersHandbook are a real community and we love to hear what you have to say.

Our previous open discussion on whether or not women should hitchhike on their own was a great success, so we hope in this case it will not be different.

Is hitchhiking in Cuba illegal or quite the contrary: mandatory by law?

‘Hitchhiking in Cuba is illegal’

We have never been to Cuba, so we don’t have a first hand opinion but we have recently posted a guest article about budget travelling in Cuba in which Phoebe, the author, stated that hitchhiking in this country is illegal.

It is illegal for a Cuban to allow a foreigner to ride in their car unless they have a license. On the quieter roads we managed to get a few lifts, but do not expect anything similar where there is a chance of getting caught. It will not be the tourist who will get fined, but the Cuban and it may well be half their monthly salary.

Read the full article about the 9 Things you should be aware of when hitchhiking and backpacking in Cuba.

Phoebe is not your every other gringo (or yuma), she speaks Spanish and has travelled extensively in Latin America, therefore we feel we can trust her judgement, but there are other sources of information that contradict her statement and we would like to hear your opinion.

.

Cuba-by-Phoebe-Whitehouse-3-Che-Guevara-street-art. Hitchhiking in Cuba

photo by:phoebeswanderlust.wordpress.com

‘Drivers are required to pick up hitchhikers in Cuba’

Hitchwiki on the other hand states that hitchhiking in Cuba is excellent, many locals use it and…

In Cuba people with a private car are required to pick up hitchhikers.

However, that also means that there is a huge number of hitchhikers in Cuba and it is customary to pay a small fee for your ride.

Also Wikipedia suggests that hitchhiking in Cuba is more than legal:

In Cuba, picking up hitchhikers is mandatory by government vehicles, if passenger space is available. Hitchhiking is encouraged, as there are few cars, and designated hitchhiking spots are used. Waiting riders are picked up on a first come first go basis.

So is hitchhiking in Cuba recommended or prohibited by law?

Have you been to Cuba?
What was your hitchhiking experience like?
Did you have to pay?
How long did you have to wait for your ride?
What kind of people picked you up?

Any information you can provide is useful to us and other hitchhikers, so speak your mind!

And let it be a civilised discussion, without personal attacks, where we can all learn from each other’s experience :)

You May Also Like

14 comments

  • I have travelled widely across Cuba. What you have to know, first of all, is that there are not many cars. Cubans can hardly afford to buy and keep cars, so don’t expect easy rides. Another thing that may make your experience a bit different is that literally nothing comes free in Cuba. People are SUPER-nice and cool, but whenever they see a chance of making a few extra bucks, they will take it. In the vast majority of cases, people who have cars are also taxi drivers (they drive taxi particular, or private cabs) so it would be normal that they ask for money in exchange for a ride. What you would have to do is negotiate the price – that is expected. From my experience, giving rides to hitchikers in Cuba is illegal. If a person is caught giving rides to a foreigners in his private car, he will have to pay a huge fine, so people are reluctant to do it and if they do get stopped by the police (which does happen) they will try to invent whichever possible excuse to pretend that you are a friend. Keep in mind Cubans are not even allowed to host people for free (yup, seriously). In a way, foreigners are kept separated from Cubans. They can’t stay in the same casas particulares (Cubans go to the ones where you pay with Moneda Nacional, foreigners to ones where you pay with CUC); some beaches are not open to Cubans (ie Cayo Levisa); some buses (ie Viazul and more than anything Transtur) are only for tourists (and the Cubans you see on board are hitching the ride from the driver, at their own risk); some services are simply not available to Cubans. So no, no hitchiking in Cuba.

    • Thanks a lot for your long and comprehensive reply, Claudia! It’s sad to hear that hitchhiking and couchsurfing are not really possible or widely available in Cuba!
      It’s such a shame the government is trying so hard to separate them from foreign visitors!

  • Don´t know about foreigners, but it is completely normal for Cubans to hitchhike, everyone does it: families, schoolkids, women, men. You will see people all along the main roads with stuff waiting for lifts.I was driving, not hitching, but on my own (female) and picked up loads of people, great experience. Road signs are terrible, I would have got lost all the time if it hadn´t been for local passengers telling me where I was going. Made lots of friends and was invited to peoples homes. Also, roads pretty quiet, it would be really hard to drive past people and not pick them up to be honest. It feels very different from Europe where I am more wary when I´m on my own, I also tended to only pick up kids, women and families. Helps if you speak Spanish, but mostly people just got in and said when they wanted out. I never took money from anyone, but maybe visitors should pay if they can! I did get stopped by fake police a couple of times, watch out for that one if you´re driving…

  • According to me experience it’s totally OK for Cuban people to hitchhike. On my first trip I rented a car and I picked every person I saw hitchhiking. They were really friendly and shared sweets and nice chitchat with me.
    On my second trip, I didn’t rent a car and mostly used public transportation like camión, guagua and train. When I was staying out there in a boonies near Bayamo I’ve broken almost every rule mentioned above. :D I stayed in a village for free in a house of my friends (this story is kinda crazy). I rode in a tractor, in a tractor’s trailer, in coche and in carreta (they even let me conduct it) totally for free. We picked hitchhikers as we were going our way. Man, I’ve even crossed a river on a horse! The only time I really went hitchhiking was in Bayamo I guess. I was returning to my village from relatives of my friends’ house; it was really late and I was really drunk. I can’t really tell if it was a taxi or a private car but we picked up some guys along the way too.
    While I was staying in Havana, I rode with my friends perfectly fine inside the city on their private cars. I made a trip (taxi) to San Antonio de los Baños to see some relatives of my friends (again, yeah, it turned out that my friend from Bayamo was in SAdlB). Moreover, when we were returning, the host just called his acquaintance over and he gave us a ride back in his private car.
    The key to Cuba is an ability to communicate in Spanish. I’ve met only one casa particular owner who spoke English almost fluently. The majority knows some basic words and phrases but they most likely will treat you like yuma if they’ll see that you don’t understand Spanish.
    If you know Spanish, you’ll be able to get everything cheaper, like: paying for taxi, guagua, train, food etc. with peso nacional which is very low price for locals—the price for foreigners is much higher. However, you’ll need someone to ask about the actual prices of things so no one will trick you in paying more. Oh, I remember a funny story. I asked my friend from Havana where I could buy some cheap stolen white rum and she said that there is a tienda, which sells guarapo (or something else, I forgot), that I should ask some niches (niggers) around and named the price. Well, I found the place, and asked if they sell guarapo there. They said — yes, and I told him that I needed three bottles of rum. The seller was like “O_o WTF dude how did you even know that we sell it here, talk to that man on the corner”. They became suspicious of me so I had to tell them the whole story. OK, that man brings me my bottles wrapped in a newspaper and hands it over to me. I say, “thank you pals, bye” and begin to leave and the seller calls to me asks, “you’re not going to get any guarapo, pal?”
    I think when people see that they’ll be able to communicate with you in their language, they’ll behave differently.

    Back to the topic: I don’t know if it’s illegal to hitchhike but if you can arrange it you’ll be fine.

    • Hey Sergey, Thanks a lot for contributing to the debate. It sounds as though you certainly had a fantastic experience in Cuba and took full advantage of your time there. It seems that from your comments, and from others too, that speaking Spanish is essential when travelling in Cuba. It is also interesting that people’s experiences seem to be quite different, don’t you think?

      • Hey there! You’re welcome, you’ve got a nice site here. I haven’t travelled a lot but I definitely enjoyed my Cuban trips the most. I have not visited all the countries I’m eager to visit yet (I dream of visiting Asia (especially Japan, but my moonspeak is very basic still) but I really want to travel to Cuba as many times as it would be possible until it changes forever and all my familiar ex-guerrilleros are dead.
        I’m pretty sure that Cuba is very controversial country in terms of travellers’ experiences. When I was preparing for the trip, I read many reports and the amount of polar reports was like 50/50. I won’t discover America here (huh) saying that every person has different expectations from one’s trip. One goes for sex surfing, another for sun’n’surf, etc. I enjoyed sleeping six hours daily and spending the rest in transit, walking along the streets taking photos, meeting new and old friends and drinking under the Cuban sun (moon). I went swimming for four days in a row (and those 4 times were the only) only because I was trapped in Baracoa without money and I needed to buy a ticket for a plane to Havana. At first it was weekend in Russia so the banks were closed and I couldn’t ask anyone to send me some (I only had cash in Havana) to my card. Then the bank in Baracoa didn’t work because of Cinco de Mayo. Back to the point: suum cuique. If you want the sea (ocean) and the beach I don’t think that you’ll be pleased in Varadero (opinion is based on reports) and I don’t think that taking such a long flight (judging from my point of view) would be rational (in terms of money). I bet there are great hotels for this kind of tourism in Turkey and Egypt. However, there are great hotels on Cayo Largo with beaches of sand, which does not heat up, but you’ll be trapped on an island with nothing to see. I think that the most of negative reports come from people who visit Cuba having a wrong way of thinking or wanting Cuba to be what it’s not. When I was in Duty Free on my way back, I stood in a queue in a liquor store and some Russian in front of me had difficulties choosing rum and cigarettes so I helped him and he asked which hotel I stood at. I responded that I haven’t stayed in a hotel in Cuba yet. He really was impressed and somehow skeptical. He stayed somewhere in Varadero for three damn weeks. He said that he went to Havana once. One word led to another and he asks me: “Are you really allowed to speak to the locals? I heard it was illegal for them”. Our conversation ended on this sad note. Do you understand what am I getting at?
        You won’t find great service, luxury and so on (if you’re not spending money like water in Nacional or something like that) here. It’s mostly the country of light-hearted, passionate and amicable people, living on a relatively small island in a relatively poor (though it’s like anywhere else — no pain no gain) country. But I think their lives still have something that we already lost in our urbanized ant hills. Personally, I like the history of Cuban revolution movement and I enjoy listening to the stories of the vets. One old man from Havana told me his life story. Everything about him leaving his plot of land and family in Oriente, joining the rebels, what it all was about. He mentioned a woman who hid him from Batista’s troops and nursed him when she found him wounded, nearly dead, washed up form a mountain river. I asked if he’s met her since. He said that he didn’t for like 20 years or so. I asked him where she lived. Yes, I was living in her house in a village not far from Bayamo. On my second trip she wasn’t there, she was in SAdlB where she was staying in her daughter’s house, waiting for her turn to have an eye operation. That’s why I went to SAdlB. I went to her daughter’s house; we had a nice day together with her family and when it got dark, (it happens very quickly in Cuba) and I was on my way back, as a sideline I asked if she wanted to see the man who owns her his life. She changed into her best dress almost instantly and said she was ready to go. She was very anxious during the car ride, nervously squeezing my hand. Too bad that they had like an hour to talk to each other; they had a lot things to discuss. I think that reuniting them was one of the best things I did in my life.
        I discovered many different stories too, like the one about La Rusa de Baracoa and heard it from her stepson René (it was really touching) or the other one: one person I know was helicopter pilot in Angola and later he was accompanying the motorcade with the remnants of Che, piloting a helicopter during the reburial back in ’97 and so on.
        I’m really sorry that I dump my crumpled memories on you like that, but they overwhelm me when I start writing.

        • Hey Sergey, Thanks a lot for the kind words about our little site and even more for sharing your experiences. We always find them fascinating to read!

        • I find the comments of writers herein very interesting and instructive although you get different messages from different people. Entirely normal. I am a believer in Cuba and its form of socialism and wish the world was likewise believing it would make for a much better world. I think some of the laws that seem to be unduly restrictive regarding interaction with tourists were formulated for the purpose of their revolutionary goal of attaining an egalitarian society. Some may disagree and I appreciate all viewpoints.

  • Ha ha! Great story above!! I agree, speaking Spanish is the key. I am sure it would be different if you can´t talk to people. And, likewise I was invited into homes and had loads of great experiences with Cubans. I met school kids, families, women, students. One guy drove me out to some local beaches (in the car I had rented) and we picked up other people on the way, when we got back I tried to give him some cash to say thanks, but he wouldn´t take it. I think there are maybe more scammers in Havana? I guess that is a city/ rural thing, same anywhere. People can speak more freely in cars, so good way to get to know what people think. Of course there are restrictions on some aspects of life that really piss people off and there are all shades of political opinion, but Cubans have been free to travel or leave for over a year now since reforms were introduced, and lots of the people I spoke to said, why would I want to? Look around you – it´s a beautiful country.

    The fake police were guys in baseball caps that said POLICIA and flag you down (I saw maybe four or five) , I stopped the first couple of times because I thought they were for real, then I saw that the letters were peeling off their caps and soon sussed it was dodgy, I just said No, I´m not stopping or giving you a lift and drove off. Local people I met later said, yip, they are dodgy guys, probably looking for a fake fine, don´t stop for them. One of the fake police apologised when I said, look I´m on my own – I don´t want to stop for you.

    You will probably get lots of offers for a Cuban boyfriend/ girlfriend, but it never feels threatening, always in light spirit and if you watch folk on the street there is that kind of chat/ joking between Cuban people as well – it is a very sexual country, lots of dancing, singing and playfulness. Again, speaking Spanish and being open-minded and friendly is the key. Avoid hotels/ tours on buses with other foreigners etc. etc. Just don´t have any expectations and go with it when things don´t turn out how you plan them….it´s an incredible, beautiful and complex place.

    • Hey Karen, Really interesting comment, thanks for participating. Your insight into life in Cuba is extremely fascinating – I guess that living under an authoritarian government must really shade your image of life. And thanks for the extra information about the ‘fake police’ We will be sure to keep our eyes open when we do eventually get round to seeing this beautiful country.

  • Sergey mentions San Antonio de los Baños, I really liked that town. There´s a brilliant International Film School there that was established by Gabriel García Márquez (the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV). The town itself is really untouristy. I couldn´t find any casa particulares and got lost (as usual!) looking for the one hotel I had read about. I had a woman and her son with me in the car and she offered me to sleep at her house if I couldn´t find it. In the end I did find it, and there was lots of Cuban Trabajadores (workers) staying there for some work celebration. I ended up having a very funny night in the karaoke bar with some of them.

    • I really liked “El museo del humor” in San Antonio de los Baños. The exhibits are mostly caricatures and pictures drawn by local artists and from all over the world. There were some photos too. Most of the pictures were clever at least, but a lot of them were not funny—they were about vital issues.
      I haven‘t seen much (had no time) in SAdlB but I enjoyed it too. I remember some park, where local skaters were practicing their tricks. It was a nice day. Good memories.

  • I’m thinking of hitchhiking and/or public trans from Havana to Santiago de Cuba within a time frame of 2-3 days… Possible? Advice??? Can I camp in places or what could I expect in places where I’m “stuck” for the night? Any advice would be appreciated.