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ADV Rides10 Things You Need to Know to Ride Cuba

10 Things You Need to Know to Ride Cuba

Here's what you need to know before riding across the pearl of the Caribbean.

Published on 06.18.2018

Cuba, once called the pearl of the Caribbean, is a country rarely visited by motorcyclists – and undeservedly so. Cuba offers great riding both on and off the road, stunning landscapes, and incredible culture.

Exploring this island on two wheels can be a life-changing experience, so here are eight things you need to know to ride Cuba:

1. Riding Off-Road

Riding off-road is legal in Cuba, and there is no shortage of small sand and graded dirt farmland roads crisscrossing the whole island. If you plan to ride off-road, just be mindful of other traffic, mainly ox and horse-drawn carts and horse riders!


Adventure Motorcycle ride Cuba

Plan your fuel range in advance, as fuel is readily available in bigger cities and on the main roads, but rarely on back roads or smaller towns and villages. Finally, make sure you carry enough water with you: shops are few and far between, and plain bottled water can be hard to come by – you’ll find sodas, bubbly water, and juice, but natural mineral water can only be found in the bigger grocery stores in major cities. Local people are incredibly hospitable and kind so you’re more than likely to be invited for a cold drink even if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, but being prepared helps!

2. Camping

Until recently, wild camping has been illegal in Cuba, at least for foreigners – but the policy is now changing. As Cuba is revamping its many national parks and nature reserves, camping is becoming an option in most regions. If you don’t want to lug your camping gear around, though, check out the Campismo Popular holiday parks where you can rent a bungalow for about $5 per night. It’s a great way to meet the locals, too – the Campismo sites are very popular among Cubans!

Dual Sport ride Cuba

3. Double Currency

Cuba has two official currencies: the Cuban peso, or CUP, and the convertible peso, known as the CUC. Cuban peso (CUP) is what the locals use, and one US dollar is worth 25 local pesos. The CUC is meant primarily for tourist use; one US dollar is worth one CUC. This can be confusing at first: most places, especially major cities and tourist destinations like Havana, Varadero, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad, use mostly CUC whereas more remote regions and towns will use both, or only the local peso. The prices will vary just as wildly: in a Bayamo hotel, aimed at Cuban guests, you’ll pay 0.20 cents for coffee and 1.5 USD for a restaurant meal, whereas in Santiago de Cuba, the same coffee and meal will cost you $10-15 and more. This is because the Cuban government is trying to keep prices affordable for Cubans while getting foreigners to pay a “tourist rate”.

As a rule of thumb, expect to pay in CUC mostly but do carry some 100-200 local pesos (CUP) if you plan to ride more remote regions. In smaller towns and villages, an ice cream will cost you around 8 pesos (32 USD cents), a whole pineapple – 10 pesos (40 cents), a bottle of beer – 5 pesos (20 cents). Also, Americans exchanging US Dollars for the CUC get hit with a 13% tax. To save money, you can exchange USD for Euro in the states at your local bank (at bank rates), then exchange for CUC when you reach Cuba to avoid the additional tax.

4. Accommodations

Ride Cuba on an Adventure Motorcycle

Want a more comfortable rest? One of the most popular accommodation options for travelers in Cuba are casas particulares, local homestays or guesthouses. Most of the time, it’s a room in a family house with a private bathroom, costing anywhere between $25 – $35 per night, including breakfast. It’s a fantastic way to meet locals and to get a glimpse into an authentic Cuban home life.

Hotels are usually priced at $35-$55 and up, and they can get expensive in tourist-dense areas or resorts like Varadero, where a hotel room can cost you over $100 a night.

5. Safety

Cuba is probably one of the safest countries to travel. Because of its extremely strict policy towards crime, even petty theft is rare, and violent crime is almost non-existent, especially towards tourists.

However, just as in any other country (or your own), use common sense: don’t advertise your valuables to pickpockets, be careful when riding after dark, and avoid slum areas after nightfall.

6. Traffic and Road Conditions

Riding across Cuba

Traffic in Cuba is very minimal. An old Russian Lada car costs over $15,000, and a small Suzuki GL125 motorcycle – over $6,000, so the simple fact is that very few people can afford their own vehicles. For most of the time, Cuban streets, roads and highways feel deserted. Drivers are polite and respectful, but pay attention to horse-drawn carts and bicycle taxis as they have no indicator lights.

Road conditions may vary greatly, so always ask the locals for advice. While the main roads connecting major cities are more or less maintained, some back roads in the provinces are in extremely poor condition. For example, Road 20 between Santiago de Cuba and Pilon sometimes gives way to a crumbling dirt road, constantly washed away by the sea, and the Pilon – Bartolome Maso road hasn’t been used in decades resulting in deep ruts, washed out sections and numerous river crossings.

7. Food

Cuba is still under an economical blockade, and the effect is felt everywhere. It’s a sharp contrast to what we’re used to in the West, and throughout most of the world: in Cuba, shops and stores are far and few between and have very limited stock. Restaurants are plentiful in major cities, and ropa vieja, a national Cuban dish, is a delicious dinner treat – but if you’re planning to ride off-road, make sure you stock up on snacks or sandwiches as it’s hard to find food and drinks on the go. Forget quick gas station snacks, diner hamburgers or deli sandwiches: these things simply do not exist in Cuba.

I carried lots of tuna sachets and hard salami, bought in Mexico before leaving for Cuba: these, combined with fresh fruit and veggies available at local village farm stands, made great lunch meals on the go.

8. Renting a Motorcycle

Dual Sport ride Cuba

For the time being renting a motorcycle is probably the most practical way to ride Cuba, but there is a catch. We talked to Alex Moore of MotoDiscovery Tours, an Adventure Motorcycle tour operator in Cuba, to get more details. “You have to rent a motorcycle in conjunction with a ‘People to People’ travel event or organized tour. No independent motorcycle rentals are available, at least not yet, for riders of any nationality,” says Alex.

9. Hospitality & Language

Most Cubans will speak some English in major cities; due to Cuba’s ties with the former Soviet Union, a lot of older Cubans will also speak Russian. In the rest of the country, though, especially more remote areas, Spanish will be the only language. Learn at least a few basic phrases – people always appreciate it if you make an effort!

Adventure Motorcycle ride Cuba

Cubans are incredibly kind, generous, and welcoming people, so don’t be afraid to ask for directions or just have a chat. They love talking to foreigners, so it’s a great way to get to know the real, authentic Cuba!

10. Want to Bring Your Own Bike?

Dual Sport ride Cuba

Having your own bike in Cuba means you’ll have the freedom to explore the country on your own terms. But how hard is it to get your motorcycle to Cuba? There are several companies shipping motorcycles to Cuba from Europe and Canada, but because I was heading to South America, I chose to go with a boat. Stahlratte von Bremen, a German sailing boat, sails for Cuba from Isla Mujeres, Mexico, at least twice a year. I got my Cuban visa in Mexico using a Divermex travel agency for $20, hassle-free, in ten minutes.

Upon arrival in Cienfuegos, Cuba, our bikes and luggage were briefly inspected by pleasant and efficient customs officers who spoke a little English. They issued us with Temporary Vehicle Import papers. With these documents, we then rode to the Policia Transito (Transit Police) headquarters where we had to pay $25 for the rest of the paperwork: the officials inspected our bikes again, checking VIN and engine numbers, issued us Cuban licence plates and Cuban drivers’ licences. The whole process took about 4 hours due to long waiting lines. After this, we were ready to go!

When leaving Cuba, the process had to be repeated in reverse: at the Policia Transito offices, we returned the Cuban plates and licenses, and then gave the Temporary Import documents back to the customs officers at the Santiago de Cuba port. While the process was a little long, it was easy and simple enough, and the Cuban officials were happy to help.

Dual Sport ride Cuba

If you are an American the US government restricts bike shipments directly to Cuba, although it isn’t uncommon for some riders to get around these restrictions by shipping their bikes from Canada or Mexico. U.S. travelers that want to explore Cuba as tourists are required to visit the island as part of an organized tour group run by an authorized US company. Under the rules, tour activities are designed to expose travelers to ordinary Cubans and engage in approved activities that benefit local communities rather than government monopolies. There are no restrictions for citizens of other nationalities who want to ship their bike from a country other than the US.

Those US Citizens that want to avoid the visa hassles and bureaucracy should check out MotoDiscovery Tours. They are one of the few companies authorized by the US government to operate motorcycle tours in Cuba, and have been doing it since 2012.

Photos Courtesy of RTW Paul.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

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July 16, 2018 9:35 pm

Thanks for the nitty-gritty logistical details in this article – with those in hand it makes this lesser-traveled destination seem quite achievable.

John moran
John moran
October 7, 2018 10:36 am

Excellent piece of informative writing ,thank you so much for the clear precise information .

Calixto Sanchez
Calixto Sanchez
February 24, 2019 8:32 am

The economic blokade is the internal one, food scarcity is not due to external forces

Doug Barnett
Doug Barnett
December 29, 2020 8:58 am

Was looking to bring over an ATV to tour with for several months. How would I go about this?


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