A hitchhiker’s guide to Cuba

photo by David Boyle

Backpackers and travelers on a budget often seek out countries that can be visited on a shoestring, and getting to their destination if often the costliest part of the journey. Cuba might be a faraway place for many travelers, but if you manage to find a flight deal, then you are pretty much set. Cuba is an excellent Caribbean destination for budget travelers, because from food to accommodation and nightlife, it is ridiculously easy to find budget options, even though there are more than enough luxury resorts on the island. And another great way to save money  in Cuba is hitchhiking. Instead of buses or trains, you can travel practically for free, see the country on your own terms and maybe even find a friend or two on your way there. Here’s a hitchhiker’s guide to Cuba which will give you some basic info on hitching a ride.

Hitchhiking in Cuba

photo by Martin Cathrae

Tourists are not the only ones who hitchhike in Cuba. Due to the relatively small number of cars in the country, hitchhiking is a popular means of getting around for locals and travelers alike. Culturally speaking, hitchhiking is nothing new in Cuba, so to speak, and no one will raise an eyebrow if you travel around the country in this way. In fact, even the government encourages hitchhiking as a method of dealing with the shortage of cars and public transport means. For this reason, in cities and larger towns, and on roads there are designated hitchhiking spots where people gather in order to find a ride, called amarillo points (punto amarillo) . A government official (el Amarillo) often oversees the process, and hitchhikers are are picked up on a first come first served basis. An interesting peculiarity of Cuban hitchhiking culture is that government cars (you can spot them by the color of their license plates: white, light brown and blue, while private vehicles have yellow plates) are required by law to pic up hitchhikers if they have any free seats, and can be reported if they fail to do so.

Hitchhiking tips

At amarillo points, if an official finds a car for you, you will have to pay a nominal fee which goes to the government, but in this case you don’t pay the driver. When at official hitchhiking spots, preference might be given to Cubans if it is obvious that you are a foreigner, especially if there is official supervision. A good idea is to stop away from the crowd, further down the road from hitchhiking spots, because this way you stand out more, and most drivers are glad to pick up foreigners. It is advisable to agree on a price before you get into a car, or to simply state that you cannot pay, because some drivers might take advantage of you. In any case, if you don’t speak any Spanish, you should expect to pay something.

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