Cuba car rental
Our experience with Cuba car rental and some of the issues we discovered could be unique but, after talking on the forum and with other visitors this summer 2012 we feel that we can make some comments to help others.
We searched on the internet in early June and found several companies offering Cuba car rental, some had cars in Cuba in US dollars (which we later found was not the case) while most other were charging in Canadian dollars or Euros. We noted some websites and decided to leave it a few weeks. My husband and I returned to the web to make the final booking on Tuesday July 2nd. No I am not a “date freak” but I remember this day well because, when we visited several of the websites we´d taken note of all of them came back with “no availability” or they were offering just very expensive (luxury Audi Cars) ranges of cars we could not afford. We even called Cuba Car (my husband is Colombian) at two locations in Havana; one place was the Sevilla Hotel while the other was an obscure office in Miramar at 3ra & 46, both advised to “reserva en internet” or reserve online…. Some help!! We could not get a reply from about another 4 numbers we had, especially the Cuba Car office at Jose Marti Airport which simply rang and rang, no answer…
By late that day we were panicking because we needed the Cuba car rental to complete our itinerary of visiting 4 Cuban provinces with all of the hotels in Cuba already confirmed and paid. At 7pm my husband called on last location which was Hotel Inglaterra in Old Havana and they told us to try the official website for foreigners called Cuba Car.com
After contacting their chat system they quickly confirmed that few cars were available and it would have been easier to book in June than July and, that they no cars available for our arrival date (20th July) at Jose Marti Airport but, they could a Cuba car rental of a medium car (what turned out to be a Hyundai Accent) at the Habana Libre Hotel. Yipeeeee!!!
We completed the online forms and sent off the request. It took until the next day to get answer; by this team we were pretty anxious and worried. An invoice came through and, after clicking the link we were able to pay online using our Chase card (US Issued credit card). We got the customary “no-reply” email confirming we had paid but nothing else. Being as anxious as we both were, we contacted their chat system again and the lady “Natasha” passed us to Pedro (all this on the chat…technology) who confirmed that all we had to do was sign the invoice we´d soon receive and send our driving license (this made collecting car super quick BTW). Two days later we received the Cuba car rental voucher which showed the familiar Cuba CAR logo and a booking code TA-284871 and some other minor details (flight number, car type, etc)
“Advice – Cuba Car Rental in High season. book well in advance”
Even though the above had been relatively painless, we were still very anxious after having heard stories of people showing up to find no car available. Basically, until we were sat in our car and had started our journey through Cuba, I don´t think we´d have been happy with any amount of paperwork.
Fast-forward July 20th , we made the short trip across the border at Tijuana and the first of two flights (stopover in DF) that would bring us back to Havana. The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Havana at 8.47 PM with just 12 minutes delay! Pretty cool for a dual stopover flight which took us across Mexico. Havana Customs were pretty quick and, within 40 mins we were sat in our taxi and on our way to the Havana Libre Hotel to collect our Cuba car rental. It looked like there had been a serious downpour just before we arrived because our taxi kept hitting deep puddles on the road and the water would presumably crash up into the underbody of the car. Not a nice sensation, especially with his erratic driving…ufff
We arrived at the front of the hotel but had to gain access from the right because the stairs were being repaired, we dragged our cases behind us and Miguel held the rucksacks over his shoulder. We arrived at the CUBA CAR desk and could see several people there. There were a total of 8 people in what resembled a line of waiting people, we stood last in line. We overheard people saying they “hoped they could get a car” while my husband said a Cuban American couple were arguing about why they had not booked a car in advance. It all looked quite worrying. I whispered to my husband “think there are no cars…?” he just looked at me blank faced…obviously no car meant losing ALL of our precious plans, hotel bookings or worst, trying to do the whole trip in a taxi…not good…
Then, I heard something then my husband raised his hand. I asked what he was doing, he said “they´re asking those who have bookings to raise their hands” I looked around and there was just my husband with his hand in the air… He then marched towards the desk with me grasping his hand, our cases in tow and passing all these people, I felt bad…When we got to th desk they beckoned “voucher” “tienes voucher” which, with my basic Spanish made me grab our travel pouch and the voucher we´d printed at home before leaving for Cuba. I reluctantly handed it to him as all the stories flashed before my eyes of Canadian´s online complaining about not getting their cars in Cuba… But, within seconds he looked up from his list and said to my husband “perfecto, ya todo esta en orden” brilliant!!! I thought, we´re on our way!
Literally within 30 minutes we were descending the drenched “La Rampa” street towards the Malecon and on our way to Varadero (our first Hotel). The car was almost new and was a Hyundai Accent automatic of a light blue color. I´d heard the stories but this car was perfect. We had just one puncture on our whole road trip around Cuba which included Varadero, Trinidad, Cayo Coco (we drove there) and Santiago de Cuba.
Our experience with Cuba Car.com was excellent, the service was a little quirky (the delays in getting responses) but overall the outcome was great. We know that nobody else in the cue that day was getting a car and, after talking to others on our three week journey, many people were unable to find cars in Cuba and some even had resorted to taxis. Our last minute booking with Cuba CAR.com worked and, I am thankful to them for being so serious and providing us a solution (even though it was not at the airport) when nobody else wanted to.
Josephine and Miguel
Coronado , San Diego, CA