“Kidnapped to the promised land. The bay of pigs and Baby Elian” – Manic Street Preachers.
In December 2022, I decided to finally backpack in Cuba, flying into Havana from Madrid after my stay in the cool Scout Hostel there. This was to be my second Christmas in a row backpacking the Caribbean. After COVID and many personal moments of clear depression and exposition of liars, it always felt like a great escape from the horrors of Europe. I arranged to arrive in Cuba into the capital city, Havana on a flight from Iberojet, my first time to fly with them.
On my first two nights, I would be sleeping right by the Caribbean Sea at the completely quirky, arty Malecon 663 – a perfect hotel for anyone wanting to visit Havana!
The hotel let me know in advance that there is an option to get collected at the airport in a vintage car! So I was well up for it as I was sure that had never happened to me before. Over 500 flights deep into my journey and finally my arrival to Cuba would feature a vintage car pick-up. As arrivals into countries go, this was a pure fire classic!
Of course, for the photo geeks, it would have been nice to arrive in the daytime for this car ride, but that wasn’t to be for me. I was arriving after 8 p.m. but even later when my flight was delayed, so I’d arrive in darkness into Havana and was ready for the classic car.
My driver, Janko, was waiting for me at the airport after immigration – I needed a Cuban Visa (often called a “Tourist Card” but trust me – it’s a visa) and a health declaration. We headed into the hot Caribbean air where a vintage red Dodge 56 car awaited me.
Why a Dodge 56 and all those classic cars in Cuba?
There are many reasons why Cuba has so many classic cars including the Dodge 56. A communist country with Karl Marx ideals obviously has a lot of restrictions. These cars are already there, so why import new ones when these cars still work? If a Cuban owns one of these, they are better to keep it and keep it maintained than go out and attempt to find a new car. Plus Cuba is a remote island archipelago and getting new goods in and out has issues. Cars and bikes are everywhere so the country makes the most of what it currently has. See it as a step back in time.
It was a short 45 minute drive from Havana International Airport – Jose Marti to downtown Havana and to my lovely hotel, Malecon 663. Remember that as tourists to Cuba, you need to bargain heavily for things. These cars can be found everywhere in Cuba and are dearer than the regular taxis and Ladas. From the airport, it should cost between $40 and $60 US Dollars (12,000 Cuban pesos). Arrange it in advance with your hotel/hostel. When you are downtown, you also need to bargain heavily.
By the way, these cars are everywhere in Cuba and you wont find it hard to get a ride in one, or photos in and beside them. Just make sure you can barter and bargain with the driver to get a good deal. Rip-off merchants exist here. I highly recommend this as a fun arrival into Cuba!! Here are a few more photos of classic cars from the streets of Cuba by day.
Here are the details for booking a collection by vintage car after choosing a room at the quirky Malecon 663 in Havana:
Malecon 663, entre Gervasio y Belascoain
Here are some videos I made during my arrival into Havana, Cuba:
Baby Elian by Manic Street Preachers: