Virtually free of guns and violence and full of friendly faces eager to help, Cuba is the ideal place to hitchhike. A key part of the island’s transportation network are shared taxis (typically rusty American cars from the 50s) and buses that stop at any point along their route to pick up Cubans waiting on the side of the road, often carrying human-size sacks of potatoes, furniture, or live chickens. Tourists are sometimes charged more than locals but the rate is still reasonable. Some tour buses are only allowed to transport Cubans, and in some cases, only allowed to transport workers to beaches and fine hotels. The drivers of these buses are typically too afraid to let tourists board or will charge a high fare in the event that they are stopped and fined by the state. Half a dozen workers-only buses let me board and most only charged me the 5 pesos (20 cents) locals paid. The driver and I sometimes crafted a story to tell authorities in the event we were stopped and I was sometimes instructed to take off my tourist hat, put on my sunglasses, and pretend to be sleeping.
For a true hitchhiking experience, trucks are your best bet, though I also hitched rides on my fare share of tractors and horse-drawn carts. I often hitched a ride (either paid or free) to a gas station or main inter-province junction and waited for a truck to pull over. Just as in other countries, the drivers are eager to have somebody to converse with, particularly if that person brings tales of travels from around the world. None of the truck drivers I hitchhiked with asked for money and two even refused the clothing I offered them as a gift. One truck driver even offered to let me crash with his family and have a trucker friend drive me to a hard-to-reach scuba diving location in Vinales province. In Ciego de Avila, a trucker drove an extra 40 kilometers out of his way and stayed several hours so that I could watch the sunset the best beach in Cuba, Playa Pilar, a favorite of Ernest Hemmingway that was named after his boat. This truck driver connected me with another trucker friend of his to take me to Cayo Coco beach the following day. Several drivers left me their contact information to call next time I’m visiting.