Reports of Cuba’s fuel shortages are now becoming more widespread, as the sanctions applied by the USA begin to bite. President Miguel Diaz-Canel appeared on television recently to appeal to Cuban’s to show solidarity and attempt to improve fuel efficiency. But what does it mean to you as a visitor planning to vacation in Cuba? In this post, we’ll cover the latest information available on the Cuban fuel shortages, what you should do if you have travel planned to Cuba during the fuel shortage. We’ll also advise sources of information from those on the ground in Cuba and able to report on up to the minute information.
7th November Update on Cuba Gas Shortage
Our team in Cuba report that colectivos are able to run, and that Viazul buses are also running. Online booking of Viazul buses has been reduced and the cost of colectivos is similar to that of the Viazul bus.
If tickets are not available on Viazul, you can always try our partner who can book tickets for you – or provide colectivo services if there are no bus tickets available.
17th October Update on Fuel Shortage Cuba
- Situation is still not pre September 2019, but is better than during September, although no “normal”
- 8 tankers of fuel arrived in Cuba in early October, 40% of Cuban requirements are met for Cuba produced oil
- Viazul comments remain unchanged “The National Bus Company (EON) reports that as of September 16, 2019 and until further notice, several of our departures will be affected due to the fuel limitations that the country faces. Any questions and concerns can consult us at [email protected]”
UK FCO Update 27th September 2019
The Cuban Government has announced that it is taking measures to manage electricity and fuel supplies in the coming days and weeks in view of limited stocks and deliveries of oil in September. Government measures include prioritising supplies for essential services. The Government has said there will be notice of any planned power cuts. Transport services, including trains and buses, are being reduced. Tour operators, hotels and owners of casas particulares will be aware if their services are to be affected.
Visitor Update 26th September 2019
Readers report long lines for fuel in Havana, but none in Varadero. Taxis able to get fuel. Only obvious sign of problems are lines for fuel and lines for buses.
Viazul Update 23rd September 2019
The only bus tickets being sold by Viazul are the following:
- 0800 Havana to Varadero
- 0900 Havana to Viñales
- 1045 Havana to Trinidad
- 1125 Havana to Viñales
It’s not possible to buy ANY other tickets for Viazul at this time. The Viazul team advise that it *may* be possible to buy tickets in your city of departure, you should ask locally.
Why is this Fuel Shortage in Cuba Different?
Cuba has dealt with shortages of fuel, of food, of basic goods for decades, since the US began sanctions in 1962. There are several elements that make it different this Cuba petrol shortage.
Internet access for both Cubans and visitors to Cuba has never been more available. There are hundreds of public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country (see our post on Internet Access in Cuba here), plus in July of 2019 private internet access started to become available. It is possible now for Cubans to post on social media sites (usually with the use of a VPN) about their experiences.
Visitors to Cuba in the earlier days of tourism to the island nation, during the Special Period (which we talk about here in our article on Casa Particulars) had much lower expectations, they were trailblazing the new tourism in Cuba. Today we expect more and we do not expect to be met with fuel shortages, blackouts and general problems with transportation in what many view as a holiday destination.
What Are the Fuel Shortages in Cuba?
The government of Cuba states that the fuel shortage situation in Cuba is as a result of US policies and the hardening of economic, commercial and financial blockages from the USA towards Cuba. There have been a variety of sanctions against Cuba since 1962. Additional measures were announced on September 9th 2019 which limit remittances sent to the country and which slow down financial transactions made to Cuba through third-party counties.
The immediate fuel shortage is occurring as a result of tankers carrying fuel to Cuba not arriving as planned. The Cuban government has stated that fuel contracts have been guaranteed for October, and the challenges are only short term.
The Cuban government has implemented a series of measures that will guarantee basic services, by postponing some energy-intensive investments, the suspension of some train and bus services and the implementation of a work from home regime for some Cubans. Many of the bus services impacted as for Cuban workers.
How Long will the Fuel Shortages in Cuba last?
This is a difficult question to answer – at the end of this post we’ve included some links to folks who report directly from Cuba, both on blogs, in news releases and on Twitter. We’re following them to keep up to date with what’s going on.
Cuba’s President says this is short term and will affect the country in the remaining days of September 2019, and that fuel deliveries in October will resolve the situation. We say, monitor the situation and watch for more news.
What Will Cuban Fuel Shortages Affect?
Fuel Shortages in Cuba will impact transport
The primary effect on the fuel shortages in Cuba is that of transport within the country. Reports from Havana from both major new sources and Cuban citizens on social media tell of 400-metre lines for fuel (gasoline/petrol/diesel in the last two weeks. Photographs of closed gas stations back this up.
There are reports of taxi drivers TALKING ABOUT increasing prices for routes, but currently, no reports of this occurring at this time.
The Government intends to readjust and extend the frequency of national train departures to INCREASE the number of seats available and make more fuel-efficient transport available.
With regard to national bus services from Havana, the Government has stated that these will be REDUCED from Havana to the provincial capitals by at least one trip per day.
The main tourist bus service, Viazul, (details on using Viazul here) has already been impacted. Some buses are reported to have been cancelled (see the previous comment) and Viazul staff are unresponsive online, although it is still possible to book tickets both online and to buy tickets in person at Viazul. Reports indicate that major Viazul routes are still operating, but not necessarily to the timetable and that refunds are being given for buses which are cancelled, whether you have booked online or in person.
The twice-daily Holguin to Havana Viazul bus has been reported to have been cancelled, however, the Santiago de Cuba to Havana is still running. Information is not forthcoming from Viazul staff at this time.
The Cuban Government has indicated that the operation of airports and ports will continue to operate as normal.
Potential Rolling Electrical Blackouts
The government intends to implement a series of rolling electrical blackouts that will be publicized to the public. This is to save energy in the short term. There are no publicized details of this at this time, but some hotels and resorts have closed for a 6 week period.
Delivery of Food Stuffs
The Cuban Government has said that it will prioritize the delivery of foodstuffs and that transport for food will be made available.
What You Can Do if You Already Have Travel Planned
If you already have travel planned to Cuba, then there are a few steps you can take to safeguard your travel plans.
Make sure you have travel insurance for your trip to Cuba
Trip cancellation is a key element of travel insurance and if your trip has to be cancelled, postponed or changed as fuel shortages make your trip impossible. You should ensure that you check the small print of your travel insurance policy – or indeed buy one if you don’t already have one – and ensure that trip cancellation by the provider is included. We recommend World Nomads if you do not already have travel insurance in place. A reminder, too, that Cuba has a requirement that you have medical insurance in place before entering the country. You can read more on this in our guide to Cuban travel insurance.
Some hotels and resorts in Cuba are closing for a short period (perhaps 6 weeks) and if you have been booked in by a tour operator then you will be likely moved to an alternative resort or hotel. If this happens to you be sure to check that you are happy with the changes or alternatives offered and that it is at the same level as what you booked.
Sign Up for Government Updates
A department in your home government will provide advice for foreign travel. In the UK that’s the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the FCO. If their policy about a certain country or area changes, then you’ll get notified automatically by email. Check out their advice.
- UK Government Advice on Travel to Colombia – the FCO > details here
- US Government Advice on Travel to Colombia – the State Department > details here
- Australian Government Advice on Travel to Colombia – DFAT – the Smart Traveller > details here
- New Zealand Government Advice on Travel to Colombia > details here
- Canada Government Advice on Travel to Colombia – details here
There are currently NO advisories against travelling to Cuba from any government because of Cuba’s fuel shortage. This may obviously change. SO be sure to sign up for email alerts.
Contact your Tour Operator or Accommodation Provider
If you are travelling to Cuba with a tour operator contact them to ask if any of your trips will be affected by the fuel shortage – and how. Depending on the answer that you get, you may be offered alternatives.
If you are travelling to Cuba independently, then we recommend that you contact your accommodation provider. If you are staying in a Casa Particular then contact your casa particular owner, if they have not already contacted you. If you are travelling imminently ask them the following:
- How you are able to get from the airport to their location
- What the cost is for that trip.
- If you have booked any buses or trips are they still operating?
- If transport has been cancelled do they have recommendations for how you can travel instead?
- Do they have details of what is not operating?
- Can they keep you informed?
- Are there any items that you can bring to Cuba that will help?
Download a VPN prior to getting to Cuba
There has been public Wi-Fi internet access in Cuba available in public places for a number of years now. Since July 2019 we have seen internet access being made available in private spaces as well. However, many sites that provide information on life in Cuba are blocked within the country, as the Cuban Government censors and blocks many sites.
It is possible to view censored sites if you use a Virtual Private Network – a VPN – which allows you to read blocked sites once you have turned it on. We recommend ExpressVPN – which you can buy for just the duration of your holiday, or for longer – to be able to access more blocked sites than any other VPN than we’ve found.
If you plan to use Viazul buses in your trip to Cuba
We recommend continuing booking as normal. You can book online, but only a small percentage of seats are made available online. Our partners in Cuba go directly to the Viazul offices and buy tickets for you. If no tickets are available your money is refunded in full. Our partners will also be able to advise on alternative transport arrangements.
If Viazul cancels any buses your tickets will be refunded. (regardless of how you buy them).
Plan for your Cuban Holiday costs being a little more than expected
Depending on when you are travelling to Cuba, this may all be a distant memory, but if your trip is imminent, then we’d recommend that you should make the assumption that costs will be a little higher as demand will be greater and supply potentially disrupted. You’ll want to read about Cuban Currency and how to access your cash in Cuban – here’s a guide to it here.
Embrace Cuba and Her Ingenuity
Cuba has been dealing with challenges of this nature since 1962 and Cubanos have become adept at managing in extremely difficult circumstances. You just need to look at the number of classic cars that are more than 50 years old driving around the country to understand this.
There are many ways to travel around Cuba and experience the country. From colectivos and share rides to classic cars and trains.
We’ll report back when we have updated news on the situation in the meantime we recommend these sources of information – some of which are in Spanish language, so be sure turn on translate.
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