Reports of the latest Cuba’s fuel shortages are now becoming more widespread, with stories of lines of cars waiting for gas and rationing. But what does it mean to you as a visitor planning to vacation in Cuba? Some say it’s nothing new, and that Cuba has dealt with this for years. In this post, we’ll cover the latest information available on the Cuban fuel shortages, and what you should do if you have travel planned to Cuba during the fuel shortage. We first wrote about this in 2019, but due to recent events have decided to reinstitute the updates. We’ll also advise sources of information from those on the ground in Cuba and able to report on up-to-the-minute information.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED AND AFFILIATE LINKS. MORE INFORMATION IN OUR DISCLAIMER
We began these updates on fuel shortages, product and food shortages in Cuba in 2019. There was a major update, resulting in this blog post in May 2023 and now, in January 2024 I’m updating it for your reference.
The TLDR is that as a tourist you are unlikely to see any big impact to your visit to Cuba, especially if you are staying on an all-inclusive resort. You can expect a limited menu in places to eat (but its always been a thing here to produce a 70 page menu but only actually have 5 items!)
Why is this 2024 Fuel Shortage in Cuba Different?
Cuba has dealt with shortages of fuel, food, of basic goods for decades since the US began sanctions in 1962. Several elements make it different this time – both since the ’60s and since the big fuel shortages of 2019. As 2023 rolled through, wars, economic problems throughout the world, an ongoing pandemic have all contributed to issues in Cuba, so here’s the situation as it stands in 2024.
This is why shortages are different this time around.
Internet Access in Cuba in 2024
We know more about it! And that’s because more Cubans (and visitors to the island) are online.
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. Add to that, that many Cubans and now Tourists have mobile internet (my guide to that is here) It is possible now for Cubans to post on social media sites (usually with the use of a VPN) about their experiences.
Higher Expectations in Cuba in 2024
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 of Cuba, they were trailblazing the new tourism in Cuba.
Even today, there are some who visit Cuba expecting the island to be the same as other Caribbean islands. It’s not. Cuba exists because of and inspite of a unique set of variables.
Today we expect more that we did during the Special Period, 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. Especially after several years of no travel because of COVID, visitors are expecting more. And those who have never traveled to Cuba also think that a visit here is the same or similar to other Caribbean countries. Spoiler: Again. It’s not.
Read our guide on the best time to visit Cuba here.
The continuing war in Ukraine
For the last two decades, Venezuela has provided Cuba with good-quality crude oil and while the amount and quality have been decreasing over the years, there’s been a change because of the war in Ukraine. In November 2022 the USA issued a license to Chevron to export petrol from Venezuela to the USA for the first time in many years. The higher quality crude oil is no longer going to Cuba.
Hurricane Ian in September 2022
During 2023 Cuba was still feeling the effects of Hurricane Ian, which passed through, primarily the province of Pinar del Rio in September 2022, destroying crops and infrastructure. That continues.
Tourism was WAY down in 2023
Tourism is one of the main sources of income in Cuba. It was expected to receive 3.5 million tourists during 2023. It fell short of this target by more than one million visitors. That’s a massive 40% shortfall in visitors, which translates to a 40% shortfall in expected revenue in the country.
And a lot of tourism revenue is in cold, hard cash. Cash that was not brought to the country in 2023.
Number were up, however, a growth on 2022 of 50% and 64% of the tourists that visited during 2019. Before COVID Cuba received 4 million tourists a year.
This has contributed to the news at the end of 2023 that the Cuban economoy has contracted somewhere between 1 and 2%. This isn’t good news for Cuba.
Cuba is targeting 4 million tourists during 2024, although its not clear how they will achieve this.
The removal of the ability of those who visit the USA after Cuba on an ESTA is bound to have a profound effect on Europeans, British, Australians and New Zealanders visiting Cuba, not least because it removes the ability to (easily) fly home via the USA.
What will be different in Cuba in 2024 with Shortages?
2024 is going to be a tough year for Cuba. There will be a 25% increase in the price of electricity for the areas that consume the most – that’s the tourist sector. There will also be an increase in the cost of water supply and also gas.
It’s hard to tell how this will translate to the cost of services provided to tourism, only that the cost will rise. The Government also detailed that “passenger transportation costs will rise”, but there is no detail available at this time. It’s an indication that in the tourism sector, prices of for instance, the Viazul Bus will increase.
The government has also said that the exchange rate with the US dollar will be changing. Since 2021, the official rates for legal entities have been pegged at 24 Cuban Pesos to the US Dollar. However you can get 273 CUP to the dollar on the black market.
The price of cigarettes and tobacco will be increasing. But, as yet, there is no detail what these increases will be.
What will be the impact on you the tourist in visiting Cuba in 2024?
It’s hard to say at the moment, but a couple of things are certain. The costs for your trip will go up. Gas and elecricity and petrol are all going up and when those costs rise, so does everything. Your transfer costs will likely rise. Food costs will do too.
So you should plan ahead, if you are not prebooking and prepaying you should plan to take more cash with you (read our guide to Cuban currency here).
Try and prebook what you can – travel, accommodation, and trips. It not only helps your cashflow, it helps Cuba plan. If a tour guide knows that they have 5 people to take to Vinales on Monday, then they can plan to prepurchase the gas ahead of time. It means that they know they have work.
I see questions all the time from people saying that perhaps they shouldn’t go to Cuba this year, and that would mean they won’t be taking away from the Cuban people. STOP.
Tourism is a huge part of the income of the country. If you don’t go it gets worse. But look back at the beginning of 2020. Who knew what was coming then. Don’t put things off, time is stopping for none of us.
Go, but plan ahead. Take money (or the ability to get money out of a cash machine). If you’re staying in a Casa Particular (and I URGE you to do this), then ask your Casa owners if there are any goods that you can bring to help them. AS A GIFT.
I URGE you also to use Homestay.com to book (at least your first) Casa Particular. They don’t charge the Casa owner any fees, which means more money to the owner. The site isn’t an all singing dancing flash AirBnB, but it is a good company for Cubans.
What Are the Fuel Shortages in Cuba?
The government of Cuba states that the fuel shortage situation in Cuba is 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 limited remittances sent to the country and slowed down financial transactions made to Cuba through third-party counties.
The immediate fuel shortage is occurring as a result of both the ongoing worldwide economic crisis, but also because of a lack of investment in Cuba. There is (according to experts) plenty of crude oil in Cuba. Cuba manages to provide about 50% of its needs and imports the rest (from Venezuela) and also reportedly from Russia (although this is a report, not confirmed). In April 2023 Cuba also received a shipment of 600,000 barrels of crude oil from Mexico.
The problem is that Cuba lacks the ability to refine the crude oil, which it refines in facilities that were built in 1957.
The Cuban Government has always said it’s the sanctions from the USA that causes the problems, but this time they’ve also admitted that some of the countries sending fuel haven’t sent as much as planned, perhaps as little as two-thirds of what was supposed to be sent.
“We are living difficult moments but are going to come out ahead,” said Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel recently
The Cuban Government – both centrally and across the country made several statements – from saying that there were low levels of refinable crude, the stating that fuel would only be sold to drivers of vehicles that were “public carriers” or providing basic services (like emergency services). Universities across various provinces have also moved classes online – temporarily. And then the International Workers Day celebrations of May 1st were canceled, although some would have you believe it was canceled because of the weather. The event was eventually moved to the 5th of May and the Havana Malecon in a bid to save fuel on transporting people to the Plaza de la Revolucion.
Regardless. It must be causing concern if you have a trip planned to Cuba. So here’s a little more on what to expect, and how you can plan for it.
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.
There’s no statement from the Cuban Government on how long the current issues will last. We say, monitor the situation and watch for more news.
What Will Cuban Fuel Shortages Affect?
The combination of fuel shortages and the economic crisis impacts Cuba in many ways, but here’s how it could affect you on your trip to Cuba.
Fuel Shortages in Cuba will impact transport
The primary effect of the fuel shortages in Cuba is that of transport within the country. There are reports throughout the country of lines for gas. The government has announced limitations on how much gas can be sold and to whom. Priority services include the government, official transport, and emergency services. Bus services and officially registered taxi drivers are included in this.
The best way to sort out your transport, for airport transfers and the like is to prebook. This helps drivers to sort out their fuel situation.
TOP FUEL SHORT TIP
If you’ve rented a car in Cuba you’re also covered – BUT being at the front of a line is no help if there is no gas, so monitor the situation carefully if you have a rental car.
If you have rented a car but have not yet arrived in Cuba consider changing your transport plans and taking the rental car out of them.
Prices are generally increasing for taxi routes. (but NOT for Viazul buses). If truth be told, the only way to guarantee a price is to prebook and prepay it. Or to confirm the price again when you get there.
I have NOT had any reports of the Viazul Bus service being impacted by fuel shortages. The prices have not changed for several years, the schedule only changed with the removal of the Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa route and the Havana to Baracoa route also being removed. However, Viazul cited lack of demand for this change.
If you’ve been impacted by it, then let me know and I’ll update people.
The Government appears to have reinstituted a transport option that was used during the 1990s – known as the Camels these transporters could move 300 people at a time. You can read more about that here. You shouldn’t expect to use these as a tourist though.
There’s also no information as to whether flights might be impacted at all. The best place to follow for flight information in Cuba is the Telegram account of Ecasa. This is the Cuban Government owned entity that manages the 22 airports in Cuba.
Rolling Electrical Blackouts
There have been rolling blackouts in Cuba on an ongoing basis. They are generally publicized and do not last for long, 2 hours or so. Your casa particular owner will be able to advise of them. If you’re staying on a resort, then your resort will 99% likely have a generator and oil for it, so you likely won’t even notice.
Fans and AC in rooms might not operate, so consider taking
A solar charger > This is a great option
A portable fan > This works well
Shortage of (Affordable) Food Stuff
Hurricane Ian caused a lot of damage in Pinar del Rio, a big crop-producing region. Add to that Cuba’s reduced ability to buy exports, and there’s generally an increase in the price of food. Expect less choice at a slightly higher cost.
If you want to help out, consider ordering some food for your casa particular. You can order it online and get it sent to your Cuban host. Supermarket 23 comes highly recommended and your host will need to show ID to accept it.
Shortage of bottled drinking water
Please DONT buy bottled water in Cuba. Take a filter water bottle. Then you can save both the environment from single-use plastic and necessary resources by avoiding the requirement to buy bottled water!
TOP PRODUCT PICK
The Lifestraw Go Water Filter Bottle has a 22-ounce capacity, it has a two-stage carbon filter that lasts for 100 liters of water and a membrane microfilter that lasts up to 4,000 liters of water. The bottle itself is reusable, extremely durable, and BPA-free.
This is the best filter water bottle for Cuba
I wrote about drinking water in Cuba here, if you want more detail.
There could be a knock-on effect on internet access
In early May Cubanos have been protesting the Cuban government and (it’s not new) there have been sporadic occasions of the internet having been turned off in certain areas where protests were happening. If this happens, then the internet tends to go off for EVERYONE. (and that’s whether you’ve got a Tourist Sim card or not).
Download offline maps (maps me is GREAT for Cuba)
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 canceled, 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 Visitors Coverage 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.
Sign Up for Government Updates
A department in your home government will provide advice for foreign travel. In the UK that’s the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, the FCDO. 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 Cuba – the FCO > details here
- US Government Advice on Travel to Cuba – the State Department > details here
- Australian Government Advice on Travel to Cuba – DFAT – the Smart Traveler > details here
- New Zealand Government Advice on Travel to Cuba > details here
- European Union – EU Advice on Travel to Cuba – details here
- Canada Government Advice on Travel to Cuba – details here
There are currently NO advisories against traveling 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 traveling 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 traveling 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 traveling imminently ask them the following:
- How you can 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 canceled 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 before getting to Cuba
There has been public Wi-Fi internet access in Cuba available in public places for several years now. Internet access is now available in private spaces as well. And many visitors to Cuba also buy a Tourist Sim Card. 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 we’ve found.
If you plan to use Viazul buses on your trip to Cuba
We recommend continuing booking as normal. You can book online. 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 traveling to Cuba, this may all be a distant memory, but if your trip is imminent, then we’d recommend that you should assume 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 shared 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 to turn on translate.
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