While we knew Cuba was known for its abundance of classic American cars, but nothing quite prepared us to witness these behemoths barreling down grand avenues and marauding along the famous Malecón.
How did all of these cars end up on the island? We learned that it all started when Fidel Castro overthrew the mafia loving Cuban President Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959. When Castro rode into town, many wealthy Cuban’s immediately fled the country leaving behind their homes and their cars. Because of the following US trade embargo (which forbade further export of cars to the island) and its accompanying economic strife, those abandoned classic cars that were once luxuries of the former elite, became necessities to the locals who inherited them (or simply walked up the driveway and drove off in them, since many still had the keys in the ignition on January 2nd). As the decades of hardship droned on, those classic American cars had to be maintained with whatever parts were available on the economically isolated island. The Cuban’s nicknamed these cars, ‘The United Nations’ because the bodies are American (like the UN headquarters in New York), but the insides are made up of parts from around the globe.
While new cars are now easily imported to Cuba (minus any from the US!), these vintage cars are well loved by locals and tourists alike. Most of them are now used as taxis and are a great source of income to Cubans. Since the average monthly salary is the equivalent of a whopping $30, taking a one hour tour around Havana in one of these beauties for $50 is well worth the price and helps Cubans achieve a better life for not only their families, but their country as a whole.
While we had to stop ourselves from photographing every single one we saw, here is a fleet of photos of some of our favorites we spotted from Havana to Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.
If you’re interested in checking out Cuba on two wheels instead of four, a cross-country cycling tour might be for you.