Type in “Cuba car rental” and your search engine will respond with thousands of sites. The reality, however, is that Cuba has just a handful of rental agencies – Transtur/Cubacar, Rex, Havanautos and the smaller Via, Micar and Panautos – and connecting directly with any of them from outside can be difficult.
So who operates those myriad sites? Travel firms and other companies that serve as commission-paid intermediaries. Some are open about their middleman status, but others masquerade as the actual Cuban agencies, which is how I found myself dealing with a French company and watching my Canadian dollars get converted first to U.S. currency and then to Euros (with fees both times, I believe). My credit company called to ask why my card number was suddenly popping up in Europe, and the French travel firm even demanded that I fax copies of the forms it sent me to the rental headquarters in Cuba. Guess it wanted to avoid long-distance charges.
This year I got smart and booked through Sun Travel, an agency in my own country. The process was quick and straightforward and done largely by e-mail. I did have to fax a signed payment form, but only to Sun Travel in Toronto. It e-mailed me a voucher to print and present in Cuba. When I reached the Cubacar office, my Hyundai Accent was ready for me.
Next instalment: What it cost. (I know, I promised that last time.)