Transportation in Cuba
There are many types of taxis in Havana:
- Coco Taxis - Decent price. Yellow ones are for tourist, black and yellow are for locals (pesos). You can safely negotiate the price ahead of time. $5 for most trips within the city.
- Cuba Taxi - All kinds of these, they are state run. You can ask them to use the meter, but if you negotiate the price ahead of time, it'll possibly end up cheaper.
- Grancar - These are old Chevys painted yellow. They are super expensive, $30-50 CUC per hour.
Colectivos / Almendrones
Colectivos or as the Cubans call them, Almendrones, are shared taxis that travel along a fixed route, mostly in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. They are usually colorful, old cars from the 50s with a taxi sign in the window. Here are a few tips:
- To flag one down, just stand along the route, in the direction you want to go, and raise your hand when you see one.
- You can flag one down at any point along their route, but often times in front of prominent hotels or tourist spots, say, at the corner of Neptuno and Paseo Marti, they will treat you like a tourist and ask you for a higher price.
- They will only stop if they have room. People hop in and out, so the smaller your group, the more likely you'll fit.
- The standard cost is 10 Cuban peso nacionales, which is about 50 cents in CUC/USD. Confirm the price.
- Tell them which cross street you need to get to and ask them to drop you off at the closest stop. If you ask them to drop you off at a hotel, they'll charge you normal taxi prices. Think of it like a bus route.
- Here's a map of the Havana colectivo routes.
Intercity - Viazul or Astro
Buses between cities are run by the company Viazul. They are safe, reliable, air-conditioned (sometimes too much), and cheap by tourist standards. You can check schedules, make reservations, and pay for buses on Viazul's website. A couple of tips for using Viazul in Cuba:
- Print out your reservation confirmation ahead of time.
- Go to the right bus station. Most cities in Cuba have a few bus stations, you want the Viazul or Interprovincial bus station. The others are for regional or local buses.
- Arrive 60 minutes early to the bus station. Your reservation is honored, but you will generally need to stand in line to get a ticket with your confirmation email. Often times this is the same line for buying tickets, but good to ask around first.
- Bring a sweater. The A/C is usually cranked pretty high.
Astro is the intercity buses that locals take, but they are hard to get a seat on, aren't air conditioned, break down often and are unreliable.
Intracity - Gua guas (public buses)
Metro buses or gua guas (pronounced 'wawa') cover the majority of areas in Cuban cities. In Havana they cover Old and Centro Habana, Vedado and Miramar and there are 17 main lines or routes, all with a P preceding the number from 1 to 16, and one name P-C. They run about every 10 minutes in peak hours. The best thing is that they cost only 1 CUP (about $0.05). The drawbacks are they they are very crowded, there's no A/C and pickpockets are common, so you'll need to try to blend in.
Car rentals in Cuba are a unique way to get around as only 10% of travelers end up renting cars. They are often expensive ($50+ per day) and you run the risk of them breaking down as many have mid to high mileage. To bust the myth, you won't be renting old, classic cars from the 50s. Here are some tips about renting a car and driving in Cuba:
- There are three main companies to rent from: Rex, Havanautos, and Cubacar. They are all owned by the government, so prices and cars aren't much different between companies. Americans should not rent from Transgaviota.
- Most bookings can be made online. You can compare prices at carrentalcuba.com.
- Availability is low, and prices are high. Book far in advance.
- You pay when you reserve the car, except for the mandatory car insurance and a full tank of gas, which are paid in cash at the car rental office.
- One-way rentals are possible and usually at no additional cost if the company has an office at your drop-off point.
- Rental cars have distinct, red license plates so everyone will know that your car is a rental.
- There is a distinct lack of road signage in Cuba, so a passing knowledge of Spanish is helpful when stopping to ask for directions.
- Maps.me has a free app for for offline navigation, which is helpful in Cuba. Buying a road map or atlas as a backup is very helpful. GPS units are actually not allowed in Cuba currently.
- Driving is on the right side of the road and otherwise very normal. The road conditions are OK, but some backroads can be rough and slow.
- Most highways have a speed limit of 100 kph.
Private Car Services
You may find that your group would rather take a private car between destinations in Cuba. This typically costs around 30-40 CUC per hour. So a 3 hour trip from Santiago to Baracoa might cost 100-120 CUC or so. This allows you to be completely flexible and get door-to-door service instead of taking a taxi to/from the bus station on either end.
There are two main ways to hire a car service:
- Contact your casa owner in the origin city. They usually work with someone they trust and they will do all of the arranging.
- Use Yo Te Llevo to book a driver online. They take your request and connect you with a driver that can make your trip. They don't always find a driver match and when they don't they simply don't respond.
Riding a train in Cuba is an experience to say the least. Tickets and up to date schedules are hard to come by, plus they are slow and unreliable, usually with a 'bring your own toilet paper' policy. However, it's a unique, safe way to travel with locals. For more detailed info, check out Seat61's site.