Cuba is larger than I thought, and I was surprised at how long it took to travel from place to place. Getting around Cuba is more challenging than in other countries due to the restrictions on tourists using the local forms of transport which are just for Cuban citizens. However, with a little inside knowledge of Cuba transportation methods, it isn’t that difficult to understand. I’ve explained here all the types of transport in Cuba, to help you figure out how to travel around Cuba safely and decide which type of transportation in Cuba is best for you.
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Flights in Cuba
There are international airports in several destinations in Cuba, including Havana, Varadero, Holguin, Camaguey, Santiago, Santa Clara, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Manzanillo and Cienfuegos, so depending on where you start your journey you could fly into one of these airports and continue your journey, perhaps flying into one airport and out of another if you plan on travelling around Cuba for a while. Many other destinations have smaller national airports too.
If you plan to visit the south area of the island, an internal flight from Havana to Santiago de Cuba will cut down on a long journey time travelling by land but will cost you a lot more than getting around Cuba by bus or train. To give you an idea of flight costs in Cuba, a one-way journey from Havana to Santiago costs around $150 USD and takes about an hour and a half. Check Skyscanner for the options for flights in Cuba, or download the Skyscanner app here.
Taxis in Cuba
It is highly likely that your first experience of transportation in Cuba will be in a taxi. Public transport from airports is not organized well, and there are no bus services that run from the airport in Havana (or other cities) to the city centre. This means that your only real option to get from the airport to Havana city centre will be via taxi. There will be plenty of cars waiting outside to take you to your hotel in Havana, expect to pay around $25 CUC (the same as $25 USD) and it should take about 30-40 minutes. Taxis are often old classic cars, but not always, it is just luck of the draw!
READ MORE: Backpacking Cuba on a Budget
Before you leave the airport, exchange some money at the cash exchange desks. Remember that changing US dollars will incur a 10% fee, so it is best to bring GBP, Euros or Canadian dollars to exchange.
Instead of car taxis, you will often find bici-taxis, horse and carts and even motorbikes and sidecar as options for taxis in Cuba instead of cars, especially outside of central Havana. Make sure you are happy with what the price is before you get in or on your chosen transport, and feel free to haggle or try another option if you think it’s too much. Most transport like this will be in CUP, local Cuban pesos, not the CUC tourist pesos, so be careful not to get those mixed up.
Hiring a Car in Cuba
Renting a car in Cuba is a good option for families, friends or couples who want the freedom and flexibility to travel around Cuba when and where they want. Car rental companies in Cuba are all state-run, so don’t expect to see familiar names like Avis or Hertz; the main car hire companies are Transtur, its sub-brands Rex and Cubacar, and Havanautos.
Most of the cars available are modern European or Asian models, although you can request a classic American car or convertible (which will probably cost more). You can’t book the cars through a third-party or comparison site, you will need to go direct to the company websites, call them on the phone, or go to one of the rental desks at major airports, city centres and hotels.
Cars often sell out in peak times, and from researching online and on forums it seems quite difficult to book a rental car online in advance. I would suggest asking your hotel or casa particular for a recommendation of how to book and with which company to avoid any possible scams. In many cases, hiring a car with a driver will work out cheaper than hiring a car to drive yourself between destinations.
If you do decide to hire a car, you will need a good road map of Cuba, as signage is generally very poor, and without internet, your GPS won’t work!
Hiring a Classic Car with a Driver
There is no doubt that driving around Cuba in a vintage car is a very cool experience. The classic 1950s cars in Cuba are legendary, and although a lot of the cars are in poor condition, some Cubans in Havana and other cities have spent a lot of money making their cars look incredible. This option isn’t cheap though, but it is good fun, and perhaps is more suited for shorter trips around Havana, or between Havana and Varadero for example. In the main squares around Havana you will see rows of beautiful cars lined up waiting for tourists, so ask a few what they charge for an hour or two and see if you can haggle to get a fair price.
Colectivos are shared taxis which transport people between towns and often work out to be a similar price as the Viazul buses. This is a good option for getting around Cuba if there are a few of you travelling together, or if you meet other people to share the colectivo and the cost of the journey. Prices are not fixed, so haggle well – or ask your Casa Particular host to help you arrange the best price. If you are willing to pay more, you will be able to hire the colectivo just for you and have a private trip. They are often classic cars, but usually not in a very good condition, which is arguably a more authentic Cuban experience! If you are travelling alone, be aware that if you hire a colectivo, the driver will more than likely stop to pick up other people along the way.
Travel by Bus in Cuba
Viazul buses are designed for tourists to travel between various places in Cuba. The buses are relatively comfortable, and air-conditioned, and can be booked in advance online (at least 14 days before travel) or at any Viazul bus station around Cuba.
In Havana, the Viazul bus terminal is outside the city centre, so you’ll need to take a taxi to get there. During peak season, it is best to book the tickets in advance if you can, as buses sometimes sell out. Check the bus timetables online as you are planning a trip to Cuba so you have an idea of how long it will take to get to each destination, and when the buses leave. Make sure you leave plenty of time for your journey, as buses often arrive later than scheduled! Remember, Cuba is not an experience to be rushed.
Travelling around Cuba by Train
It is possible to travel around Cuba by train to most cities, but the trains are notoriously unreliable, usually delayed, very slow, and uncomfortable. It is a cheap way of getting around Cuba, but if you have a set schedule, I wouldn’t recommend it.
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Transportation in Cuba Just for Cubans
Cuban people have their own ways of travelling around Cuba, which is a lot cheaper than the transport for tourists. In some cases, it might be possible for you to take some of these local transports, but sometimes the drivers won’t let you on board if they see you are a tourist. Trucks, camiones, and gua-guas (pronounced wah-wahs) are commonly used by Cubans, and they bump along the roads with questionable brakes and basic benches for seats.
I don’t recommend using these for any long journeys, but they can be a great way to experience what life is really like in Cuba for Cuban people. I took one from Cienfuegos to Santa Clara, and it felt like the longest journey of my life! Cuban citizens can also use the Omnibus buses, which you need a national ID card to board, so tourists definitely can’t use those.
What is the Best Way of Getting Around Cuba?
I used a combination of Viazul buses and colectivos to travel long distances between cities. In the cities and towns, I used taxis, horse-drawn carts, bici-taxis, whatever was going really! Don’t be afraid to haggle and ask around for a good price. Your accommodation owners can give you an idea of how much transport from place to place should cost – although you will always be charged more than a local you don’t have to get ripped off every time! The main thing about enjoying travelling in Cuba is to sit back and relax. Don’t rush, don’t stress out and enjoy the experience!
Have you been to Cuba? Any types of transport in Cuba that I’ve missed? Please share your comments below.
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