Transportation in Cuba.
There are some airline services offered within the country from Havana to the major Cuban cities. However, the flights are sometimes once a week only. Plus they are not the cheapest travelling option. Still, if you would like to go to Cayo Largo, you have no other choice to get there, as no ferry transportation is offered.
Probably the cheapest option are trains, but they are totally not reliable, stop almost everywhere and actually they should be considered as an experience rather than an option to get from point A to B. The only reliable trains are Nr. 1 and 2 from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. Some claim that they are even faster than the Viazul bus.
If your Cuban vacation is more of catching a glimpse of different places rather than staying in one, the best option for you is taking a bus. The easiest and cheapest way to travel around Cuba is by Viazul buses. The price for the tickets is good, buses run often and on time, and the schedule you can check online: http://www.viazul.com/. Also you can contact them by email and they respond within a few days, sometimes even the same day (taking the time difference into account of course).
Buying tickets: There is a possibility to buy tickets online. However, we were not sure how this functions and how reliable it is, so Dario simply drove with a colectivo to the Viazul bus station in Havana and bought the tickets for the half of our trip. The rest of the tickets we bought in Trinidad.
Checking in: It is said, that you should be at the bus station 30 min before the time your bus is leaving. Well, what is really meant by that is:
- If you bought a ticket, what you really have in your hands is just a receipt. To be able to get into the bus, you have to check in around 1 hour before and turn your receipt into an actual ticket.
- Checking in starts around 1 hour before your bus leaves. You can as well try to come 30 minutes before your departure, but we can’t guarantee you, that the check in room will be still open.
- Sometimes busses leave earlier, even 20 minutes earlier. So in order to save yourself stress, simply come 1 hour before the departure. At the bus stations there are often separate waiting areas for Cubans and tourists (which have air conditioning and even TV). It was absolutely not necessary for us. But maybe someone cares.
Additional payment for luggage: This totally depends on where you get it. For example, in Playa Larga we didn’t pay anything. In other places between 0,5 to 1 CUC per piece. We had two big suitcases, a baby stroller and a baby car seat (the last two we actually could have left at home), so we put the baby stuff on each of the luggage and usually paid just for two pieces. Our backpacks we took with us inside the bus. If anyone from the staff was asking to leave them in the trunk as well, we made begging eyes and said: “por bebe” 😉 But in general, that was not a problem.
There is as well a bus company called Transtur. On our way we met people who travelled with both Viazul and Transtur, and claimed that Transtur has better buses. As we bought our tickets for Viazul in advance and found out about Transtur only later, we didn’t even check the prices anymore.
Car rental in Cuba:
Renting a car in Cuba is not the cheapest option to get around. With the insurance you will have to pay at least 60€ per day. If you decide to rent a car in Cuba from a company in Germany for example, the costs will rise to 70 -80€ per day, with the minimum rental time being 5 days. Though if you are sure that renting a car is what you want to do, be sure to make a reservation a few months ahead, since in the high season it is really difficult to get a car, as there are not many available in general. What you have to be aware of are the conditions of the streets away from the bigger highways (actually there is just one main road, the Carretera Central, spanning the entire island from West to East). Apart from the conditions, streets are often poorly signposted.
ALWAYS NEGOTIATE THE PRICE BEFORE THE DRIVE.
Cubataxi: These taxis are state run and you can easily recognize them by their yellow color. Most of the cars look much better than the regular taxis and are more expensive.
Although we read in the Lonely Planet tour guide that on the long distances it is cheaper to take a taxi than to rent a car, the prices for taxis are not that low.
Regular taxi: Here you can pick from a whole bunch of old Ladas, Moskvich and old American cars such as Plymouths, Chevrolets or Cadillacs. The conditions of those cars are like poetry,you can’t describe them actually. No seat belts, rust, broken doors, smells like diesel inside and you feel the wind inside even if widows are closed. Also checking the speed can be quite difficult since the speedometers are usually broken 😀
We loved them. Also they are much cheaper than Cubataxis. You can usually negotiate a better price, sometimes even the half of what the taxi driver tells you at the beginning. We took them in Havana and other cities, as well for longer distances from Havana to Playa Larga and from Santa Clara to Cayo Santa Maria.
The most important things are: 1. the price has to be set at the beginning of your drive and 2. don’t forget to have sth to cover yourself if you are driving long distances, as it can get really chilly, especially if you are driving with a baby.
Coco-taxi: Those are really fun. Coco taxis are small motorcycles in the shape of coconuts. Driving a coco-taxi at least one time in Havana is a must. The prices are similar to the regular taxis.
Bicitaxi: These are bicycles with seats for passangers to sit on. They cost the same amount as regular or coco taxis and of course are much slower, but it is such fun to drive with them. Bicitaxis are perfect for short distances. How much can they carry? Well, prepare yourself: 2 adults, 1 baby, 1 small backpack, 2 big backpacks, 2 big suitcases, 1 baby stroller, and 1 baby seat. And all of that on ONE bicitaxi! 😀 Seriously, no kidding. A huge respect to our driver in Trinidad, who with all of this not just simply drove, but even drove through cobbled streets on a hill.
Cuban Cars: About cars in Cuba we could write a whole book. They are simply glamorous. You feel like the time froze and you find yourself in the 1950s in the US. Those cars…. You can rent Cuban cars, which is really expensive; you can rent a car with a driver for around 30 CUC per hour, or instead take a ride with colectivo and enjoy the real Cuba.
Colectivos: Shared local Cuban taxis.This is by far the cheapest option to get around. If you want to go from A to B as real Cubans do, take a colectivo.
Colectivos are the same old cars as the “regular taxis” and you will recognize them by the small taxi sign lying somewhere inside of the car. The difference is, that these taxis drive a fixed route and and people hop on and off to get from one point to another. You will have to ask locals (or your casa owner) to find out more about the routes. If you know the street that they are driving, stand on the correct side and simply lift your arm to show that you want to take a ride. Don’t worry, basically EVERY old car is a colectivo.
D: If the car is full, they will show you that by making a sign with their hand that I first interpreted as (go straight). But once they stop, you simply tell them where you want to go (usually you get off at crossings, so telling them the two street names/numbers of the crossing will make them understand quickly) and get into the car. Payment is done either during the ride or when you get off. In Havana the price is 1 CUC, regardless where you are going, always 1 CUC (very convenient!). Remember to ask your casa owner about the price and do not accept any other price (the best is to act totally confident, knowing that e.g. 1 CUC is the price). I am writing that because here is what happened to me when I had my first colectivo experience (from our casa to the Viazul station): The car stops, it is empty. I tell him I want to go to the crossing close to the Viazul station by telling him the street numbers and get into the car. Of course he immediately knows that I am a tourist and says “5 CUC.” I told him that it costs 1 CUC but he insisted that it is 5 CUC. When I said “no,”,I made him stop and I got off. But no big deal, I simply stopped the next car behind that was not completely empty, paid 1 CUC and had a great experience driving as locals do.
BTW, in Havana at the touristic spots (especially around el Capitolio) there are standing a lot of cleaned up and renovated old American cars. The owners will offer you to take a short tour around Havana for a ridiculous high price. This is not a real experience. Take a colectivo instead and feel Cuba.
But remember: Be confident about the price, know the routes of the colectivos (ask your casa owner) and know the street names of the crossing where you want to get off.
D: One more story about baby/kid friendliness: When I drove with a colectivo that was almost full, the driver told all people wanting to get in that the car is full. Until he saw that there was a woman with a small baby standing. He immediately stopped and told us to move closer together so she can get in. In Germany that would never happen, not even when a woman is waiting with her baby in the rain at the official bus station. The only thing you see are emotionless people standing in the bus, staring at the family in the rain and probably thinking “Oh, how bad it is, she has to stand in the rain,” instead of moving ther a*** together to make some space.
Whatever floats your boat:
The truth is: you can drive anything in Cuba. The only limit is your imagination ;P
This simply has to be THE number one for anyone who is Polish. Maluch in Havana, not the first one, not the last one. That’s exactly how mine looks like 🙂
You will be amazed what you can actually see on Cuban streets 😉
Apart from regular cars as taxis, coco-taxis, and bicitaxis you can meet all possible variations of “taxi.” Cienfuegos for example goes with motorcycle taxi. While, horse taxis appeared in Cienfuegos and later in Santa Clara.
This man gets our first price for creativity!!! Taxi Luis – the highlight of Trinidad!!!
And the old good bike:
Trinidad simply comes with horses. Nothing could drive better on the cobbled streets 😉
You think Cuba doesn’t have any more transportation surprises? Well, “everything is possible,” like Osiris, our host in Viñales, used to say. Welcome to Viñales!
Arriving and Leaving Cuba
The most convenient way to go from and to the airport is to take a taxi. The price is fixed – 25 CUC. Still make it clear before getting into one. We asked our casa owners to arrange a taxi for us, it’s so much easier, quicker and convenient. Later on we as well always told the casa owners in other places to arrange us a taxi to and from the bus station. Prices are usually similar or even lower than if you try to negotiate yourself.
One more thing concerning leaving Cuba. On other blogs we read that when leaving Cuba you have to pay 25 CUC per person at the airport. This is no longer the case, which we of course didn’t know. Imagine the face of the Cuban office worker whom I try to give 25 CUC. She thought I wanted to bribe her. Precious 😀
More about Cuba:
How to Prepare Your Trip to Cuba
MerkenFeel free to share:
Emily(25th March 2016 - 3:01 pm)
This blog is massively helpful! I have read so much about transportation and currency (two things that are particularly confusing about Cuba and extremely important). Thank you for taking the time to write this!
lovetravellingfamily(25th March 2016 - 9:13 pm)
Thanks so much for the feedback! Before going to Cuba we tried to get as much info as possible, a piece here, a piece there. We promised to ourselves that after coming back, we have to write how it all works up-to-date. We are really happy that you find our articles useful 🙂 If you have any fresh tips after coming back from your trip, share them with us 🙂 We have as well the Guest section open for anything what comes with travelling 🙂
Nora(7th April 2016 - 8:19 pm)
As a European, I read the article with lots of interest, especially the part about so many different ways of travelling in Cuba. Lots of great information, written in a very interesting way. Good job
lovetravellingfamily(10th April 2016 - 7:18 pm)
🙂 thank you Nora 🙂 Travelling through Cuba in really such fun 🙂