How to Get Around in Cuba
It's easy to get around in Cuba once you know what your options are. From planes to cars to bicycles and everything in between, heres how to get from place to place in Cuba.
If you want to get to or from Havana quickly, then flying is a good way to go. Within Cuba you can travel between Havana and 11 regional airports, but the airports only have domestic flights to Havana and back. You'll always have to transfer in Havana to get around in Cuba by flying. Flight schedules and prices vary but you can easily buy domestic flights at travel agencies in Cuba. One of the most common routes is Havana to Santiago de Cuba since its a long 15 hour bus ride to get to the East side of the island.
Viazul is the main bus company foreigners use to get around in Cuba. Its reliable, comfortable, runs daily, and is generally on time. Viazul buses also make scheduled lunch and dinner stops on long routes. Definitely reserve your seat ahead of time, though. Viazul buses are growing more popular for getting around in Cuba all the time, especially during peak travel season.
There are a few newer bus companies that are beginning to compete with Viazul, but this is the most established one and offers the most convenient travel options.
It's the easiest way to get around in Cuba, but expensive to rent a car. All you need is your US drivers license, your passport, and a refundable security deposit paid by cash or credit card. Reservations for rentals are not guaranteed, so even if you book in advance you may arrive to find that the car you expected isn't available. Although, generally, another car will be available for you to use. Plan to spend at least 70 USD per day for a rental. Believe it or not, taking taxis can be cheaper than renting a car - even over long distances.
If you do rent a car, here's what you need to know:
- Most rentals have manual transmission
- Gas stations are usually open 24 hours and have attendants who pump gas
- You can get help at gas stations if you need minor repairs
- These cars are old, so theres a good chance you'll need to stop for some kind of repair
Once you're out on the road, you'll encounter a variety of obstacles. Some roads are in excellent condition, while others are crumbling. There are very few road signs anywhere. Be prepared to have no idea what the speed limit is, where you need to turn, or whether a street is one-way. There aren't very many other cars on the road, but you will see livestock, bicycles, ox carts, and horses. Keep your eyes open. Stop at train tracks - even the most overgrown, dilapidated tracks are probably still in use and there's no gate that will come down to block you before a train goes by. Needless to say, unless you already feel very comfortable driving in Cuba, renting a car is probably not the best way for you to get around in Cuba.
Taxis are a reliable and metered way to get around in Cuba. The cost begins at a 1 USD base fee, plus 1 USD per kilometer in most cities. Drivers will often offer you a flat rate instead. People are generally honest and flat rates tend to be close to metered rates. The difference is, if you pay a flat rate all the money goes right to the driver whereas metered fares are divided up by the government.
Collectivos are group taxis that are cheaper than standard taxis and are a great way to get around in Cuba. They have fixed routes and you can get in or out anywhere along the route for 10 to 20 pesos nacionales (50 cents to 1 USD). This is the perfect place to use your pesos nacionales to save money and live like a local.
Trains are slow, but they can be a fun, adventurous way to get around in Cuba if you have the time. Seats are old but generally comfortable and people occasionally come through selling coffee (bring your own cup). Changes are made to the train schedule often, so double check everything. Tickets are only available at the train station you are leaving from a maximum of five days in advance. Its best to book a couple of days in advance. You can visit most of the island by train and you'll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the view.
The culture of hitchhiking is more like ride sharing as a way to get around in Cuba. It's legal and organized. In the countryside, amarillos (government officials) organize lines of people who need ride. Just jump right in line with the locals and wait. And then wait some more. There's a chance you'll have to wait a few hours. But you can't beat the price, it costs between 5 and 20 pesos to get just about anywhere. Just remember, even though it's legal, hitchhiking carries the same risks that it does in the US: you're getting a car with someone you don't know.
Camiones are a great way for adventurous travelers to zip quickly between provinces and get around in Cuba. It's essentially a formalized version of hitchhiking, similar to collectivos but across long distances. You might be told that you cannot board, but if you appeal to the right person you'll probably be able to hop on. You pay as you board the hot, crowded truck and then you're simply along for the ride. The schedules are loose, but you'll reach your destination eventually. Just bring some water and a willingness to make friends with your fellow local riders.
Cuban roads are fairly bike friendly and biking is a fun way to get around in Cuba. There is an area on the right reserved for bicycles on most roads - including highways. The most comfortable way to go is to bring your own bike from home. However, you can buy or rent one in country too. Opportunities to purchase a bicycle are more common than finding a rental company. You can generally get great deals buying bicycles from individuals.
Safety notes: despite the bike lanes, it is not safe to ride your bicycle at night. Lighting on the road is awful and many accidents that happen in Cuba involve a car and a bike. Drunk driving is also still an issue in Cuba, especially at night. If you need to get on the road at night, use bike lights, which you should bring with you from home. You'll also need to bring your own helmet. While its relatively easy to rent or buy a bike, helmets are tough to come by. The last thing to remember to bring: a bike lock - because you never want to discover your bike has been stolen.
Overall, the island is relatively easy to navigate. With such a multitude of transportation options available to get around in Cuba, you're sure to find the right mix that'll work with your travel plans and personal preferences!