The Best and Worst Methods of Transportation in Cuba
Updated March 13, 2018
So you've landed in Cuba, now how do you get around? We've got you covered with everything you need to know about transportation in Cuba!
Before your trip, make sure to check out:
- You Can Still Travel to Cuba: 2018 Update
- Cuba FAQ
- Cuban Tourist Cards and Visas
- Cuba Info for Americans
- Our homepage on Cuba
- Contact us with your Questions
Colectivos, or as the Cubans call them, almendrones, are shared taxis that travel along a fixed route. You'll find these mostly in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. They are usually colorful, old cars from the 1950s with a taxi sign in the window. Here are a few tips for using almendrones:
- To flag one down, stand along the route in the direction you want to go, and then raise your hand when you see one.
- You can flag one down at any point along the route, but if you wait in front of prominent hotels or tourist spots, drivers are more likely to treat you like a tourist and ask you to pay a higher price.
- The standard cost is 10 Cuban peso nacionales (CUP), which is about 50 cents in CUC/USD. Confirm the price before getting in.
- Drivers will only stop if they have room in the car when they see you. People hop in and out as needed along the route, so you might have to let a couple of almendrones pass by before you see one with enough space. The smaller your group, the more likely a colectivo will stop for you.
- Tell the driver which cross street you need to get to and ask him to drop you off at the closest stop. If you ask him to drop you off at a hotel, they'll charge you normal taxi prices and treat you like a tourist.
Here's a map of the Havana colectivo routes.
There are many types of taxis in Havana. These are the ones you need to know about when traveling:
- Coco Taxi - Yellow coco taxis are for tourists (you'll pay in CUC), black and yellow are for locals (you'll pay in pesos). You can safely negotiate the price ahead of time in either type. You'll spend $5 for most trips within the city, which is a decent price.
- Cuba Taxi - These are state-run taxis. You can ask them to use the meter, but if you negotiate the price ahead of time, it may be cheaper than the metered price.
- Grancar - These are old Chevy's that have been painted yellow. They are the most expensive taxis. A trip in a Grancar will cost $30-50 CUC per hour.
Ask a trip planner for details on specific trips between cities or for the best way to get to a specific spot.
In some cities, particularly Havana and Camaguey, you might spot pedicabs/bicycle taxis. They're obviously slower than riding in a car, but they can be a fun way to do a little sightseeing in Old Havana. If you see one, just flag it down. Your ride will probably cost just a few CUC depending on how far you go. As with all other taxis, ask for the price before getting in.
Intercity Buses - Viazul or Astro
Buses between cities are run by the company Viazul. They are safe, reliable, air-conditioned, and cheap by tourist standards. You can check schedules, make reservations, and pay for buses on Viazul's website. Here's what you need to know to successfully use Viazul in Cuba:
- Book your ticket well in advance.
- Print out your reservation confirmation ahead of time and bring it with you. (Remember: this likely means printing it before you leave the US since internet access in Cuba is limited.)
- 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. Make sure you go to the right one.
- Arrive at the bus station an hour early. Your reservation is confirmed, but you will generally need to stand in line to get a ticket with your confirmation email. This is usually the same line for buying tickets, but it's good to ask around first so you don't waste time in the wrong line.
- Bring a sweater. The buses are usually pretty chilly from the air conditioning.
Locals tend to take the intercity buses run by Astro. They're cheaper than Viazul buses, but we don't recommend using them if you're on a short trip with a full itinerary. Astro buses are hard to get a seat on, aren't air conditioned, break down often, and are unreliable. Avoid Transgaviota buses as these are affiliated with the Cuban military tour company and Americans are not allowed to spend money at businesses affiliated with it.
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; there are 17 main routes, all with a P preceding the number from 1 to 16, and one named P-C. They run about every 10 minutes in peak hours. They're super cheap - they only cost 1CUP (about $0.05). But you'll have to deal with some inconveniences if you choose this method of transportation in Cuba. These buses are very crowded, there's no A/C, and pickpockets are common. You're going to stand out as a foreigner so keep a close eye on your bags and know which stop you need before getting on.
Here's the Havana bus network map.
Still not sure which bus is best for your trip? Cuban travel expert Maurice can offer guidance.
Large trucks are a complement to the public transit system in Cuba. Because the public buses can be unreliable, there are plenty of trucks running similar routes both within and between cities. The trucks are usually hot and uncomfortable, but they're popular transportation in Cuba. Some even have their own schedules. Costs vary and their target market is locals, sometimes you'll encounter a truck driver who won't let non-Cubans on board.
Private Car Services
Taking a private car between destinations in Cuba can be convenient enough to be worth the steep price, especially on short trips. Hiring a private car typically costs around 30-40CUC per hour, so it is one of the most expensive options for transportation in Cuba. At this rate, a three-hour trip from Santiago to Baracoa will probably cost about 100-120CUC. But, this allows you to be completely flexible with your itinerary. Plus, you get door-to-door service instead of taking a taxi to/from the bus station on either end.
These are the best options for hiring a private car:
- Contact your trip planner or casa owner in your city of origin. They usually work with someone they trust and can arrange the private car service for you.
- Use Yo Te Llevo to book a driver online. The company takes your request and connects you with a driver that can make your trip. The only issue is that they don't always find a driver match and when they don't, they simply don't respond. So if you don't get a response, make sure to contact someone else.
Only 10% of travelers end up renting cars so this can be an adventurous and unique way to explore the country. Why don't most people rent a car? Car rentals are often expensive ($50+ per day) and you run the risk of them breaking down as many have mid to high mileage. Since there are so many other options for transportation in Cuba, most people don't want the hassle of a car. But if you think having your own car will be fun, here are just a few things to keep in mind...
- First, let's bust a myth: you won't be renting old, classic cars from the 1950s.
- There are four main companies to rent from: Rex, Havanautos, Via and Cubacar. They are all owned by the government, so the pricing and car selection are generally the same no matter which company you choose.
- Most car rental bookings can be made online.
- Always book well in advance because availability is low.
- You pay for the rental when you reserve the car. However, you have to pay for the mandatory car insurance and a full tank of gas in cash at the car rental office.
- One-way rentals are possible. There is usually 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 major lack of road signage in Cuba, which can make navigating a challenge.
- Some knowledge of Spanish is helpful when you need to stop to ask for directions.
- Maps.me has a free app for offline navigation, which is extremely helpful in Cuba. Buying a road map or atlas as a backup is essential. You can't get a GPS unit as they are not allowed in Cuba at this time.
- You'll drive on the right side of the road and driving in Cuba is otherwise very similar to driving in the US.
- The road conditions are OK, but some backroads can be rough and you'll need to go slowly.
- Most highways have a speed limit of 100 kph (62 mph).
- Don't rent a car from Gaviota Tourism Group as this group is run by the Cuban military and Americans are not allowed to make purchases from any organization on the US State Department's Restricted List.
Yes, you can fly between cities in Cuba. Domestic airlines like Aerocaribbean fly between Havana and other cities throughout the island like Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. Almost all flight routes depart or arrive in Havana, the heart of air transportation in Cuba. Flying between Santa Clara and Baracoa, for example, is not possible without a transfer in Havana. Flights range from about 90CUC to 300CUC.
Still need to book your flight to Cuba? You can fly directly from New York, Miami, LA, Atlanta, and Orlando, as well as a few other airports in the US. Use Flighthub to browse your different options and book a flight.
Taking the train in Cuba can be just as much of an adventure as renting a car, maybe even more so. It's hard to find an accurate schedule and to purchase tickets. Trains are slow and unreliable. Plus, it's generally a 'bring your own toilet paper' situation. Overall, it's not the best form of transportation in Cuba. But if you've got the time to travel slowly, it's a unique, safe way to travel with locals. The train travel situation changes quite frequently, for the most up to date information, check out Seat61.
Locals hitchhike all the time in Cuba. Hitchhiking gained popularity as a mode of transportation in Cuba in the early 1990s during the gasoline shortage when the state required all private vehicles to stop for anyone asking for a ride. While people are no longer obligated to stop, hitchhiking is still common. Here's what you need to know:
- Wait near a bridge or junction between roads among a crowd of locals to increase your chance of getting picked up.
- You might get a free ride or you might need to pay for it.
- While there are always risks to hitchhiking, the practice is so common in Cuba that many people are comfortable doing it.
- In some spots, there are even official amarillo points (pickup points) where government officials oversee the hitchhiking.
- However, it can be very inconvenient as you may end up waiting hours for a ride or not getting one at all.