Transportation in Cuba
Colectivos / Almendrones
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 will often treat you like a tourist and ask you to pay a higher price.
- They will only stop if they have room as people hop in and out as needed along the route. The smaller your group, the more likely a colectivo will stop for you.
- The standard cost is 10 Cuban peso nacionales, which is about 50 cents in CUC/USD. Confirm the price before getting in.
- 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 and treat you like a tourist. Think of the stops like you would when taking a bus.
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 Taxis - Yellow ones 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'll possibly end up being cheaper than the metered price.
- Grancar - These are old Chevys painted yellow. They are very expensive. A trip in a Grancar will cost $30-50 CUC per hour.
Intercity - 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:
- Print out your reservation confirmation ahead of time and bring it with you.
- 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.
Astro is the company for intercity buses that locals take. However, Astro buses 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; 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 as they only cost 1 CUP (about $0.05). But you'll have to deal with some inconveniences as these buses are very crowded, there's no A/C and pickpockets are common.
Here's the Havana bus network map.
Private Car Services
Perhaps you'd like the convenience of a private car between destinations in Cuba. This typically costs around 30-40 CUC per hour. At this rate, a 3-hour trip from Santiago to Baracoa will probably cost about 100-120 CUC. This lets 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 casa owner in your city of origin. They usually work with someone they trust and they will 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.
Only 10% of travelers end up renting cars so this can be an adventurous and unique way to explore the country. 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's what you need to know about renting a car and driving in Cuba:
- 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 is generally the same no matter which company you choose.
- Most car rental bookings can be made online. It's simple to compare prices at carrentalcuba.com.
- Always book well in advance because availablity 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 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 major lack of road signage in Cuba. 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.
- 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 so you'll need to go slowly.
- Most highways have a speed limit of 100 kph.
Taking the train in Cuba is a unique experience. 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. But if you've got the time to travel slowly, it's a unique, safe way to travel with locals. For more detailed info, check out Seat61's site.