Getting

Around

Whether you are visiting for a short city break or rural country retreat, discover how best to reach your destination and travel like a pro.

Arriving by Air

Havana’s José Martí International Airport is Cuba’s main airport, but international flights also arrive at Varadero, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Holguín and Cayo Largo. European and Canadian budget airlines fly to these airports and several US airlines also offer scheduled flights to most cities. Cubana Aviación runs internal flights within the country.

There is no public bus service between downtown Havana and the international airport; taxis are the only option. For information on getting to and from Cuba’s main airports, see the table opposite.

Cubana Aviación

cubana.cu

Train Travel

Cuba has a single rail line that runs the length of the island between Pinar del Río and Santiago de Cuba, with a few short branch lines. Service is unreliable and uncomfortable, and reservations are essential but difficult to make. Tickets can only be purchased from the station from which you’re departing, up to five days in advance. Foreign visitors need to show their passports.

Long-Distance Bus Travel

The Ómnibus Nacionales operates intercity buses, but visitors are barred from using these. Víazul connects most cities and resorts using modern air-conditioned coaches. Fares are very reasonable, and children’s fares are half-price. Reservations must be made up to six days in advance. Services depart from the town’s main bus station or plaza.

Conectando runs between designated hotels. Reservations can be made at tour agencies and at tour desks in hotel lobbies. Note that bags weighing over 20 kg (44 lbs) will incur a charge.

Víazul

viazul.com

Conectando

viajescubanacan.com

Public Transport

Most cities operate multiple transport services comprising buses, taxis, rudimentary bicitaxis (tricycles) and camiones (lorries).

Buses

Travelling by bus in Cuba can be something of an adventure. It is made easier in the capital, however, by the hop-on/hop-off air-conditioned tourist bus service, HabanaBusTour, with two different routes around town. Route 1 starts in Parque Central and travels west to Plaza de la Revolución, while Route 2 heads east to the Playas del Este.

In Havana, most public buses (guaguas – pronounced wahg-wahs) are modern, but in provincial towns and cities the standard of buses varies wildly. They range from luxurious air-conditioned cruisers to old and weary Soviet- era vehicles. Fares, which are charged in pesos, are incredibly cheap, but vehicles are usually crowded, and waiting times can be very long. Due to these inconveniences, you’ll find that very few visitors use public buses.

In provincial cities, many buses are camellos – huge articulated guaguas pulled by trucks and introduced during the “Special Period” to ease the transport crisis. Usually packed to capacity, and far from comfortable, they carry several hundred people at a time. It is not hard to see how they earned their name – “camels” – as they have an inverted hump.

Neighbouring towns and rural areas are served by camiones: crude conversions of pre-revolutionary lorries. Privately owned, they’re usually extremely crowded and insufferably hot in summer months, with passengers often exposed to the elements.

Transtur operates hop-on/hop-off sightseeing buses in Havana and popular venues, such as Viñales, Trinidad and Cayo Coco.

Transtur

transtur.tur.cu

Taxis

Cuba has multiple types of taxis. State-run Cubataxi operates yellow “tourist taxis” nationwide. Prices (in $s) are reasonable, especially outside Havana. Fares are often negotiable as drivers lease the vehicles from the state. They can be hailed outside major hotels and at taxi stands (piqueras) on the main squares or radio-dispatched by phone.

Cubataxi also operates coco-taxis in Havana and major tourist destinations. Roughly shaped like coconuts, these open-air motorized tricycles are a fun way to explore the sites.

Cubans almost exclusively use private colectivo taxis, which are shared with other passengers and are licensed to operate like buses along fixed routes, picking up and dropping off as many people as they can hold. Fixed fares (in pesos) are cheap; typically 50 centavos. Vehicles are invariably beaten- up pre-revolutionary classics or Soviet Ladas. In Santiago de Cuba, small motorcycles – moto-taxis – are the main form of taxi for single-person rides.

The default mode of transport for short journeys within La Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and provincial cities is the bicitaxi, a rickshaw- like tricycle with shade-covered seats. They circulate around these areas, or can be found outside hotel entrances. Visitors are typically charged in pesos convertible; be sure to negotiate the fare before departing as scamming of foreign visitors is common.

Classic pre-revolutionary American cars are available for rent as chauffeured touring vehicles and taxis in cities throughout the island. They are also called taxis and are easily recognizable because they have the Taxis Cuba sign and logo on both sides. In Havana, these quirky cars can be hired on Parque Central and outside deluxe hotels. Driving down the Malecón in one of these shiny old-school cruisers is a quitessential Cuban experience. Tourists can also legally ride in local taxi colectivos – old American cars, which bear the sign TAXI in the window.

In most towns and rural communities, crude horse-drawn carriages called coches ply the streets and charge a few pesos.

Boats and Ferries

Simple lanchas (ferries) link La Habana Vieja to the communities of Casablanca and Regla, charging a small fee in pesos. A similar service is offered to Cayo Granma, in Santiago de Cuba. High-speed hydrofoil catamarans offer a service to Isla de la Juventud from Surgidero de Batabanó, on the Caribbean shore south of Havana. Reservations must be made at least one day in advance at the Naviera Cubana Caribeña office in Havana’s Terminal de Ómnibus.

Driving

One of the best ways to explore Cuba is by car. Traffic is extremely light, and most Cubans are safe drivers. Make sure you are familiar with the rules of the road and have all the necessary documentation, as traffic police (tránsitos) are ubiquitous and efficient.

Driving in Cuba

Cuba has an extensive network of paved roads. The one-lane main highway – the Carretera Central – runs through the centre of the island from Pinar del Río in the west to Guantánamo in the east. The country’s main artery, it connects all the major cities. The disjointed Circuito Norte runs along the north shore and connects to the Carretera Central by feeder roads. A motorway (autopista) connects Havana to Pinar del Río and Santa Clara. Caution is required when driving as many highways are badly deteriorated and there are often many unpredictable obstacles.

Car Rental

To rent a car in Cuba you must be over 21 and have a valid national driver’s licence or International Driver’s Permit (IDP). Check with your local automobile association about obtaining an IDP.

Cuba’s competing car rental agencies are all state-run and no international companies are represented. It’s wise to make reservations well in advance as vehicles are in short supply, especially in high season. Prices are expensive, although discounts apply for rentals of a week or longer. A deposit is required, and you must pay in advance in cash for the first tank of fuel. The three rental agencies (Cubacar, Havanautos and Rex) operated by Transtur don’t mind if you return the vehicle with an empty tank; Vía requires that the vehicle be returned with the same amount of fuel as when you depart. You may be required to take the car to a local office at a specific designated kilometre reading (noted on your contract as aviso próximo mantanimiento). A $50 fine usually applies for failure to honour this. Note, too, that your contract also states that it is illegal to pick up hitchhikers.

International insurance coverage is invalid in Cuba. You will be required to purchase either limited Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or fully comprehensive insurance, but note that the “comprehensive” option has limitations, and your insurance may be invalidated if you are found guilty of causing an accident or if your blood alcohol concentraion level is found to exceed 0.05 per cent.

Transtur

transtur.tur.cu

Vía

gaviota-grupo.com

Rules of the Road

Drive on the right, use the left lane only for passing and yield to traffic from the right.

Seat belts are required for all front-seat passengers. A strict drink-drive policy is enforced, and it is wise to avoid all alcohol if intending to drive.

During the day, headlights are not officially permitted except during heavy rain. However, it is wise to turn on your headlights at all times and tránsitos usually permit visitors leeway.

Every so often on the autopista (motorway) you will see signs telling you to reduce your speed to around 50 km/h (30 mph). Do not ignore these instructions, as they are often followed by road blocks. In general, the police are quite tolerant of tourists, but being caught speeding may invalidate your car insurance so always stick to the limit.

In the event of an accident or breakdown, switch on your hazard warning lights and place a warning triangle or small branches, Cuban-style, 50 m (164 ft) behind your vehicle. If you are involved in an accident, do not move your vehicle. Accidents involving injury or death are treated as crimes – you may not be allowed to leave Cuba until a trial is held, often resulting in a prison term for the guilty party. Contact your embassy immediately if you are involved in a fatal accident.

Maps

An excellent and detailed road atlas, Guía de Carreteras, is sold throughout Cuba in souvenir outlets and at Infotur offices. Ask your car hire company for a free automapa, which shows where the Servi-Cupet service stations are located across the island.

Parking

Theft of car parts (but rarely of cars) is a potential problem, especially at night. Always park your car in a parqueo (designated car park) wherever possible as almost all of these will have a custodio (guard) or park on the roadside if it is attended by a state-employed custodio (easily identified by their red waistcoats). Private custodios can also be hired to watch your car overnight for a few pesos convertible.

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is common among Cubans of all ages. However, it is illegal for Cubans to pick up foreigners and foreign embassies warn against the practice. Always consider your own safety before entering an unknown vehicle.

Bicycle and Motorcycle Hire

Although cycling is well established in provincial cities, few Habaneros ride bicycles. Nonetheless, several companies in Havana, such as Bike Rentals & Tours, rent bicycles to visitors.

Many travellers bring their own bicycles to the island. If you do this, a sturdy lock is essential and be sure to park in bicycle garages (bici parqueos) wherever available to avoid potential thefts. Bicycle mechanics can easily be found anywhere in the country, but it’s wise to bring all the spare parts you may need.

No motorcycles are available for rent in Cuba, but scooters can be hired in most cities and tourist resorts from state tour agencies. No licence is required.

Bike Rentals & Tours

bikerentalhavana.com

Need to know Getting Around

At a Glance

Transport costs

Book your Víazul coach ticket as early as possible to ensure that you get a seat.

Need to know Getting Around

Speed Limit

Need to know Getting Around

GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT

Airport Distance to City Taxi fare Journey time
Havana (José Martí) 25 km (16 miles) $25 35 mins
Camagüey (Ignacio Agramonte) 9 km (5 miles) $10 10 mins
Ciego de Ávila (Máximo Gómez) 22 km (14 miles) $15 25 mins
Cienfuegos (Jaime González) 5 km (3 miles) $8 7 mins
Holguín (Frank País) 10 km (6 miles) $10 12 mins
Santa Clara (Abel Santamaría) 10 km (6 miles) $10 12 mins
Santiago de Cuba (Antonio Maceo) 8 km (5 miles) $8 10 mins
Varadero (Juan Gualberto Gómez) 16 km (10 miles) $15 20 mins

Need to know Getting Around

JOURNEY PLANNER

Plotting the main driving routes according to journey time, this map is a handy reference for travelling between Cuba’s main towns and cities by car. The times given reflect the fastest and most direct routes available.

alt image
Bayamo to Santiago de Cuba 2 hr
Camagüey to Las Tunas 2 hr
Ciego de Ávila to Camagūey 2 hr
Ciego de Ávila to Cayo Coco 1 hr
Cienfuegos to Playa Larga 2 hr
Cienfuegos to Trinidad 1.5 hr
Havana to Matanzas 2 hr
Havana to Pinar del Río 2.5 hrs
Havana to Playa Larga 3 hrs
Havana to Santa Clara 4 hrs
Holguín to Bayamo 1.5 hr
Las Tunas to Holguín 1.5 hr
Matanzas to Varadero 1 hr
Pinar del Río to Viñales 0.5 hr
Santa Clara to Cienfuegos 1.5 hr
Santa Clara to Sancti Spíritus 1.5 hr
Sancti Spíritus to Ciego de Ávila 1.5 hr
Santiago de Cuba to Guantánamo 1.5 hr
Trinidad to Sancti Spíritus 1.5 hr
Varadero to Santa Clara 3 hrs
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