Getting Around in Cuba
Cuba is a big island, and there are more than a handful of ways to get around it. How you travel around Cuba will depend on your budget, timeline, route, and travel style. Adventurous types will want to look into renting a car, while others might be more inclined to take tourist buses and taxis. Whatever you do, one thing is for certain: you’re going to have a fantastic time exploring Cuba.
Larger cities in Cuba usually have an airport. Flights fill up early, especially during the high season, so it’s recommended to book flights well in advance. Delays and schedule changes are common, and tickets are usually nonrefundable. All of the airlines are owned and operated by the state, including Cubana, Aerogaviota, and Aerocaribbean. Thankfully, modern planes have replaced many of the rickety Soviet aircrafts.
By Rental Car
Cuba is a wonderful country to explore via rental car. The majority of Cuban roads are in good or at least decent condition, and many of the top destinations are just a few hours drive from one another. For travelers who want the freedom to direct the course of their own trip, rental cars are a great option.
Gas costs about the same as it does in the United States, but the cars themselves are fairly expensive to rent. That’s because the demand exceeds the supply. Due to this, you’ll need to reserve a rental car well in advance (two months is recommended). It can cost anywhere from CUC50–CUC200 per day to rent a car, although there may be discounts on cars that are rented for more than a week.
There are a number of different cars you can rent, including Audis and BMWs. One of the most popular (and cheapest) options is the Geely CK. This car does well on short trips, but has a weak engine and struggles with steep inclines. If you’ll be driving through Cuba’s more mountainous areas – including the Sierra Escambray and Sierra Maestra – you may want to rent something more powerful.
The public bus system in Cuba is notoriously bad. Locals stand along the highway for hours waiting for a bus to come, and they often end up trying to hitch rides with anyone going in their direction.
Most people take trucks, or camiones, when traveling from town to town. These trucks come in several shapes and sizes—some hold people in a large metal container with windows cut out in the sides; others are flatbed trucks lacking a roof. The fare is paid in pesos, and officially, foreigners are not allowed to ride in the trucks.
Tourist buses are your best bet. The Víazul buses run between major destinations, including Havana, Santiago, Trinidad, Veradero, Viñales, Baracoa, Cienfuegos, Camagüey, and others. These charter buses are air conditioned and fairly modern.
Tourist taxis, known as turistaxis, are found in town squares and outside hotels. These taxis rarely use a meter, and will negotiate a price with you before the ride begins—do note, however, that turistaxis are the most expensive taxi option. They are typically modern cars and are always leased from the state.
Legalized in 2009, private taxis offer similar services as turistaxis, except these cars are privately owned. The vehicle type can be everything from a Mercedes-Benz to a Lada. Agree on a fare before you leave.
Another option is colectivos, which tend to be old American cars and are used as shared cabs by Cubans. You’ll see these cabs everywhere, especially in larger cities like Havana. To flag them down, all you have to do is wave. These are much cheaper than tourist taxis.
Coco-taxis look like a yellow hollowed-out egg. These tricycle vehicles only have three wheels and often only sport two seats. They sometimes charge the same rate as tourist taxis, and typically lack seatbelts.
Bicycle taxis, known as bici-taxis, are a staple of transportation in Cuba’s cities. Bici-taxis are usually much cheaper than car taxis, and are a good option if you’re trying to jump from sight to sight in a city and aren’t in a rush. Agree on a fare before the ride begins.
Horse-drawn buggies are widely used in Cuba. In most places, locals use the buggies to get from town to town. In more touristy destinations, however, there are upscale buggies with leather seats and impressive carriages.
You’ll see people standing along the side of the road everywhere in Cuba. The transportation system here is utterly dysfunctional, leaving most people to try and hitchhike to their destination. Many people wave pesos at passing cars in an attempt to get them to stop. There are even official hitchhiking posts where state employees work at flagging down state vehicles and securing a ride for the hitchhikers. As a traveler, it’s not recommended to hitchhike – mainly because it will take you forever to get where you’re going. Your safety is also in the hands of the driver.