Getting Around in Cuba

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Camello, the local bus in Havana

Camello, the local bus in Havana

Hans-Peter Harmsen

By car

The easiest way to explore Cuba is to rent a car. The roads are fairly good and very quiet. Just beware of the many pedestrians, bikers, horse carts and even oxen that travel slowly even on the high ways.Anyway consider that in some parts of the island driving is for the adventurous, and car rentals are not inexpensive. Many drivers do not use their lights at night, and many roads have few or no markings. You may be able to hire a car and driver for nearly the same cost. This varies by city; in some areas tourists are forbidden to ride in private vehicles and must use only the hard-currency taxis.

Cars can be rented everwhere. It's even possible to return the car in a different city than where you rented it.

Many Cubans hitchhike as a means of getting around and locally the activity is known as hacer botella (literally 'to make a bottle' with the hand). Government vehicles are legally required to pick up hitchhikers if they have the room and town exits and major crossroads often have yellow-clad amarillo officials armed with clipboards to organize the Cubans waiting for a ride.

By Air

Cuba has an extensive domestic air network that services all of the regional centers and flights within the country are not very expensive. Most domestic flights are on smaller propeller aircraft and they are 25% cheaper if booked in conjunction with your international ticket.

By Bus

Since 1991 long-distance bus services have been wound back and nowadays getting a ticket can be difficult - an in-person advance purchase will be required as will an in-person reconfirmation two hours prior to departure. Although train travel is now much more viable there are still some important connections that are only serviced by bus. Some enterprising locals have converted large trucks (camiones) into public transport vehicles and offer trips along the popular bus runs.

The Viazul bus system is an efficient and comfortable mode of intercity transportation in Cuba. You can see their schedules and prices on their websites; sometimes reservations csan be made this way. Sometimes they'll email you, but you may have to wait a day or two for a reply. It should be quite easy to obtain a ticket at the station. The buses are clean and run on time. Few Cubans travel by Viazul due to the cost, which must be paid in hard currency.

Be aware that Cuba has some tremendous distances between cities. The trip from Havana to Santiago de Cuba can take nearly 15 hours by bus. Better to fly that long way because the bus goes through some very rural areas (nothing to see) and most of the trip is at night. However, if you plan to visit intervening stops the bus may be a good choice.

By Rail

The demise of the Jamaican railway in 1992 means that Cuba is now the only Caribbean country with a functioning railway. Trains service all of the regional capitals and are a much more reliable and hassle-free way of getting around Cuba than the buses. Tickets are easy to get and Cuban train travel can be a relaxing and colorful way to see the country.

Local transportation

If you stay in a resort or a hotel in a resort area, it is easy to get a taxi, horse drawn buggy or a little motorcycle/golfcart type of vehicle to take you where you want to go. Make sure you confirm a price before accepting the ride. We found it quite easy to walk up to the main road and wait for a bus going in our direction. The driver has a partner who decides if they are going where you want to go and then decides on a reasonable fare.

Contributors
December 18, 2004 change by giorgio
December 18, 2004 change by hpharmsen

[Add Local transport mode]

By Camioneta

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For the nimble, traveling by camioneta is remarkably cheap-only a few pesos around or between cities. The camioneta is a lorry-style truck that may or may not be enclosed with a tarp to shield passengers from sun and rain, and involves a high step up to an often-crowded truck bed. Seating on a metal bench may or may not be available. Due to the close conditions, consider securing your valuables.

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