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Transportation in Cuba – buses, trains, taxis & colectivos in Cuba

Transportation in Cuba can be a little challenging, especially if you’re wanting to travel to places in Cuba that are off the beaten track.  The type of transport that you’ll want to use in Cuba will depend on the locations that you want to go to, your budget and the amount of time you have to spend in Cuba.  We’ll aim to cover all your options and focus on those that you’ll use the most often.  The most common form of transport for tourists visiting Cuba is the Viazul bus service, followed by taxis and hired cars and drivers.   The types of transport available in Cuba also depends on whether you’re travelling within cities and towns and also between the main towns and cities of Cuba.  Ready to dive in?  Come on in and discover Cuba’s transportation network.

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Transportation in Cuba

To understand transportation in Cuba, it’s first necessary to understand the geography of Cuba.  So, here’s a map, showing the main towns, cities and areas of Cuba that visitors travel to.

Cubas Best Travel Locations Map

The second thing that you should understand about Cuban transport is that the distances are almost irrelevant.  You need to consider the time between destinations.  Roads aren’t great, sometimes buses stop lots more often than you’d think, vehicles don’t travel as fast.  There are many variables, but you simply can’t count on being able to travel 60 miles in an hour.   There’s more further in this article on the state of Cuba’s road network.

Where do Visitors Travel to In Cuba?

The vast majority of tourists to Cuba will travel only as far east as Vinales and as far north as Varadero.  Most tourists won’t go further east than Cienfuegos or Trinidad.  A smaller number make it as far east as Santiago de Cuba and it’s the more adventurous, or those with more time on their hands that head to places like Baracoa or Holguin.  Cayo Coco is popular as a beach resort, but those travelling there tend to travel to spend time there and head right back to the airport in Havana.

Roads and Road Conditions in Cuba

There are just over 60,000 kilometres of road on the island of Cuba.  That’s just over 37,000 miles.  That figure is estimated from 1999, but to be honest there hasn’t been much in the way of new road building since then either.   The kicker is that only 49% of the roads in Cuba are paved.   And of the paved roads, a grand total of ONLY 915 kilometres (568 miles) are expressways.

And that’s before you consider that many of the roads are in poor condition.  And also unlit at night, which normally isn’t a problem but once you get outside the cities and towns, there’s the chance of free-roaming animals, so it’s likely a good thing that the roads aren’t better, as you’re less likely to be travelling at speed and hit them.

It takes a LONG time to go ANYWHERE in Cuba.

So to understand the transport in Cuba we need to divide it into Cuban transportation within cities and Cuban transport between cities.    Let’s start with transport within Cities and Towns.

Transportation in Cuba – urban transport

As with any city or town that you’d travel to there are a variety of transport options when it comes to getting around towns and cities in Cuba.  As with any other country, there are private transport options in Cuba and public transport in Cuba style. Public buses, private transfers, taxis, coco taxis and more – they’re all options for getting around the urban centres of Cuba.

Taxis in Cities in Cuba

A private taxi is the most common form of transport for visitors and travellers to Cuba when it comes to getting around Cuban cities.  You’ll have the most choice in the types of taxi in Havana.  Choices will reduce and the quality and maintenance of the vehicles also reduce as you move further away from Havana. There are generally two types of Cuban taxis – private and shared.

Prebooked Transfers and Taxi’s in Cities

A large proportion of the travellers to Cuba don’t speak much Spanish.  Many of the taxi drivers speak only Spanish.  And the Cuban dialect is pretty tough to comprehend too.  So you’ll often find that pre-booking your taxis and transfers (and prepaying them before you travel) is a MUCH easier way to get around Cuba.  We used and recommend Civitatis – you can check prices and book Cuban transportation here.

Coco Taxis

A Coco Taxi is something that you’ll only see in Cuba.  This vehicle is motorised, albeit with a tiny motor and can transport up to 3 people at a time.   They’re called Coco-Taxi’s because they have a hard plastic shell that covers the back seat that makes it look a little like a coconut.

These taxis are primarily for tourists, so you’ll find them usually only in the places where lots of tourists are present – look for them at the Presidente Hotel or Hotel Nacional for instance).  You’ll likely only find them in Havana, Trinidad and Varadero.    Prices for these taxis start at US$2 or about US$20 for an hour-long city tour.  Always agree on the price and the destination before you get in the taxi.  Coco taxis are slower, noisier and smaller than regular taxis.

Private Taxis – Cuba Taxi’s

It’s easy to find a private taxi in Cuba.  Simply stand on virtually any street corner and look like a visitor.  They’ll find you.  You’ll find different types of taxis

  • State-run taxis which are supposed to use the meter.  But usually don’t.  Negotiate a price beforehand and you’ll likely all feel better about it.
  • Grancar Taxis are the painted yellow taxis.  They’ll cost you the equivalent of USD$30-50 an hour.  But you’ll travel mostly in comfort.

Classic Car Transport in Cities

For me, the classic cars that have been restored and that tout their trade around the main tourist towns and cities of Cuba are one thing that you SHOULD NOT MISS in Cuba.  They’re glorious.  Read about Classic car tours here. You can take tours in Cuban classic cars in Havana, Trinidad and Vinales to mention just three locations.  Check out pre-booking and get some awesome cars to travel in here.

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Cuban Public Buses within Cities

There are public bus services in cities and towns within Cuba.  It’s one of the cheapest ways of getting around urban areas.  The Havana public transport system for instance lets you get to any part of the city for the equivalent of US$0.05.  It’s also very crowded.  And the timetables are, shall we say, a little fluid.  These buses are very slow and stop very often.

Cuban Transport between Cities

When it comes to transport between cities in Cuba, you have several options.  We will cover all of these.

The Viazul Bus Network Cuba’s Tourist Bus Service

The main mode of transport for budget travellers are the Cuba buses. This in reality means that Cuba bus company – Viazul and the Viazul Bus Network.  This network is usually used only by tourists (it’s priced out of the market for most Cubans).  The Viazul network goes to most of the places that budget travellers will want to go to.  We used it so much we wrote a Viazul Bus Ultimate Guide.  You will find the most comprehensive guide on Cuba Bus routes in that article.

Viazul usually updates its timetable once a year.  In November 2021 they’ve made some fabulous updates, including adding airport transfers!! We can send you the timetable (for free) as a PDF – which is infinitely easier than navigating the Viazul website. Click Here to Get Your Copy

Of course, the Viazul bus in Cuba isn’t your only Cuban Transport Option.  There are others.  First of all “other buses” and trucks. The names that you will see for Cuban bus transportation are Viazul Bus, Astro bus, Connectando and Transtur Cuba Bus and Cuban bus travel differs significantly from other countries.

Cuba’s Connectando Buses

The widely touted “new” Connectando bus which runs generally between hotels in Varadero and Havana.  We couldn’t find any that were going where we wanted to go.  You need to go into a travel agency or go to a hotel to book your tickets.

You can find the Cuban Connectando Bus schedule here, but please check on arrival in Cuba for validity. Because this is Cuba. And things change.

Read more on how to get from Varadero to Havana here

Astro Buses in Cuba

The Cuba bus system that is usually used for Cubans is called Astro.  The Astro bus Cuba service is generally used by Cubans – and folks who can get away with looking or sounding Cuban.  There are only a few seats allocated for foreigners on each bus.  Each time we tried to get an Astro Cuba bus – or at least buy a ticket, we were turned away and pointed at Viazul or Taxi Colectivos.  I guess the blonde hair and blue eyes was a bit of a giveaway.   The timetable for Astrobus Cuba is posted at each bus station.  They’re also called omnibus nacional and may go from a different bus station to the Viazul buses.

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cuban-transport-bus-timetable

Trucks in Cuba – Camiones

You’ll also see what look like “cattle trucks”.  Sometimes they have roofs, sometimes they don’t.  We saw several of these at the eastern side of the island, crammed with people and possessions.  And no, we had no desire to attempt them. Cuba transportation offers differ significantly from what you’re used to at home!

Camiones are old trucks.    Sometimes there are benches, sometimes everyone stands.  Animals also travel in the same truck.  It’s hot and sweaty and cheap.

cuban-transport-truck

Colectivos – Shared Rides in Cuba

The Cuban nation relies a great deal on shared rides.  If a car is driving in a route and has spare seats they will generally stop if hailed and pick people up.  If you’re in a main area you might see folks wearing yellow jackets.  Their job is to put rides and people together.  This is pretty difficult if you’re on a timetable or don’t speak Spanish.

In Cuba Government cars are required to stop and pick people up.  Privately owned cars are not. We took a colectivo from Matanzas to Havana – read about it here.

Private Prebooked Transfers / Pre-Arranged Car Service in Cuba

There are some great services that you can pre-arrange a car.  We did this for a day trip to Vinales in a beautiful classic car, with a driver and a guide. With bench seats in the front, fitting six of us in the car was easy.  It was in superb condition, had a DVD player retrofitted and also great air conditioning!

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Bench Seats are AMAZING

We paid US$180 for an 11 hour day, for four people, including the service of the driver and guide to Vinales and back from Old Havana. Check out your options for Classic Car Tours here

Cuban Private Taxis – Hail in the Street

Transportation in Havana, Cuba is easy.  It revolves almost entirely for tourists around taxis.  Especially in Havana, you’ll find taxis everywhere.  They won’t necessarily have a taxi sign on their roof but are required to put a sign somewhere in the windshield if they’re carrying a foreigner.  They also need to have government authorisation to carry you.  The nicer looking the car the more the fare is likely to be.

Where to find a taxi in Havana

There’s always a Havana taxi waiting somewhere – outside bus stations there are lots.

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Havana Viazul Bus Station Taxis

If you have tried to get a Viazul Bus and there are no seats available, then there will be taxis outside the bus station, trying to get enough people together to go to your destination.  So if you want, for instance, to get a taxi from Havana to Trinidad, then try and group a few people together and you’ll get the price per person to a sensible level.

There are no meters on taxis in Cuba.  Agree on a price before you get in.

At your Casa Particular

Your Casa Particular will be happy to arrange a car for you.  If you’re in Havana the best places for taxi ranks are

Outside the Hotel Seville

Turn right outside the door and walk to the end of the street.  Taxi’s get cheaper and more negotiable further away from the door.  The old classic cars are likely to be cheaper than the yellow taxis.

In Parque Central

On the Malecon outside the Palacio de la Real Fuerza

Find out what else you can expect from Casa Particulars in our ultimate guide here

Taxi Fares in Havana

We paid the following

  • Old Havana to the Viazul bus station – US$10 one way (at various times of the day and night)
  • Old Havana to Viazul bus station – US$15 wait and return in order to buy tickets
  • The Airport to Old Havana – US$30 in a yellow taxi – read more about what to expect when arriving in Havana here
  • Viazul Havana to the Airport – US$20 in an old car that had to stop for oil on the way.

Rent a Car in Cuba

There’s always the option to rent a car.  However, we’d caution against car rental in Cuba.  The roads are a bit ropey in some places, but most of the places that you’ll want to go in your two, three or four weeks in Cuba will be reasonable.  So long as you can avoid potholes.  The roads between Havana and Vinales were great.  Similarly between Havana and Trinidad with all stops along the way.  It was as we headed further east that it got significantly worse.  Car Rental is pretty darned expensive, but here are a couple of options if that’s what you’re after.  You’re also going to need to speak reasonable Spanish to take up this option.

Car Rental Companies in Cuba

All the car rental companies are, however, owned by the government, so it generally means that the car standard you get and the price you pay are going to be the same.

It is possible to get one-way rentals and there may NOT be a one-way drop off fee.  Check it out, it may cover the usually high cost of rentals (around US$50 a day).

If you are a US citizen, then you cannot rent from Gaviota, which is a group run by the Cuban military and you’re forbidden to make purchases from these folks.

Cuban Taxi Colectivos

A Cuba taxi colectivo is a shared taxi service.  Cuban shared taxis are also called almendrones if they operate on a standard route.  The taxi might be a normal car.  It might be a classic car.  (note that classic doesn’t necessarily mean in good condition, it just means old).  It might be a larger vehicle.  The general idea is that it’s shared.  You wait until it’s full and then you go.  Or you negotiate a price to go sooner and with fewer people.

To use an almendrone:

Stand on the route in the direction you want to go.  Hold your hand out when you see one.

The standard cost is the equivalent of about 50 US cents, but confirm the price before you get in

If you want dropping off or to get picked up at a main tourist spot or hotel, then you’ll likely be treated as a tourist and charged as such. (i.e more)

If they have no room they won’t stop.

This is a useful map of the standard almendrone routes in Havana.

Our taxi colectivo Cuba from Matanzas to Havana was originally priced at US$10 each.  The bus, which was full anyway, was US$7 each.  The bus would have also got us into a part of Havana that we didn’t want to be in.  It would have then cost us another US$10 to get where we wanted to go.  After 75 minutes of waiting and no one else wanting to go to Havana, we paid US$15 each to be driven to Havana.  It felt like a reasonable deal.

Trains in Cuba

Good luck with this one.  Train travel in Cuba is slow and run late if they run at all.  Each time we spoke to a local about catching a train they laughed at us.  We tried valiantly.  Cuban trains are described pretty well on The Man in Seat 61.  We failed miserably to buy tickets for a train from Havana to Santiago de Cuba.  We turned up outside the Electric “Hershey Train” in Matanzas, to be told that it was out of service.  For another two months.  Or so.  Depending on when they rebuild the bridge that had collapsed.  Therefore “tren cancellado.”

cuban-transport-cancelled-train

Internal flights in Cuba

It’s a huge distance from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and even further to Baracoa.  There are *some* Cuban internal flights.   They are expensive and unless you book PRIOR to your arrival, then you’ll need to go into a travel agency to book a flight.  We did find some flights on the internet while in Cuba but couldn’t actually book via the internet.  Read more about Internet Access in Cuba.

You can find details of domestic flights within Cuba here.

Hitchhiking in Cuba

Theoretically, cars are required to pick up hitchhikers in Cuba.  The reality of the situation is that they won’t, even for Cubans unless you wave some bills around.  So when you see people standing on highways waving money, that’s what they’re looking for – a lift. 

Final Words on Transportation in Cuba

We generally enjoyed our transport in Cuba – some of it is frustrating, like booking tickets for Cuban buses. When it comes to how to get around in Cuba, some of it is irritating – like negotiating the price with drivers in Trinidad.  Prices went from US$5 to US$12 to get 8km down the road to La Boca < which we highly recommend as a place to stay.  Not being able to get a train was disappointing, but I suspect the bus was a better option for sanity.  The best way to make the most of your time in Cuba is to prearrange as much of your transport as possible.  But the best way to get a slice of the real Cuba is to go with the flow a little bit too.  You most likely won’t get to where you want to go in the timeframe that you want, but hey, this is Cuba. 

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