Getting Around

Getting Around Cuba

For Cubans, transportation is one of the major hassles of daily like. Cubans spend hour hitchhiking and waiting for buses, tractors, and trucks, whether it’s to get to work, to shop, to visit hospitals and family.

For the tourists, however, getting around the island is relatively easy. A visitor may travel by air, train, bus, or rental car.

Domestic Cubana Airline planes are old Soviet-era flying machines, and like the national buses and trains, are hot and undependable.

Cuba has an antiquated but extensive train system. It is said to be the largest stream-powered train system outside of China. Reservations are necessary, and getting one can take a from a couple of hours to most of a day. The trains are said to be even less reliable than the buses.

Getting to Viñales is about the easiest transport in Cuba. There are two bus lines, both government run. Lots of taxis, government and private. Renting a car is expensive, a hassle, and usually not necessary. Within the town of Viñales everything can be reached on foot.

The two bus lines are Víazul and Autobuses Nacionales. Reservations for either can be frustrating. Easier is to go one of two bus stations. If no space on bus, there will be many private taxis outside offering shared rides, usually for same price of bus or a few CUC’s more. Víazul has limited service to tourist areas. It used to be an excellent deluxe carrier at reasonable prices. It’s buses have gotten old and frayed.

Autobuses Nacionales buses are always full, and notoriously hot, unreliable, and smoky from exhaust fumes and everyone smoking, including the driver sitting under the “no fumar” sign. New Chinese manufactured Yutong buses run on many lines, especially to-and-from Viñales. These are now a better ride than Víazul.

In Havana, the VíaAzul terminal is in Nuevo Vedado, across from the zoo, Casa Matriz, ave. 26 y Zoológico. 81 14 13, 81 56 52. The main bus terminal is on Ranco Boyeros, e/ Ave. 19 de Mayo y Bruzón, which is more convenient.

There are many private and government taxis outside the the bus terminal eager to negotiate a private ride. If in Havana, most casa particulars can call for a taxi and save you the price of the ride to the bus terminal. It is best to negotiate the price before the taxi arrives.

Car rental are available (except during Christmas holidays) and expensive. Drop offs are difficult. Reservations mean nothing. There may be autos in the lot, but none may be operable. Regardless of what any guidebook says, dollar-CUC gas stations are now plentiful. When you rent, the agency carefully goes over each dent and verifies spare, jack, radio, etc. It is because these get stolen and are often missing. If you rent, you must find a secure garage or hire a guard for the night.

A few pointers for drivers. Driving in daylight is no problem, because there is little traffic. At night, the roads include bikes, horses and horse-drawn carts, tractors, and, during the sugar harvest, huge tractors of sugar cane. Almost none will have lights. There are few road signs, and many badly deteriorated roads. Plan on picking up hitch-hiking Cubans for company and directions.

Driving rules have few surprises, except that all drivers must stop at railroad crossings, and these are favorite haunts of cops and hitch-hikers. Also, cyclists are so unaccustomed to encountering vehicles that they casually wander along and across highways. When driving, give them a warning with a blast of the horn. The cyclists’ reactions will not be anger, but a wave of acknowledgment.