There are many different ways to travel from A to B in Cuba.
Here is a list of the different forms of transport from the most expensive and comfortable to the cheapest.
It’s hard to rent a car. There are just not enough cars available as Cubans rent many of the cars that are mend for tourists, either to drive taxi with them or just as a personal carefree car. See this post for how to rent a car and what the pitfalls are. Rental cars are extremely expensive and hard to find. Read the rental car post plz.
What? Taxi is less expensive than the bus? (See bus below). Yes it is.
A lot of Cubans rent tourist cars to drive them as a taxi. They have a long-term rental contract, which brings down the absurd rental price a bit. Renting it with two drivers and driving it 24/7 and buying illegal fuel makes it possible to take a taxi for less than the bus.
Taxi’s pick you up at your place and deliver you to the doorstep of your destination. Taxis are shared with other people (Collective) or you can rent the whole car.
You can book a taxi in different ways. Ask your landlord (who will add about 20 to 80 to the price as his commission) or the porter of your hotel (who will do the same).
Better to book one before you go. Here ZunZunCar comes into play. A lot of sites offer taxi services and most are bloody expensive. ZunZun is disrupting the Cuban taxi market with good service for reasonable prices.Just go to their site, fill in your needs and pay… The taxi will show up on time on your address! You can do this weeks ahead.
There are two ways to take the bus (for you that is… you are a tourist).
Most tourists that don’t want to rent a car (or are not able to find one) take the bus. Seems a logical reflex all around the world but not in Cuba. You as a foreigner are only allowed to take the Viazul or Gaviota. It’s service is rather trustworthy, the Viazul is rather comfortable (take a sweater, the air-conditioning is ON FULL) and they seem cheap.
1 Package tour/excursion.
Just walk into any hotel and find the tourist desk. Book an excursion, and show up in the lobby at the given time. Get on the bus and do take a sweater.
This is the tourist bus (but often also taken by Cubans that can afford it) that connects most towns and tourist hotspots.
But to take a Viazul you have to go to the Viazul station to buy a ticket the day before. Forget about booking online but their site has a time table.
All travel guides will tell you that the Viazul station is on the corner of 26 and Avenida Zoologico. That used to be the case but they moved it to the central bus station on the corner of Boyeros and 19 de Mayo as of April 2019.
Taxi versus Bus
Now let me show you why a taxi is way cheaper than the Bus. For this article I take the example of two people traveling from Havana to Viñales.
You can pay with your credit card for a colectivo with ZunZun for 27 USD between Havana and Viñales. The car will pick you up from your casa and deliver you to the next.
Or you can go to Viazul station the day before (10 CUC taxi), spend a few hours there, buy the ticket for 12 CUC pp and then go back home (10 CUC taxi) and then go back there the next day to take the bus (10 CUC taxi). When you get to your destination you have to take some form of transport to your Casa Particular, which adds another 5 CUC.
If you are a couple travelling taking the Viazul to Viñales will cost you 59 CUC and a lot of time. I don’t know about you but time is value to me.
If you take ZunZuncar it will cost you 5 less and you will save about half a day. For me that’s a no brainer and I have not taken any busses for the last 10 years.
But hey… there are other ways to get around.
Where the Taxi’s fetch you at your casa and deliver you to the next one’s doorstep the Cuban Collectivos drive from Piquera to Piquera. The cheapes way to get to Viñales is to go to a piquera, get a Truck there for 5 CUC pp to Pinar del Rio and in Pinar you take another collective for 2 to Viñales. Cost of the whole operation: 10 to get to the Piquera (in this case opposite the central bus station) 10 to get to Pinar for the two of you and 4 to get to Viñales. 24 CUC. If you travel light and take a bus to the central bus station, costs will go down to 14 CUC! That’s 7 pp.
To find the Piquera to your next destination, just ask around. ‘Donde es la Piquera por… (fill in destination)’. Everybody knows!
The downside of this system is the speed. You have to wait until the truck has enough passengers; the truck is rather slow (about 3 hours to Pinar de Rio). Then you have to wait for a collective to find enough passengers to Viñales. It will take you a whole day but if you are on a budget this is the way to go and not the bus!
My advice to first timers would be to pre-book a taxi for at least the first trip you are making. Once you get better at the game of CubaConga start negotiating with the taxi drivers. I would book my first transfer (probably Havana-Viñales) ahead with ZunZun, because getting out of Havana is not easy, and take it from there to the game in the streets which is cheaper and more fun.
The Cuban Cuban way at a Cuban price
If you want to go to Vinales on a Cuban budget you go to the intersection of Boyeros and Premiero Anillo. You wait next to the freeway on a Cuban Truck. Whilst the trucks at the Piqueras have seats in them, these have wooden benches. Which sounds like fun but your buttocks will start complaining within 10 minutes and the trip to Pinar del Rio will take about 4 hours. Lousy suspension add to the experience!
But if you want to travel on a budget… 20 Pesos MN (which is about 40 $ cents). In Pinar you take the collectivo to Vinales for 50 Pesos or another truck for 10. Total cost = 30 or 70 pesos. Total time 8 hours and resulting in a blue but.
I added this just to be complete. I vowed never to take a wooden bench truck again for obvious reasons.