How to get around in Cuba

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.

Rental Car.

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.

The rental car is the white one. It’s number plate starts with a T
The black car is a Taxi. It’s number plate starts with a T too because Cubans hire rental cars and drive them as a Taxi.

Taxi

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.

Busses

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.

2 Viazul

This is the tourist bus (but often also taken by Cubans that can afford it) that connects most towns and tourist hotspots.

Viazul

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. 

I always take the black one…

But hey… there are other ways to get around.

Cuban Collectivos

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!

Piquera on 19th de Mayo, corner Boyeros. Trucks to take you to the West

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.

Recommended reading:

How to handle the Jineteros CubaConga style

Racism in Cuba

Rent a car

Last update April 2019

The second best way to explore Cuba is to rent a Car.

If you want to rent a car, do so before you go. But you might want to read this post to the end (and our book) before you do so! Once in Cuba the agencies never have the car you want (or any car for that matter).

Let me explain in this post why you should not rent a car and then if you still want to rent one how to do it. Read on for a better solution than renting a car yourself.

Rent a car on the Internet.

Although they have three different brand badges in Cuba: REX, Havanauto’s and Cuba Car (Al websites might be offline or not… It’s Cuba). All car rental companies belong to the state. So there is no competition. Monopolies make for bad service, high prices, bad websites and very limited options. A first glance at their websites will convince you that this is going to be hard. Just try to find the car you would like on one of the sites above and you will see.

No other operators are available on the market. Forget about AVIS or Budget or any other favourite agency.

How to rent one?

If you want to rent a car directly from the state-run companies there are a few things you should know. The websites are not very user-friendly.

Step 1: Fill in your requirements and you will probably get the answer ‘no car available that fits your requirements’. Play around with ‘Pick-up’ location, Pick-up time and Pick-up date and type of car, until you get a car proposal. This can be time-consuming.

Step 2: Fill in the required application.

Step 3: Get a bill from a vague office in Paris or Hamburg (depending on your location). This strange payment request is the ‘Embargo effect’. You can not pay Cuba directly due to the US embargo so the Cuban rental car companies have set up front companies abroad to be able to receive money.

You can pay that bill, works 99% of the time! You might or might not get a voucher, but your car will (probably) be waiting for you.

Shopping around for a better price is useless… It’s a state monopoly. All cars are the same price everywhere. (Unless they are a lot cheaper but that is too good to be true and usually will cost you less money for no car. This site, and others like it, are notorious for renting NO cars for a very good price. Then, a few days before you leave they tell you that you have to upgrade (extra money) because your car is not available. Whether you pay or not, does not matter. No car upon arrival. New ones are popping up regularly. Use your common sense!  Too good to be true is just not true.

But read on…

rent a car

Arguments against renting a car

Cost

Cars are way more expensive than anywhere else in the world. It’s just costly.

Availability

There are very few cars available for rent. Very few. Even if you rent a car via the internet, you might not get one. (And you might not get refunded either)

At the moment a lot of Cubans rent the tourists cars and drive them as a taxi. They rent long term and pay a little bribe under the table. So there are just not enough cars for regular tourist available…

Waiting time

I’ve set up my office at a hotel that has a rental car agency and pity the guys hanging around for hours waiting for their vehicle. And sometimes, after waiting 5 hours, they get send-off because there is just no car available.

Supplemental costs of car rental

In addition to the rather high prices per day, you will have to pay 10-20 CUC per day in insurance, a deposit (depending on the company but you can do this with your credit card) and the full tank of gasoline (which is not full). And of course the gasoline you will consume during your trip.

When returning your car, you will have to pay a 100 CUC fine if you didn’t read our book. (Not that they ask if you know it, but because of a trick they pull with the contract. The cost of not reading CubaConga can be rather high).

If you decide to rent a car, we explain not only how to avoid the 100 fine but also what to do in case of a flat tire (probability you will get one about 80%).

How to rent a car

Renting a car can be a frustrating process. All state run companies (remember, monopoly so not very customer oriented) have websites to rent cars. You fill in your requirements and they tell you: ‘no car available matching your requirements’. And that is because the specific car you want to rent at that specific agency is not available at the time you want it. As you can see there are 3 variables in this search: specific car, agency and time. If you want to pick up a car outside opening hours the result is ‘no car available matching your requirements.’ The same goes for the other variables

Playing around with cars, dates and times will get frustrating.

Cuba Travel Network

The solution is a renowned  Dutch company that reversed the search system. You fill in your requirements and they tell you which cars are available that match your requirements. If you want to rent a car with no hassle and hidden costs (their prices include the insurance fee)  just fill out THIS FORM.

Happy driving!

The better solution:

Rent a car with a driver for less

You could decide to rent a car with a driver. A lot of Cubans rent tourist cars for a lot less than you can. They fill them up with black market gasoline and drive taxi all day.

4 ways to find a (shared) taxi (from most expensive to cheapest)

1 The below mentioned ‘Yotellevo’ Crazy expensive!

2 Ask your landlord or the porter of your hotel. This will ad 20 to 80 to the price depending how gullible you look.

3 ZunZunCar drove a hard bargain with the drivers and they offer good prices. Just book you trips online and they will get you at your house and deliver you right on the doorstep of you next lodging. See post:

4 Drive the hard bargain yourself and go to the Viazul station. Lots of taxi’s there that want to take you anywhere. Get there before the bus for your destination leaves. Once it is gone prices go up.

Read this post however before you book anything. How to get around in Cuba

The internet is full of bull:

This is a quote I received from yotellevocuba for Havana-Camaguey (560 km):

Hola Sr. (a):

Ante todo un saludo y gracias por su comunicación con nosotros. Sobre
su solicitud el precio de ese recorrido sería de 390.00 CUC ida, e ida
y vuelta de 430.00 CUC.

That is an outrageous price since I’m able to make this trip for 100 (renting a whole car! (And you should be able to do it for about 120.)

Having a clue, in this case, would bring the price you pay down to less than 25%! That’s why we wrote our book… Please read it and get yourself a clue!

Advantages of using taxi’s:

  • You use the car when you need it. If you want to spend a few days in a place, you don’t pay.
  • It’s a lot cheaper in gasoline. You would have to fill up your tank in an official gas station at 1.20 CUC/litre. Your driver buys it on the black market for half that price.
  • You do not have to spend 4 to 5 hours at the renting agency, waiting for your car. (Customer service and State Monopolies don’t go well together.)
  • He knows his way around and can act as a guide. You will have lunch and dinner in cheap places that offer excellent service and good food.
  • You won’t get any fines.
  • If your driver becomes your friend, you will have an ally during your adventures.
  • It’s very relaxed to let someone else do the driving. He knows local conditions and understands Cuban traffic better than you do.
  • You will not get a flat tire.

If you still want to rent a car Cuba Travel Network is your best option. If you find one, pull the trigger! Shopping around for a better price is useless and the car might not be available anymore next day.

We explain in our book how to get and negotiate such a deal.

You should know

That the probability of getting into an accident is quite low and the chance people get hurt even lower. But not 0! If you get into an accident with injuries, you might not be allowed to leave the island until the investigation is finished. That might take a month or more… Every year a few tourists get stranded on the Island.

Renting a car in Cuba is different. Almost everything is different in Cuba, so please prepare your trip! Read our book for much more advice on how to best cope with Cuba.

You might realise by now that we have a different view on Cuba than the mean stream Travel guides and websites. That’s because we are residents and spend a lot more time on the Island than the average writer. Here’s for instance how you should handle the street hustlers.