Getting around in Cuba is not such a problem as one might at first anticipate, given the lack of vehicles on the roads here. Many Cubans can not afford to own their own car and many can also not afford the cost of fuel to fill a car to run it.
As a tourist to Cuba though, there are still several options for getting around Havana, to and from the airports, hotels and beach resorts such as Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, Guardalavaca and Varadero. As long as you are not expecting a stretch limousine and are willing to embrace the culture and enjoy sometimes travelling in an old 1950s American car, in a GoCar, on an old bus or on a hand-made bicycle taxi. The main options for getting around are as follows:
The main coach service which runs to numerous locations across the island and between the resorts and airports is managed by a company called Viazul. The Viazul is more targeted as a tourist bus and it connects the main touristic locations and usefully comes with air-conditioning and comfortable seats.
Typical journeys which are popular include:
You can book direct via: Viazul.com
A mini-bus (a guagua as the locals now them) is also an option and is a bus service which covers all the important areas and corners of Cuba and leaves more frequently and is popular with locals, who are able to travel. Local buses, for which tickets cost less than a peso and camiones (trucks) will pick up passengers in the back of their truck for a fee.
The Especial train comes with special cars for tourists. These cars come with comfortable, reclining seats, air-conditioning and a lot of legroom. One of these trains comes with a bar where tourists can buy food and drink during the journey. Refreshments are sold during the journey as well. Many changes are being made at this time to the train service (I update this page monthly) and some routes have just been taken out of service. Overall I would recommend to use the Viazul bus service (see above) but if you are a train fanatic, there are some routes available on the Especial network. Do expect and prepare for a journey on what are quite basic and dated trains.
Buying tickets – As a tourist you will need to present your passport when you buy tickets. Purchases can be made up to 5 days before you travel and there is a ticket office in most of the stations. You can find very detailed information on the Cuban train service from seat61.com.
Taxis are available on practically every street corner and work out much cheaper than most public transport if you are part of a group. You will no doubt be surprised to see that a lot of the taxis are actually 3 seater bicycles which the locals have made from any materials they can, to create a double seat for you as the paying customers, with one seat for the peddler (the taxi driver) to sit in front of you (see photo below). Whatever type of taxi you get, if you are travelling within the same city or town then it is very cheap. Even in fact to go long distances, as a tourist, can work out very cheap.
Hiring a car and driving around the main island is certainly one possibility. More about Car Rentals in Cuba. The hardest thing can be to actually to find an available car, particularly in the peak of the tourist season because the availability runs out. If you can find a rental car which is available, you will need a credit card, passport and driving licence and take your time to check every facet of the car before signing to rent it. By this I mean to check every scratch, mark and anything you can see wrong with the car and note it on the booking form so that you are not charged after the rental for damage you did not do.
Cycling around and within Cuba is a fantastic way to see the country and many tour companies organise cycling holidays and trips around various parts of the main island. A typical tour will take you from Havana to Vinales, Pinar del Rio and Las Terrazas. Bicycles are always usually provided but you can bring yours with you if you wish although, given you will have to keep pace with others on the local bikes, you might as well just use the ones provided (unless you plan to see the island alone on a solo trip). A mini-bus usually follows the cycling group with the baggage and with items such as bottled water and first aid items.
Because there is so little traffic on the roads, cycling is actually one of the best ways to see the island and really to understand and to get to know the real Cuba and its people. A typical 7 day cycle tour will cost around $900 and will include home-stays (with locals) and basic meals.
Read more on cycling Cuba:
Alternatively, hitchhiking is a very safe option in Cuba and is accepted as part of the culture. It is actually written into the law here that certain vehicles are obliged to stop for those hitch-hiking. In order to make travelling around easier for the Cuban people, during times of shortage and poverty, the Castro government made it law for vehicles such as military vehicles to have hitch-hikers. Hitch hiking is relatively safe in comparison to many other countries.