When visiting Havana, you'll need to get around. One thing Cuba has plenty of is transportation options!
You probably won't see this many classic American cars unless you go to a car show! Many of these cars look great, although only the body is American with the rest a sort of frankenstein since no American parts could be purchased in Cuba. Collectors are unlikely to start buying the cars but they are still cool to see and ride in!
Main Ways To Get Around Havana
- shared taxi (“taxi colectivo”)
- private taxi (“taxi particular”)
- yellow taxi (government owned)
Additional Transportation Options
- Coco-taxi (auto-rickshaw)
- Tour Bus (hop-on hop-off)
- Horse and carriage
- Bicycle rental
- Motorcycle rental
- Public bus (avoid this one!)
- Other buses
- Cost from Havana Airport to Havana/Vedado: 35 CUC (probably negotiable to 25-30 CUC)
- Cost from Vedado/Habana Vieja To Havana Airport: 25 CUC (arranged by our Airbnb host)
I recommend trying to book a taxi ahead of time, otherwise this might happen to you-> We had a really sketchy experience: left alone in a dark parking lot, taxi kept stalling, the driver jumped out at a busy intersection and poped open the trunk then… pulled out a plastic bottle of fuel from the trunk. Phew, our bags weren't stolen!
Arriving at the airport… We got to the information counter near the airport exit at around 1 am and asked for a taxi. The price quoted was 35 CUC and I didn't have the energy to bargain. Keep in mind the avg salary in Cuba is 20 CUC/month. We followed the driver, who didn't speak any English, to the money exchange and waited 30 minutes to get some local currency (1 person at a time, because only 1 of 3 employees were actually working). The ATM line was faster but remember that US bank cards don't work.
Shit! Did the driver disappear with our bags? No, but he walked off without saying anything and we thought he stole our bags. Finally, with some local currency ready, he leads us to his small white car in the dark parking lot. We all stood in front of the car where the driver told us to wait there then disappeared. 5…10…15 minutes, he's still not back. Its around 1:30am and my patience is waning. He finally returned, then goes to talk to someone 50 feet away in the dark empty parking lot. Is he making a drug deal or paying off a cop or parking attendant? Ten minutes passes before I approached them when he motioned rudely (translation: stand back, he'll be there shortly). Finally he came back and we left towards Havana.
The taxi stalled no less than 4-5 times on the way. The last time it stalled at a busy intersection in Vedado when the driver jumped out of the car and popped the trunk. What's going on now? We thought our bags were about to be stolen by his buddies. Instead he pulled out gas in a plastic bottle. The driver eventually found our Airbnb address where our host was waiting at about 2am. We made it!
Shared Taxi (“taxi colectivo”)
If you don't speak any Spanish, be ready to pay more for your taxi rides. Even if you do speak Spanish, most taxi drivers will take advantage of tourists, no matter what type of taxi they drive! I preferred to take the taxi colectivo because it was cheaper and we got to ride in a cool car.
HOW NOT TO GET RIPPED OFF
- Shorter rides are supposed to cost 10 peso cubano (1 CUC = ~25 CUP). For two people, I was happy to pay 1 CUC.
- Don't hail a cab near a hotel or major tourist venues. Go to the main road a block or two from the big hotels.
- Stand on the curb and wave the taxi down. Don't do it like a high-five but instead like a low-five.
- Ask the driver if he goes to a cross street and confirm the price (cuba-junky suggests not to ask the price…but I rather make sure). Don't say “Hotel Nacional?”
- Our Airbnb host recommended having the money ready and paying when you get in, so there is no confusion over the price. I saw locals pay at the end of their ride…but if you pay up front he will probably let you know if you didn't pay enough.
HOW TO GET RIPPED OFF (like we did)
- Our host helped us hail a taxi colectivo to go to the Tropicana Cabaret, which is about 15 minutes from central Vedado. It was supposed to be 1 CUC for both of us. I didn't pay the driver upfront (my mistake) and when we arrived, he looked at the 1 CUC and demanded 5 CUC.
- To make matters worse, we didn't see the Tropicana as we got out on the main road. Finally after asking for directions and realizing we had to walk 1 block, we found it. We weren't able to check the show prices in advance (no internet) but figured $120 was enough for both of us.
- It wasn't enough, so we had to find a taxi to get back home…for 10 CUC. Waste of time and money. Tropicana how prices start at 75 USD! I'm sort of glad I didn't bring enough cash as I think that would have left me really feeling ripped off. I really doubt its worth it but Mrs Rewardboss wanted to go! If you book ahead you can use your credit card. After that I knew why the taxi price went up…I could have had a private taxi drop me off at the door for that price!
Private Taxi (“taxi particular”)
Late at night, you won't have many options, so you may need to take a taxi particular or government taxi. We used a taxi particular to get to and from the airport as mentioned above. Many of these taxis were Russian made Lada's.
Our host and his wife took us on a half day tour of Old Habana (Habana vieja) and we had to take a taxi particular for 4 CUC. It took almost 20 minutes before we could find a taxi because none of the taxi colectivo drivers wanted to take the 4 of us and charge the lower price for locals (which would have been 2 CUC).
Our taxi had beautiful a un-restored interior – check out the door:
Yellow Taxi (government owned)
AVOID all the taxi's near any large hotel, especially Hotel Nacional de Cuba. We were looking for a taxi to a restaurant about 15 minutes walk and the taxi quoted me 10 CUC (~$11 USD)! That's more than a New York City taxi! “That's the price here,” the driver said. I told him it's way too expensive and continued walking.
Some of the yellow taxis are beautiful classic cars like this:
Many other yellow taxis are not so amazing, like this black and yellow Lada:
Cuba Junky says these pedi-cabs are the cheapest way to get around at only 1 CUC. I didn't have a chance to take one. Cuba Junky also says they are not allowed to carry tourists so you may need to jump out when the police are around. The pedi-cabs in the photo below are parked in Habana Vieja.
Horse and Carriage
This is not something we were interested in and it didn't seem like a popular option. We only saw some horse drawn carriages in Old Havana. Cuba-Junky says they cost around 30 CUC/hr.
Habana Bus Tour
This hop-on hop-off bus will look familiar as they are in many cities. It's one of the few modern things I found in Cuba. We wanted to do it but never got around to it. Be sure to check out the TripAdvisor reviews because there are very mixed reviews.
I was told the price is 5 CUC per person, but the driver told our Airbnb host 7 CUC while I was looking at the sign taped to bus door which said 10 CUC. This person said the driver pocketed his 20 CUC, didn't give him a ticket, then drove everyone to the hotels along the coast for hours without seeing any tourist spots. Cuba-Junky says the bus is 5 CUC and has the routes posted too.
My advice: Confirm the route and price and get a receipt so you can get back on the bus! This person found a private guide for 30 CUP/hr (~$1.50). I'm trying to find out how to do this because that's a GREAT deal!
Transtour Tour Bus
Stop by one of the bigger hotels and you'll find tour companies offering a variety of excursions out of Havana. There were no other tourist offices probably because locals are not allowed to operate tourist businesses (a government tour guide said). Full day tour prices were around 60-70+ CUC per person. That's 3 months or more salary for an average Cuban. Worth it? I'll save that for a future post.
We did not see a single places to rent a bicycle in Vedado or Habana Vieja, but I found this sign on a house while walking to a restaurant. BikeRentalHavana.com charges 12 CUC per day without a guide or 25 CUC per day with a guide (prices are per person). I love see a city on bike…but I also don't remember seeing anyone riding bicycles.
We very briefly looked into motorcycle rentals/tours but didn't do it. This Lonely Planet forum suggests it is only possible to rent scooters for very local trips. MotorcycleToursCuba.com offers longer tours where you can ride a Harley or BMW motorcycle. These tours are not cheap but would be a very cool way to see the country. The 6 day tour is 2,690 Euros pp for 2 people including hotel rooms while the 15 day tour is is 5,320 Eur pp.
Public Bus (“Gua Gua”)
Most public buses we saw were jam packed and standing room only. Our hosts suggested avoiding the bus for safety reasons. Watch out for pickpockets if you try this! We didn't.
Want to get out of Havana and see the other parts of the country? Check out Viazul bus. We didnt use them but it seems they have modern buses. Havana to Trinidad, a 4 hour trip, costs $25 USD pp each way. Havana to Vinales, a ~2hr trip, costs $12 USD. Search the routes and prices on their website.
- TaxiVinalesCuba.com will allow you to book an airport ride for 25 CUC ahead of time (I didn't use them so I cannot recommend but worth a try). Or contact drivers using CubaLandia.com, just remember that it may take some time for people to respond since they don't have internet at home.
My Cameras: These photos were taken using either my Canon S110 (newer model is S120) or my Sony a6000 (with this wide angle lens). The Canon is fits in my pocket and takes amazing pictures. The Sony packs the power of a full size DSLR while being small enough that I'm still willing to bring it!