How to get around Cuba?

How to get around Cuba?

  1. Where to travel in America ?
  2.  » 
  3. Cuba travel guide
  4.  » How to get around Cuba?

Useful information for Cuba

On this page, I’ll explain how to spend a great stay in Cuba, learning the essential information on the topics below:

  • ^ Transportation: the different means of transportation available depending on your budget.
  • ^ Safety: an overview about safety in Cuba and the main risks incurred.
  • ^ Accommodation: several options on where to sleep in Cuba.
  • ^ Food: some typical Cuban specialties and tips for saving on food.
  • ^ Local life cost: price examples for different type of costs.

Position in the Global Peace Index

Millions of inhabitants

Most expensive countries ranking

ξ‚€
Transportation in Cuba

How to move in Cuba?

Getting around Cuba by public transport

 

To save money on your travels in Cuba, public transportation is a good option.

^ Bus : Buses for getting around large cities are inexpensive, but uncomfortable (no air conditioning, for example) and often crowded. On the other hand, between the big Cuban cities, the bus offer is reliable, comfortable, runs daily and is generally on time. Viazul is the main bus company used by foreigners to travel around Cuba. Drivers also make regular stops for lunch and dinner on long journeys. Advance reservation is required and can be done on their official website: www.viazul.com

^ Trains : Although they are slow, they can be an authentic way to get around Cuba if you have the time. The seats are old but generally comfortable. Cuba recently received new trains from China and plans to replace most of the older trains in the coming years. There are a few train lines between Havana and Santiago de Cuba and additional lines throughout the country with stops in Camaguey, Santa Clara and in the towns of Manzanillo, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, Pinar del Rio and MorΓ³n. Tickets are only available at stations, you need to book at least five days in advance and times change often. Taking a train is therefore restrictive. So use this means of transport only if you have a relaxed travel schedule.

Distances between Cuban cities

Distances between Cuban cities

Hitchhiking in Cuba

 

^ Hitchhiking : The culture of hitchhiking is more akin to carpooling in Cuba. It’s legal and organized. Some points known as “punto Amarillo” which look the rest areas of fuel service stations, are found along the main roads. The system is relatively simple, just look for an official standing near the side of the road wearing the yellow uniform. Let him know where you want to go, and he’ll ease your journey accordingly. In the countryside, amarillos (government officials) organize lines of people who need to move. So get in line with the locals and wait, sometimes for a few hours. It costs between 5-10 CUC (less than 1 USD) to go just about anywhere. Remember that even though it’s legal, hitchhiking can still be a risk, so it’s important to stay alert.

During my trip I took many people from point to point in my rental car. It’s always an interesting way to chat with locals and ask for more information about the area. However, sometimes there are apparently scams or thefts with hitchhikers, so be sure to assess the people you pick up. Once, I thought I was arrested for a police check, but it was in fact for taking the 2 policemen from one city to another! πŸ˜…

Getting around Cuba with a higher budget

^ Taxis : Taxis are a reliable way to get around Cuba, but still be careful and avoid taking unlicensed taxis. They have an odometer and the cost starts at a base rate of $ 1, plus $ 1 per mile in most cities. However, the drivers will often offer you a flat rate instead. People are generally honest and the flat rates tend to be close to the measured rates. However, you should negotiate the price with a driver before getting into the taxi, this is normal practice in Cuba. The other advantage of taking a taxi is that most of the vehicles are great old American cars from the 1950s.

Taxis from Havana

In a taxi in Havana

^ Cocotaxis : In Havana, Varadero or Trinidad you will also find yellow Cocotaxis which are three-wheeled motorcycles. They can generally accommodate two to three passengers. The name of this means of locomotion comes from the shape of its yellow and round shell, which gives it the appearance of half a coconut. Although noisy, they cost less than regular taxis. Nonetheless, cocotaxis are controversial, with some Western governments warning tourists that they can be dangerous. Indeed, they can move quite quickly but they do not have any seat belt.

Car rental in Cuba

^ Car rental : If you prefer to be more independent and drive straight to your destination, you should hire a car. It is an expensive option, however for long distances it is cheaper than a taxi. If you want to tour Cuba, and you can afford it, renting a car is the best transportation option. However, choose your rental agency wisely, car reservations are not always guaranteed. Indeed, even if you have booked in advance, you may discover at the last minute that the car you were waiting for is no longer available. As a rule, you will be provided with another car. Plan to budget at least 70 CUC per day for car rental. Also be aware that a rental agency will ask you for a refundable deposit between 150 and 250 CUC.

In Cuba, this is the choice of transportation that I personally made to save time between the places I visited, to be more independent and to visit more at my own pace.

What you should know about driving in Cuba

^ Necessary documents
Bring back a national driving license valid for more than 2 years and be over 21 years old. The international driving license is not required to drive in Cuba.

^ How fast can you drive?
The speed limits are 50 km/h in towns, 90 km/h on secondary roads, and 100 km/h on β€œAutopista” (highways). Watch out for automatic speed cameras especially along highways, you could be stopped by the police.

However, also be careful with false police checks, sometimes there are these types of scams. People pretending to be the police are trying to extort you by telling you that you have exceeded the authorized speed. Since the license plates of rental cars are red in color, tourists are easily identifiable. For my part, I saw them on the A4 highway from Havana to Pinar del Rio (Vinales), they were signaling me to stop in the middle of a section of the highway, but given their weird outfit, I simply continued on my way.

^ Road conditions
The road conditions are not very good in Cuba, but are acceptable. The Autopista, VΓ­a Blanca, and Carretera Central (single-lane road) are generally in good condition, but on the other hand, expect roads that suddenly deteriorate to chunks of asphalt and unexpected crossings (especially in the Oriente region in the south-east of the island).
Also, road signs are often missing and drivers generally do not follow any rules.
Finally, night driving is not recommended due to uneven road conditions, drunk drivers, crossing animals and poor lighting.

^ Where to park in Cuba?
Preferably, park in the car parks of the hotels or “casas particulares” where you are staying. If this is not possible, do not hesitate to have your car guarded by the locals, because unpleasant surprises can happen to you, such as the theft of a part of the car for example.

^ How to naviguate in Cuba?
Conventional GPS devices are prohibited in Cuba and can be confiscated. Therefore, either you use a paper road map or download a navigation app that works offline. Note that by purchasing my Cuba travel guide in ebook format, you will get as a bonus my map of Cuba with all the interesting attractions spotted on a map via the Maps.me or Google map applications. By pre-downloading my map of Cuba before you arrive, you can use it there as an offline GPS right on your phone. However, be careful not to show your phone too much when driving as the police could confiscate your device or give you a fine.

Park your car with caution

Be careful where you park your rental car at night

Excursions from Havana

If you do not wish to use any of the transport options presented above, you can also go through organized excursions. From Havana, you have many excursions available to reach other interesting tourist sites like the ViΓ±ales Valley, Trinidad or Varadero for example. Take a look at the solutions below:


Safety in Cuba

How safe is Cuba?

While Cuba is generally a safe country to visit, a trip to this island can put you at risk for petty crime such as currency scams or theft. You should also be aware of threats to your health such as contaminated tap water or food poisoning, as well as diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. If you are hiring a car in Cuba, be vigilant on the road and make sure you read all the information I have provided previously on driving in Cuba to avoid any unpleasant situations.

^ Scams and Theft: The currency scam is one of the most common scams in Cuba. Cuba uses a dual currency system: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP) which both officially circulate on the island. The CUC is the currency commonly used by tourists and is worth around 25 times more than the CUP used mainly by Cubans. Therefore, be careful when paying in CUC with the return of your change that could be made to you in CUP, which would damage you by 25 times the value normally expected. Like in many big cities, you should also always be careful about your belongings, especially in Havana. Don’t carry too much money with you, always have a hard copy of your passport with you and leave your passport in a safe place at your hotel.

^ Driving on the roads: Lack of regular road maintenance, potholes, street lighting and signage all create dangerous road conditions. So be careful, especially at night or when the weather conditions deteriorate.

^ Mosquito-borne diseases: The tropical climate is favorable to mosquitoes. It is possible to catch diseases such as Zika virus or dengue fever. So use mosquito repellent even during the day to protect yourself against these mosquito bites. Preferably choose a repellent with a formula against tropical mosquitoes.

^ Health problems related to water or food: In Cuba, do not drink tap water because it contains bacteria that can be harmful to unaccustomed organisms. It could cause you nausea, stomach aches, and other unpleasant gastrointestinal issues while exploring a new country. So always buy bottled water, in real stores as much as you can and not from street vendors.

Finally, always eat well-cooked food and avoid eating ice cream anywhere as the refrigeration system is not of good quality everywhere in Cuba. I paid the price myself in Cuba. I indeed suffered a serious food poisoning which confined me to bed for 1.5 days. I can tell you that I will never buy again ice cream from someone who carries a cooler on the back of its bike! πŸ˜… Ok, I know I wasn’t very smart about it, but when you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s hot and someone offers you an ice cream, it seems like falling on a oasis in the middle of the desert!

How to do in Cuba? Safety - Don't buy ice cream from just anyone!

Don’t buy ice cream from just anyone!

How to prevent risks?

Accidents can always happen while traveling. So, I advise you to get a comprehensive travel insurance. To avoid any risk, you should also not expose yourself and carry valuables or expensive jewelry with you. Avoid going out at night and walking alone. If you are attacked or robbed, don’t resist because criminals can be armed. Pick-pocketing targeting tourists often occurs on public transport and in unofficial taxis. So only use established tour operators and registered taxis.

For more up-to-date information on potential risks in Cuba, you can consult this reliable website from the UK government : www.gov.uk

For weather forecasts, see for example: www.cubaweather.org/

Finally, in an emergency, dial 104 for the ambulance and 105 for the fire brigade and 106 for the police.


Accommodation in Cuba

Where to sleep in Cuba?

You can find all types of accommodation in Cuba, from inexpensive hotels to guesthouses commonly called “casas particulares”, as well as large “All inclusive” resorts of higher standing. Depending on the city you are visiting, the offer will vary greatly.

Below you will find accommodation choices for different budgets and different types of comfort. Note that since 2016, it is possible to book almost all types of accommodation in advance through the famous booking platforms such as Hostel, Hotels.com or Airbnb.

Cuban hotel chains

 

Although there are some international hotels operating in Cuba, particularly in major beach destinations and Havana, state-owned hotels are predominant. The five main Cuban chains operate most hotels in Cuba. Islazul operates most of the cheap hotels, which are generally poorly maintained with noisy air conditioning and poor food. CubanacΓ‘n manages the mid-price range, but some of their hotels (especially Encanto-branded establishments) are better than the more expensive chains. The Gran Caribe and the Gaviota consist mainly of large hotels. Habaguanex Hotels, which can only be found in Havana, are the best state-run places, almost all located in beautifully restored colonial buildings in the Old Town.

All of these chains often offer good deals through their websites. You will not be able to book an all-inclusive hotel by going directly to the hotel counter. You will need to do this through a travel agency.

The casas particulares

 

The casas particulares are Cuban guest rooms. They offer not only an inexpensive room but also an authentic experience that will enrich your stay for sure. Breakfast is often offered for around 5 CUC per person. You can now book your stay through Airbnb which works very well throughout Cuba.

Many owners will not tell you when they are full. Instead, once you arrive, they will escort you to another casa particular where they will usually receive a commission. Expect to pay between 25-35 CUC in high season. Prices drop to just 5 CUC in low season. Upon arrival, as a β€œcheck-in procedure”, you will need to provide your passport for registration imposed by the Cuban government. The casa particular was for me the accommodation that I favored for its very good value for money and especially the local experience with the Cuban families it provides. During your stay in a casa particular, you will sometimes even be considered almost as a member of the family and will chat with your hosts quietly in their living room or on the porch of their house.

You will find information on the casas particulares where I stayed in my Cuba travel guide in ebook format.

Where to sleep? Accommodation in Cuba

The interior of a beautiful casa particular where I stayed in Havana

Hostels

 

Hostels are also an economical option for accommodation in Cuba, but you may not find them everywhere on the island. In Havana, you can go for example to Cuba 58 Hostel, Hostal CorazΓ³n del Mundo or Hostal DRobles Colonial. The prices per night in this type of hostel generally vary between 5 and 15 CUC.

ξƒœ
Food in Cuba

What and where to eat in Cuba?

Some typical dishes of Cuba

 

Cuban food depends almost entirely on what grows in the country due to the US embargo. As a result of the colonization of Cuba by Spain, one of the main influences on cuisine is therefore Spanish. The food is generally not spicy, it is also natural and healthy because it does not have a lot of flavor enhancers. However, breakfasts in Cuba are less balanced and diverse and you may feel like you are eating the same thing every morning. The main dishes, on the other hand, are more diverse.

  • ^ Ropa vieja is the most popular dish in Cuba, it consists of pulled beef stew with vegetables. It is served with black beans, yellow rice, and fried plantains. The meat is slowly cooked in a tomato sauce with peppers and onions.
  • ^ Arroz con pollo is simply a dish with chicken, rice and vegetables, quite similar to Spanish paella.
  • ^ LechΓ³n (roast suckling pig) is also a famous dish of Cuban gastronomy.
  • ^ Congri is also a very popular dish in Cuba, with onions, white rice, black beans and bacon.
Small store because of the embargo

Typical fruit and vegetable store with limited supply due to the embargo

Seafood in general is also widely available in Cuban restaurants. Definitely worth trying a lobster here as they are not expensive compared to other parts of the world. A lobster dish at the restaurant will cost you around 15 to 20 CUC.

For the greedy ones, flan is one of the traditional desserts of Cuba. It is a soft and sweet cake made with caramel, eggs and milk.

When it comes to fruits, guava is the most popular fruit as it grows widely in Cuba. You will often be served slices or juice of guava or papaya for breakfast.

When it comes to alcoholic drinks, the most common on the island is of course rum. You can enjoy many cocktails like mojito, daiquiri and Cuba Libre. The local beers are Bucanero and Cristal.

In Cuba, coffee and cocoa are also produced locally, so don’t hesitate to try Cafe Cubano which is a Cuban espresso, as well as their delicious and smooth hot chocolate.

How to do in Cuba - food - grilled fish

Grilled fish, white rice and vegetables

How to do in Cuba - food - Shrimps

Grilled shrimps

How to do in Cuba - food - grilled lobster

Lobster dish

Where to eat in Cuba?

 

The best places to eat in Cuba are the paladares, they are private restaurants of different ranges ranging from very classy to simple family kitchens. Originally, paladares were small restaurants set up and run by families in their own homes, for only a few guests. Following changes in the country’s economic model, these are now much larger, with staff and therefore look more like traditional restaurants now. You will therefore be able to discover traditional Cuban cuisine in this type of places which are notably listed on the websiteAlaMesa“.

How to save on food in Cuba?

To feed you at low cost, you will find small family paladares which offer very affordable prices. For an even more economical solution, you can also go to the street vendors who offer sandwiches, pizzas, pastries and more for only 1 to 3 CUC.
Cuban sandwiches are also very popular and are mostly made with cheese, ham or roast pork, pickles and mustard. Tostones, which are fried plantains, are also another inexpensive snack available everywhere.


Life cost in Cuba

How much does it cost to travel in Cuba?

Examples of costs in Cuba

 

Cuba is generally a cheap country for a Western tourist, but due to the US embargo on the country, you will not find certain products easily (or at all), which drives up the prices. Thus, in the ranking of the website Worlddata.info, Cuba is at the 50th place, which is a relatively high place and which explains the economic difficulties of the local populations.

First of all, you will find some cost examples in Cuba based on my experience and especially on the reliable website numbeo.com.

I’ll give you the prices in CUC, which has the following exchange rate:

[currency_bcc type="custom" w="400" h="200" c="1a435e" fc="FFFFFF" a="1" f="CUC" t="EUR" g="on" sh="off" b="off" fl="on" p="c" cs="" s="off" mf="1" df="2" d="1" su="on" lang="en-US"]

Below are the prices (based on 2021) for the costs that you may encounter during your trip:

In my Cuba travel guide, you will find complete cost estimates for a trip to Cuba depending on the length of time and the type of comfort you want. For example, the cost for 1 week in Cuba, sleeping in a hotel and renting a car.

How to pay in Cuba?

The currency in Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which is a β€œtourist currency” and the Cuban Peso (CUP) which is a currency reserved for residents. ATMs are available in major cities, but because of power outages that occur sometimes, ATMs doesn’t work all the time.
When you arrive, it is recommended to change money at official exchange offices called CADECA, rather in Havana as the airport charges more. CADECAs are also available in other major cities in Cuba. You can also exchange money at any Cuban bank.

It is preferable to carry cash with you as card payments are not always possible. Large hotels and upscale restaurants offer this method of payment without any problem. To avoid carrying too much money on you, book your accommodation in advance and prepay through the booking platforms. In fact, casas particulares and most budget hotels only accept cash.

Also note that credit cards from American banks are not accepted in Cuba. In any case, I advise you to contact your bank to know if there is any issue of withdrawals in Cuba.
Finally, regarding tips, it is customary to give 1 CUC or more for services well rendered, as in most countries.

How to connect to the internet in Cuba?

To connect to the Internet, you will need to purchase cards sold in increments of 1 CUC per hour from Cuban government telecommunications offices called ETECSA. With the login and password provided on these cards, you will be able to log in from your phone or computer, in most large parks or near the ETECSA offices.

It is also possible to buy Internet connection cards at high-end hotels, but this is more expensive.

ξƒž

Time for departure?

If you’ve read this guide so far, you may be very keen to explore Cuba. It may be one of the best choices you will make this month or even this year as I’m sure that traveling to Cuba will be for sure a great vacation memory.

If so, please let me help you in more detail with my Cuba travel guide ebook or paper format. I’m sure this ebook will simplify your trip organisation and will be very useful directly on your phone. Throughout your trip, you will have the following additional benefits:

  • ^ Additional amazing sites (20 in total) to visit with more tips for each spot (time needed to visit, photography advice, best moment of the day to visit, level of physical difficulty to reach the place…),
Extract from the Cuba travel guide - Chapter What to see in Cuba
  • ^ Recommended itineraries and full budget estimates based on different types of comfort.
Extract from the "recommended itineraries" chapter of the Cuba travel guide
  • ^ A map to download on your mobile with all the best places to visit, so you can just use it as a GPS, online or offline during your trip.
Map of Cuba to download to your mobile
  • ^ More informations on the country such as its history, local words useful to know, things not to do…
Extract from Cuba's ebook travel guide - facts, history and more

If you want to check the quality and value of this Cuba travel guide ebook or printed on demand, check out now the free trial version 🀩.

Enjoyed this page?

“Pin it” to share it on Pinterest and save it for later!

How to get around Cuba by Where2travel

You can also share this page “How to get around Cuba?” on:

Dan's picture in New York

Let’s share information on this page “How to get around Cuba?”! Let us know if you have other useful information and tips to travel in Cuba.

If you simply liked this page and want to send good vibes, or if you have questions, comments area is for that too.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *