If you choose a taxi as your preferred method of traveling around Cuba, you will soon find out that this is not as simple as it seems. Even though taxis are relatively cheap on the island, the system is rigged in their favor so you will have to learn to navigate it.
Even if you don’t plan on using a taxi to cover long stretches of the road, chances are you’ll use it on a daily basis just to get around the town.
Seeing as there is no way around it, familiarizing yourself with the taxi system on the island can save you a lot of headaches.
Word to the wise; I hear a lot of people complaining about New York, Tokyo and a whole bunch of other cities when it comes to taxis – apparently, it’s hard to land one there and you have to be some sort of a dark magician to get them to pick you up. You won’t have that particular issue in Cuba –they’ll pick you up alright – but the whole system is so complicated that you rarely know which end is up.
To be fair, you don’t have to understand the system. As I’ve said, getting a taxi is easy and uncomplicated. That is, if you don’t mind getting ripped off on every turn. However, if you want to save a small fortune, read on.
Most Important Thing to Know
When you get to Cuba you will quickly notice that cars are in short supply. It almost seems that owning a car automatically qualifies one to be a taxi driver! It doesn’t, but it sure feels like it.
There is one thing you absolutely need to know, however. Taxiing in Havana and in Cuba, in general, is different for tourists and for locals. Tourists mostly pay in CUC – Cuban Convertible Peso and locals pay in CUP – Cuban Peso. As you now, 1 CUC ($1) is worth 25 CUPs, but merely substituting the currency won’t do.
I’ll get to how you can possibly get around Havana using local taxis but to give you a heads up I’ll say it’s not easy and requires a bit of finesse on your part.
Right now, let’s introduce you to the fare that will most definitely be waiting for you once you get off a plane.
Tourists Taxis (Turistaxis)
These are government-run, official taxis that relatively modern. When I say modern I mean they are yellow-painted Hyundai’s and KIAs that are fitted with a taximeter. Most of the time the meter will be turned off – if you’re particular about it, you can insist that the driver turns it on since it is illegal to haggle on the price in these taxis.
However, if you prefer a local experience leave the meter off and negotiate a price. Rule of thumb – wherever you’re going in the boundaries of the city, always offer 5 CUC for the ride. Sometimes the driver won’t bother to counter you.
Fares usually go from 0.55 CUC/km to 1 CUC/km. Prices go up around popular beaches, but can go down to 0.45 CUC/km for longer round trips.
Private Taxis (Taxis Particulares)
As we’ve mentioned, sometimes it seems that every car in Cuba is actually a taxi. While this is not the case, taxi driving is a fairly common enterprise on the island. Tourists are many and cars or few – you do the math. People with a car are always looking for an opportunity to earn an extra CUC.
The ride here will generally be on par with what government-run taxis are charging unless you are an extremely good negotiator.
A good number of taxis particulars are vintage American or Russian old-timers – old Cadillacs and Ladas are a common sight. Some are in great condition but those are mostly in government ownership. You will recognize them by them ‘Gran Car’ markings.
If you fancy an hour-long ride through Old Havana in one of these beauts be prepared to set aside at least 20 CUC. Those of us with less-than-extraordinary haggling skills ended up paying 25 CUC, but no regrets in this particular case.
Bicitaxis are a real hoot! They are absolutely everywhere in Havana and are a great way to do some sightseeing. These open bikes sit 2 people and even that is a squeeze so make sure you’re sharing with someone you’re comfortable touching tights with!
The price of the fare is usually the same as with a taxi car, around 0.80 CUC/km.
These are a novelty targeting mainly tourists that visit Havana. They resemble large yellow helmets and are dragged along the road by a scooter. I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of these personally, but they are a good way to see Havana and are reasonably priced at 0.50 CUC/km. Some drivers might try to charge you more if they come to a conclusion that you are a dim-witted tourist, but stick to your guns and drive a hard bargain.
Communal Taxis (Almendrones)
As promised, I’ll try to explain how to cheaply get around Havana using almendrones – a slang term for old cars. These are usually privately owned and drive pre-set routes, from Parque Central to Miramar or Mariano.
They are unmarked but you will easily recognize them as locals constantly hop in and out of them.
Your demeanor plays a key role here. If the driver sniffs out that you’re a tourist you will get charged in CUC so you have to know passable Spanish to pull this off.
Here are a couple of tips that will help you get a ride that’s under 0.5 or 1 CUC, actually 10 or 20 CUP, depending on where you’re going.
- First off, don’t hop in on the corner of Neptuno and Parque Central as you will be pegged a tourist immediately. Walk a block into Neptuno and get on there.
- When you see an almendrone raise your hand and the driver will stop. Don’t ask anything through the window, get inside and sit.
- Don’t give the exact address. Simply state the street where you’re going and tell the driver when you want to get off.
- Don’t ask how much. If you’re going to the tunnel, the price is 10 CUP. If you’re going to Miramar or Mariano have 20 CUP handy.
- Pay the driver just before you get off. It pays to have small CUP bills handy to facilitate the exchange.
As you can see, you have plenty of choices when it comes to taxis. It always pays off to befriend a taxi driver, however, especially if you are planning on driving around a lot. You will be able to negotiate a better price this way.
Cuban taxi drivers are friendly, but in it for the business, so be careful not to get ripped off. I’ll give them credit – they are certainly characters, most of them. Most will try to sell you cigars, alcohol, or mutter something under their breath about taking you to meet some women if you’re a guy. Politely decline. After all, better safe than sorry.
I hope this little guide on taxis in Cuba comes in handy during your adventure. Make sure to drop by the comments section and tell me about your Cuban taxi experiences, I’d love to hear them!
So… What’s next?