When you’re traveling to Cuba you have a variety of ways to get around the island. Cuba has a wide range of car, van and motorcycle rentals but as the roads aren’t comparable to what we’re used to at home we suggest to travel around Cuba by bus to avoid any trouble. All major sites of interest are covered by Viazul, and if you’re leaving this track you can always rely on the local bus services.
Here’s what you need to know:
Avoid the guagua
Avoid the guagua, aka local bus. Crowded, hot, unreliable and very Cuban, these buses have a number of culturally defined rules, like walking as far back, exiting the rear and even finding out who was last in line at bus stops when you join the queues.
If you do find yourself taking this option, be aware of your valuables. We must add that it is quite an adventure at times, and that prices are cheap.
Viazul can get you anywhere
Take the tourist bus. Viazul is a national company designed for non-Cubans. While sometimes it’s nice to do what the locals do, this is NOT one of those times. This bus is punctual, reliable, covers the entire island and even has air conditioning.
You could spend $50 and 15 hours to get from Varadero to Santiago de Cuba. When you’re on a night bus make sure that you bring a sweater, as the airco isn’t turned off. Never.
Astro & Conectando
Astro & Conectando are two other options, and while these are new and less expensive, they’re also less extensive and less reliable. They don’t cover all the popular tourist destinations compared to Viazul, but if you’re into alternative routes and destinations this might just be the thing for you.
If all else fails, you can always hail a taxi, which are plentiful at the bus stops. Splitting a taxi with a number of other people can sometimes be the same price as a bus ticket.
The benefit of using a Taxi Particular is that they can stop whenever you want to snap some pics, or to leave the main route and take alternative roads to get to your destination. It’s also a good way to get in touch with locals again.
Last year we took a Taxi Particular from Viñales to Cienfuegos. It took us less time to get there, there were 4 of us so it ended up being cheaper, and our taxi driver was a very easy going dude that even enjoyed it when we connected our iPod to his speakers and started playing Foo Fighters.
Traveling Cuba style
For shorter routes there’s an even better alternative than Taxi Particulares. The transport in Cuba isn’t well organised, but Cuba wouldn’t be Cuba if the population didn’t come up with a system that does seem to work.
In order to connect smaller villages there’s a system in place where cars and trucks pick up people that cannot get there themselves. You’ll see these stops frequently when you’re on the road, and you’ll always see a man in a yellow uniform managing this.
The idea is simple…. If you have a truck that goes from A to B to pick up goods and it’s still empty, you can fill it with people :)
Some bus tips
- If you want to ensure you have a seat on the often-full bus, book your tickets the day before, and get to your bus early to get in line for a seat.
- Bring a sweater as the AC might be in overdrive.
- Bring hand sanitizer, toilet paper, coins and be prepared for less than salubrious toilets. Sometimes they don’t work on the buses, so bathroom breaks will be made, but these can be even less appealing, which is where all your packed items will come in handy.
- This is a Cuban run bus, so rules are flexible, especially for the driver.
Wherever you go, be it Trinidad or Viñales, have your Casa Particular booked in advance. Touts are often at bus stations ready to take you to different Casas Particulares but often up-charge the rooms as their fee.
Save money and hassle be pre-booking your stay at a place of your preference and know in advance that you will be happy with where you end up staying the night.