Getting Around Cuba
Cubana de Aviación (www.cubana.cu) is the principal carrier in Cuba. The state-owned company operares internal flights between Havana and regional airports in Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara, Nueva Gerona, Cayo Largo del sur, Guantánamo, Cienfuegos and Nueva Gerona.
Very few Cubans own cars, and outside of major cities almost the only vehicles on the road are agricultural deliveries, whose drivers know their routes by heart. As a result, signposting is a low priority but is improving as of late. Buy the best map available at the Infotur office in La Habana Vieja (the Guia de Carreteras).
Large sections of the autopista (motorway) are in a diabolical condition, potholed and poorly lit; to join or exit the motorway, drivers must often cross oncoming lanes, assuming lane markers exist. With heavy goods traffic concentrated on the motorway, many provincial primary roads are in fairly good condition.
Always stop at level crossings, which are often unmarked and almost always un-gated.
While it is fairly easy to get around by car, poor lighting and potholes are ubiquitous on Cuban roads. In the countryside, drivers will share the road with horse drawn carriages, bicycles, and various farm equipment and animals.
Cuba has two primary motorways. The Autopista Nacional (also known as Ocho Vías or Eight Lanes) goes from Pinar del Río in the west to Taguasco in the centre of the country, with another length from Palma Soriano to Santiago de Cuba and a stretch from La Maya to Guantánamo. Further sections are under construction. The Carretera Central connects almost all provincial capitals.
All car hire companies are state owned. Prices are negotiable up to a point, but expect to be delayed when picking up the vehicle. It may be easier and has proven to be cheaper to book car hire through a specialist tour operator in your own country. When picking up the car, be sure there is a spare tyre and jack, and consider snapping a date-stamped picture of any existing damage to avoid disputes upon drop-off.
In all major Cuban cities, taxis are easy to find and each town will have a taxi rank. Look for cars with a 'taxi' sign and blue licence plates (those with yellow plates are privately owned, are usually shared and run on fixed routes). There are a small number of bogus taxi drivers operating from Cuba's airports and around Old Havana. If you need a taxi, try to make sure it's a registered one and not a private vehicle. Drivers won't be offended if you ask to see their license.
The lack of traffic makes Cuba a popular choice for cycling tours. You can rent bikes in Havana from a number of bike hire companies.
Efficient Viazul (tel: +53 7 881 1413; www.viazul.com) buses connect most towns across the island of interest to visitors including Havana, Camagüey, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, Varadero and Viñales.
Speed limits are 100kph (62mph) on the motorway and 50kph (31mph) in urban areas. Motorcycle traffic police and stationary check points are common, and they are usually very strict. Tourists must be aged 21 or over and appear on the rental contract to be able to drive in Cuba. Seat belts are required; motorcycle riders and their passengers must wear helmets.
Should you breakdown, you need to contact your car hire agency to arrange roadside assistance.
Valid national driving licence required.
Plentiful buses, and shared taxis criss-cross Havana, but are almost always overcrowded. Nevertheless, riding a Cuban guagua (bus) or colectivo (collective taxi) is a sure fire way to sneak a peek into daily life on the island.
Taxis: Opt for a modern air-conditioned vehicle, or for special occasions a vintage American car (available at the best hotels). All official taxis have meters but watch out for taxis with 'broken' meters, especially in Havana. Unofficial 'private taxis', often vintage Ladas with blacked-out windows, can be hailed on the street but beware; while they're generally safe, drivers are breaking the law and if caught, everyone’s journey will be over. In view of serious accidents that have involved tourists, travellers should not use mopeds or the three-wheel coco-taxis that are seen around tourist areas.
The national rail company is Ferrocarriles de Cuba, often shortened to Ferrocuba (tel: +53 7 861 2959 for train times in Havana or +53 22 622 836 for train times in Santiago de Cuba). There is no official website, but further information is available from The Man in Seat Sixty-One (www.seat61.com/Cuba.htm).
The principal rail route is from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. Some trains on this route have air conditioning and refreshments. There are also through trains from Havana to other towns. Previously, the rail network connected the vast majority of the country, but it's been badly affected by natural disasters and now only certain parts of the country are accessible by rail. The trains are slow and punctuality does not seem to be a priority, but journeys are scenic and relaxing.
Another option for travellers who want to ride the rails is the Hershey Railway between Havana and Matanzas; this electric railcar departs three times a day from the Casablanca station across the harbour from Havana and is a scenic, off-the-beaten track adventure.
Havana Estación Central is closed for renovation work until summer 2018. During this period, trains will stop at either the nearby La Coubre station or Havana's 19 de Noviembre (Tulipan) station. Check the latest train timetable before travelling.
The only destinations in Cuba serviced by water routes are Isla de la Juventud on a daily ferry from Batabanó south of Havana, and Cayo Levisa, as part of accommodation packages to that key off the northern coast. Additionally, there is a commuter ferry crossing Havana harbour several times daily between Havana and Casablanca.
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