Date Visited: November 2015

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Cuba is an enchanting destination! A country with a long and complex history and fascinating culture, the largest island in the Caribbean, which is home to the region’s largest population. As a destination, Cuba offers so much and during my visit, I explored the cities of Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego De Avila, Camagüey, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba.

For each city I have provided details about sights, accommodation and restaurant options, which has resulted in a travel guide twice the size of my usual guides. While I like having all information in one guide, downloading such a behemoth would take too long so I have split the guide into two parts, with  Cuba Travel Guide Part 1 containing all the usual sections except for sights, accommodation and restaurants, which you’ll find in the Cuba Travel Guide Part 2

Introduction

Once a favoured hedonistic destination for American celebrities and socialites, Cuba had a reputation as an exotic and permissive playground. In the early 20th century, Cuba’s ideal tropical beaches attracted the American masses who could purchase cheap package tours from Florida, which included round-trip tickets from Miami, hotel, food and entertainment. The island also attracted famous celebrities such as Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway (who loved Cuba so much he relocated to Havana).

The party ended in 1959 when a young Fidel Castro, having overthrown the corrupt President – Fulgencio Batista, came to power, installed a communist government and promptly destroyed all symbols of the hedonistic past, including casino’s and resort’s. This effectively ended tourism in Cuba with visitor numbers plummeting from 350,000 visitor’s in 1957 to 4,000 in 1961.

Smiles in Sancti Spiritus.

Smiles in Sancti Spiritus.

In 1963, the United States government delivered the final blow by enacting the trade and travel embargo (still in place today), closing off the popular Caribbean playground to Americans. Under the Obama administration there was a thaw in relations and a hope that the embargo would finally be lifted by congress. President Trump, through a series of initiatives, is now working to reverse the progress made under Obama, including a tightening of the trade embargo.

Symbolic artwork at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana.

Symbolic artwork at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana.

With a population of almost 12 million, Cuba is the most populous nation in the Caribbean and it’s largest island. Most Cubans are employed by the state, earning an average salary of US$20 per month. The meager wage is offset (somewhat) by the distribution of Ration books, which provide families with a variety of essentials at heavily subsided prices.

Despite the hardships of everyday life, Cubans are generally gregarious, happy, hospitable, outgoing and vivacious. They have a great sense of humour, are highly educated, and love their music, dancing and rum.

School children in Havana.

School children in Havana.

In 2016, Cuba attracted a record four million tourists, many of them arriving on cruise ships, carrying US passports. Cruise ship arrivals increased from 24 in 2012 to 139 in 2015. The Ministry of tourism has forecast more exponential growth in the coming years, all thanks to an increase in visitors from the United States. Despite the setbacks from the current US administration, the floodgates have been opened and American tourists are once again flocking to this Caribbean jewel.

Happy in Trinidad.

Happy in Trinidad.

Location

A bastion of socialism lying 90 miles south of a bastion of capitalism! Cuba is located in the Caribbean sea, at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The nation is an archipelago consisting of more than 4,000 islands and cays, with almost everyone and everything located on the main island of Cuba. At 1,250 kilometres / 780 miles long, Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and is also its most populous nation with 11,500,000 people.

Havana is just 90 miles south of Key West (Florida, USA).

Havana is just 90 miles south of Key West (Florida, USA).

The old town of Havana is a treasure of colonial architecture.

The old town of Havana is a treasure of colonial architecture.

The United States lies across the Straits of Florida, with Key West just 90 miles north of Havana. Other neighbouring countries include the Bahamas – 21 kilometres (13 miles) to the north, Haiti – 77 kilometres (48 miles) to the east, Jamaica – 140 kilometres (87 miles) southeast and the Cayman Islands – 437 kilometres  (272 miles) to the south.

History

Ceiling fresco of 'Revolucion' in the Museo de la Revolucion, Havana.

Ceiling fresco of ‘Revolucion’ in the Museo de la Revolucion, Havana.

Like so many other Caribbean islands, the history of Cuba can be broken into a pre-Colombian period, a colonial period, and a period of independence.

Pre-Colombian Era

Cuba was first settled around 3,000 BC by the native Guanajatabey, who lived for centuries on the island, until the arrival of waves of migrants from the east – including the powerful native Indian Taíno. 

The Taíno originally entered the Caribbean from South America and at the time of Columbus’ arrival they occupied most of the islands in the Caribbean. The Taíno were agricultural specialists and gave Cuba it’s name, which translates as either “where fertile land is abundant” (cubao), or a “great place” (coabana). Once settled, they divided Cuba into 29 chiefdom’s, forcing the remaining Guanajatabey to the far western end of the island – into the area which is now Pinar del Rio province. When Columbus arrived and claimed Cuba for Spain, the Spanish used the existing Taíno settlements as the sites for their future colonial cities, retaining the original Taíno names in places such as Havana, Camagüey and Baracoa,

Colonial Cuba

The old town in Havana is a treasure trove of Colonial architecture,

The old town in Havana is a treasure trove of Colonial architecture,

Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover Cuba, arriving from the Bahamas during his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Columbus was looking for a route to India and believed Cuba was part of Asia. During his second voyage in 1494, he mapped the south-east coast but the entire island was not fully mapped until 1509. In 1511 the Spanish sailed from Hispaniola to Cuba to establish their first settlement at Baracoa.

The Spanish faced stiff resistance from the well organised Taíno’s which led to 3 years of conflict. Once the chieftains had been captured (and burnt alive) the Spanish gained control of the island and in 1514 established a settlement in what was to become Havana. The Spanish Crown installed Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar as the first governor of Cuba – originally residing in Baracoa then later Havana. The Spanish turned the island into an agricultural powerhouse, importing an army of slaves to work on sugarcane plantations. Tobacco plantations employed ‘free’ slaves as the work was considered delicate and was not suited to someone working under ‘forced’ conditions.

As Cuba became more prosperous, so too it become a frequent target of attack from other colonial powers – notably the British, who managed to occupy Havana for a brief period in 1762, before returning it to Spain in exchange for Florida.

A series of rebellions during the 19th century failed to end Spanish rule. However, the Spanish–American War resulted in a Spanish withdrawal from the island in 1898. The US military occupied the island for three-and-a-half years before the country gained independence in 1902.

Independent Cuba

Cuban flag in Trinidad.

Cuban flag in Trinidad.

In the years following its independence, the Cuban economy flourished but was prone to political corruption and was ruled by a succession of despotic leaders. Into the fray stepped a young revolutionary – Fidel Castro who managed to overthrow of the ruling dictator Fulgencio Batista on the 1st of January 1959.

¡Viva la Revolución!

Fidel Castro

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born into a rich Spanish farming family in Cuba. During his years of studying law at the University of Havana he adopted leftist anti-imperialist politics. Following his studies he participating in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, after which he planned to overthrow the Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. His first attempt failed when he launched a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953 (see ‘Sights – Santiago de Cuba‘ below).

After the attack he was thrown into prison, after which he relocated to Mexico where he formed a revolutionary group, the 26th of July Movement, with his brother Raúl Castro and Che Guevara. Upon his return to Cuba, Castro played a key role in the Cuban Revolution by leading the Movement in a guerrilla war against Batista’s forces. In 1959 the revolution prevailed and Batista was overthrown.

After the coup, Castro consolidated his power by brutally marginalising other resistance groups and imprisoning and executing opponents and dissident supporters. This led to an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who fled the island for the United States (90 miles to the north). Today there are more than two million Cubans living in the United States – mainly in Florida.

Castro passed away on the 25th of November 2016.

Che Guevara

Che Guevara

Che Guevara

Born in Argentina, Ernesto “Che” Guevara first met Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1955 and decided immediately to join the Cuban revolutionary cause. He returned to Cuba with Fidel aboard the Granma and was instrumental in training new recruits for the revolution. After the revolution succeeded he assumed several key roles in the government including that of statesmen which saw him travel the world as a representative of the Cuban government, including a visit to the United Nations in New York City in 1964 where he gave an hour-long speech.

Life as a bureaucrat was never easy for a restless revolutionary and so in 1965, Che wrote a farewell letter to Fidel Castro in which he affirmed his solidarity with the revolution and also resigned from all his positions in the Cuban government and communist party, and renounced his honorary Cuban citizenship.

In 1965, Che dropped out of public life and journeyed (incognito) to the Congo to join the revolution there – a revolution which failed soon after due to (in the words of Guevara) “the incompetence, intransigence and infighting among the Congolese rebels”. 

In 1966, Che (who had now altered his image) arrived in Laz Paz to assist the Bolivian revolution. On the 8th of October 1967, two battalions of Bolivian soldiers (assisted by the CIA) conducted a raid on his remote compound at which point he was captured. The following day, fearing he would escape, the Bolivian president – René Barrientos – gave the order to execute him.

The remains of Che laid in an unmarked mass grave beside an airstrip in Vallegrande, Bolivia until 1997. After being identified, they were flown to Cuba where they were laid to rest with military honors in a specially built mausoleum in the city of Santa Clara – a city in which Che had led a decisive military victory during the Cuban revolution.

Government

A painting depicting El Capitolio (National Capitol Building) in Havana.

A painting depicting El Capitolio (National Capitol Building) in Havana.

Cuba is an independent socialist republic, which is constitutionally defined as a “socialist state guided by the principles of José Martí, and the political ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin.” The present Constitution also ascribes the role of the Communist Party of Cuba to be the “leading force of society and of the state.”

Executive power is exercised by the Government, which is represented by the Council of State and the Council of Ministers. Legislative power is exercised through the unicameral National Assembly of People’s Power, which is constituted as the maximum authority of the state. Apart from the Communist party, there are no legally recognized political parties in Cuba. The communist party controls all aspects of life in Cuba, including almost 100% of the economy.

Soldiers visiting a statue of José Martí in Havana.

Soldiers visiting a statue of José Martí in Havana.

Currently Raúl Castro — brother of former President Fidel Castro — is President of the Council of State, President of the Council of Ministers, First Secretary of the Communist Party, and Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Currency

Che Guevara adorns the 3 CUP note.

Che Guevara adorns the 3 CUP note.

The currency of Cuba is the Peso, with two different Peso’s currently in circulation – the CUC and the CUP. The CUC is a convertible peso used by tourists while the CUP is the national peso (moneda nacional) used by Cubans. The exchange rate between the two is fixed at 1 CUC = 25 CUP, while USD $1 = 1 CUC.  

Most Cuban state workers receive their wages in national pesos and, with an average salary of US$20 per month, prices in CUP are generally very reasonable. Shops which sell everyday products to Cubans only accept payment in CUP while imported ‘luxuries’ or foreign branded products are sold in “Dollar shops” in CUC. Anything sold to tourist’s is priced in CUC.

Internet

Internet surfing in the main square of Cienfuegos.

Internet surfing in the main square of Cienfuegos.

There’s no better place to be offline than Cuba, where internet is restricted, expensive and tediously slow. To access the web you first need to purchase a scratch-off ‘NAUTA‘ card from any office of the national telecoms provider – Etesca. Cards cost CUC 2 and are valid for one hour of access, with customers able to purchase up to three cards at a time.

Etesca branches are famous for their long, snaking, slow queues. If you are faced with a long wait, you can try to purchase cards from touts who sell them for a small profit at the local WiFi spot or alternately, you can ask at the reception desk of larger hotels.

With almost two million Cubans living in the United States, WiFi spots throughout the country are always busy with families keeping in touch.

With almost two million Cubans living in the United States, WiFi spots throughout the country are always busy with families keeping in touch.

Once you have your card you need to locate the nearest WiFi spot, which is normally in the main square of each town and is easily found due to the ever-present hoard of locals gathered around using their smartphones to message/ call relatives overseas.

Etesca maintain a nationwide directory of 508 WiFi spots on their website.

Rum

Havana Club - Cuba's most popular rum export.

Havana Club – Cuba’s most popular rum export.

As beer is to the Germans, wine to the French and a good cup of tea to the British – so Rum is to the Cubans. Along with cigars, rum is a core part of Cuba’s national identity.

History

The former headquarters of the Bacardi rum company in Havana.

The former headquarters of the Bacardi rum company in Havana.

Rum is made from sugarcane, a crop that the Spanish introduced to the Americas after Columbus’ discover in 1492. The first rum was produced on the Caribbean island of Barbados during the 17th century when plantation slaves discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, could be fermented into alcohol. This was a good development since a pound of molasses (then treated as a waste product) was produced for every two pounds of sugar – islands which were awash in this sticky goo now had a profitable use for it!

As refining techniques improved and the world acquired a taste for rum, other sugar-producing islands developed their own rum distilleries – including Cuba, which was a Spanish colony at the time. Cuba’s fertile soil and sticky climate proved ideal for growing many agricultural products including sugarcane.

While English colonies in the Caribbean produced bolder, darker rums and French colonies produced agricultural rums (rhum agricole), which retained more of the flavour from the sugar cane, Spanish colonies traditionally produced añejo (‘vintage’ or ‘aged’) rums, which are characterised by a smoother, more subtle taste. The tradition of añejo rums is all due to a request from the Spanish Crown for spirits which were more delicate in flavor.

By the late 1800’s, there were two major rum-distilling families in Cuba: the Bacardi’s and the Arechabala’s (who founded Havana Club). In 1960, following the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro’s regime “nationalised” all Cuban companies, including these families’ distilleries. This forced the families into exile, with the Bacardi’s fleeing to Puerto Rico (they had anticipated the nationalisation move and had already moved their intellectual property and yeast strain out of Cuba). Despite it’s exile, visitors to Cuba can today visit the former Bacardi headquarters in Havana, the very ornate, art deco – Edificio Bacardi (Bacardi Building) – which offers panoramic views of the old town from it’s rooftop. In Santiago de Cuba, you can view the original factory from the street.

The Arechabala family (who had not anticipated the move and hence were not able to start up production outside of Cuba) fled to the United States. Today Havana Club is produced in Cuba and sold globally (except the United States) through a joint venture between the Cuban government and Pernod Ricard.

A Quaffable Trio

The three most popular Cuban cocktails are all rum-based.

The three most popular Cuban cocktails are all rum-based.

 Three of the world’s most popular rum cocktails were born in Cuba – the Mojito, Cuba Libre and the Daiquiri.

A Mojito served at the Bacardi Rum museum in Santiago de Cuba.

A Mojito served at the Bacardi Rum museum in Santiago de Cuba.

Mojito

Available at worthwhile bars around the world (and one of my favourite drinks) – the Mojito was originally born in Havana although it’s exact origin is subject to debate. One story claims the drink was developed in the 1500’s when the famed English privateer – Sir Francis Drake – landed in Havana in order to sack the city of its gold. While the invasion was unsuccessful, an associate of Drake – Richard Drake – created an early version of the Mojito, which he called “El Draque“, using rum, sugar, lime and mint.

Mojito’s have always been a popular drink and have been immortalised in popular culture, including in 2002 in the James Bond film “Die Another Day”.

Mojito Recipe

Ingredients

2 oz. white rum
1/2 oz. of freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon of superfine sugar
3 mint leaves
Soda water
Collins glass (tall glass)

Directions

1. In a Collins glass – mash the lime juice with the sugar.
2. Add the mint leaves, mushing them against the side of the glass.
3. Fill the glass 2/3 with ice then pour in the rum and stir gently.
4. Add the squeezed-out lime wedges and top off with soda water.

Cuba Libre

A simple mix of rum, coke and lime juice served on ice, the “Cuba Libre” (Free Cuba) originated in Cuba in the early 20th century after the country won its independence from Spain.

American soldiers, celebrating victory after the Spanish-American War, requested their Coca-Cola be mixed with Cuban rum. They toasted to a free Cuba, thereby creating the original Cuba Libre which is today one of the world’s most popular alcoholic drinks.

Daiquiri

The word Daiquiri comes from the Taino (native Indian) language and is the name of a village located a short distance from Santiago de Cuba. During the early 20th century, an American mine engineer – Jennings Cox – was working at an Iron mine near to Daiquiri when he ran out of gin while entertaining American guests. He instead served local rum but added lime juice and sugar to improve the rum’s taste. The Daiquiri – one of the world’s most popular cocktails – was born!

Cigars

"Mayan Vase with a Man Smoking a Cigar" - dated from 1,000 AD. Source: Pinterest

“Mayan Vase with a Man Smoking a Cigar” – dated from 1,000 AD. Source: Pinterest

History

The origins of cigar smoking are unknown, but what is known is that people have enjoyed smoking them for centuries. Depictions of Mayan Indians smoking cigars can be found on pottery-ware dating back a thousand years. It’s possible the word Cigar is derived from the Mayan word for smoking – Sikar.

What is known is that Christoper Columbus and his men encountered tobacco for the first time in 1492 on the island of Hispaniola (present day Haiti and Dominican Republic) when natives presented them with some dried leaves. At the time of Columbus’ arrival, tobacco plants were widely diffused among all of the islands of the Caribbean, including on Cuba, where Columbus settled with his men. The word cohíba (today a famous brand of Cuban cigar) derives from the native Taino word for ‘tobacco‘.

Cigars are integral to the Cuban identity.

Cigars are integral to the Cuban identity.

In time, European sailors in the Caribbean acquired a taste for tobacco which later became popular in Europe and the rest is history. As the demand for tobacco increased, farms were established in the Caribbean with the first commercial farm being created by the Spanish on Cuba in 1542. In 1592, a Spanish galleon carried 50 kilograms (110 lb) of tobacco seed to the Philippines (then the Spanish East-Indies), marking the introduction of the crop into Asia.

As with sugarcane, the soil and climate of Cuba proved ideal for growing tobacco. Initially the most popular export from Cuba was sugar, however, as tobacco’s popularity increased, the export percentages switched and tobacco became the number one export out of Cuba.

The Cohiba brand was created in the 1960's by Fidel Castro.

The Cohiba brand was created in the 1960’s by Fidel Castro.

Production Today

Today, tobacco is Cuba’s 3rd largest export item with the western-most province of Pinar del Rio being the principle growing region. Famous Cuban cigar brands include CohibaMontecristo, Partagás, Romeo Y Julieta and Bolivar. 

Advertisement for 'Romeo y Julieta' cigars.

Advertisement for ‘Romeo y Julieta’ cigars.

The Cohiba brand was created by Fidel Castro as a superior brand of cigar to be enjoyed by party elites. The cigars proved popular and were soon being presented to foreign dignitaries and statesmen as gifts. The cigars were then made available to the public during the 1982 Football World cup in Spain and have been on the market ever since, available everywhere – except the United States. Habanos S.A. – an arm of the Cuban state tobacco company – controls the promotion, distribution, and export of Cuban cigars worldwide.

Worker in a cigar factory in Sancti Spíritus (photo shot through a screened window).

Worker in a cigar factory in Sancti Spíritus (photo shot through a screened window).

Visas Requirements

The visa policy of Cuba is surprisingly simple. Prior to arrival, most nationalities are required to purchase a green ‘Tourist Card‘ (Tarjeta del Turista) which costs US$25. A tourist card grants a maximum stay of 30 days (90 days for Canadians) and can be obtained from Cuban missions, travel agencies or the airline (the one which will fly you into Cuba).

The easiest way to obtain the card is to purchase it directly from the airline at the airport. I flew from Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) to Havana with Cubana and was able to easily purchase the card prior to check-in for US$25 cash. If your flight is originating from the United States, a pink Tourist Card will be issued at a cost of US$50.

Getting There

Air

Cuba boasts 11 International airports, located in different cities and resort areas, providing travelers with increased flexibility when planning arrival and departure points from this long island. International airports are located in the following cities:

  • Camaguey (code: CMW)
  • Cayo Coco (code: CCC)
  • Cayo Largo (code: CYO)
  • Cienfuegos (code: CFG)
  • Havana (code: HAV)
  • Holguin (code: HOG)
  • Manzanillo de Cuba (code: MZO)
  • Santa Clara (code: SNU)
  • Santiago de Cuba (code: SCU)
  • Varadero (code: VRA)

The main gateway is Havanas’ José Martí International Airport, which is located 15 kilometres (9 miles) southwest of the capital. The airport serves as the base for the national carrier – Cubana – and the smaller Aerogaviota, who both operate International and domestic flights from the airport.

The following airlines provide scheduled services to/ from José Martí International Airport:

  • Aeroflot – flies to/ from Moscow–Sheremetyevo
  • Aerogaviota – flies to/ from Baracoa, Cayo Coco, Holguin, Kingston–Norman Manley, Montego Bay, Santiago de Cuba
  • Aeroméxico – flies to/ from Cancún, Mexico City
  • Air Canada Rouge – flies to/ from Toronto–Pearson
  • Air Caraïbes – flies to/ from Paris–Orly
  • Air China – flies to/ from Beijing–Capital, Montréal–Trudeau
  • Air Europa – flies to/ from Madrid
  • Air France – flies to/ from Paris–Charles de Gaulle
  • Alitalia – flies to/ from Rome-Fiumicino
  • American Airlines – flies to/ from Charlotte, Miami
  • Aruba Airlines  – flies to/ from Aruba
  • Avianca – flies to/ from Bogotá
  • Avianca El Salvador – flies to/ from San Salvador
  • Avianca Peru – flies to/ from Lima
  • Bahamasair – flies to/ from Nassau
  • Blue Panorama Airlines – flies to/ from Milan–Malpensa, Rome–Fiumicino
  • Cayman Airways – flies to/ from Cayman Brac, Grand Cayman
  • Condor – flies to/ from Frankfurt, Munich
  • Conviasa – flies to/ from Caracas
  • Copa Airlines – flies to/ from Panama City
  • Corsair International – flies to/ from Paris–Orly
  • Cubana – flies to/ from Baracoa, Bayamo, Bogotá, Buenos Aires–Ezeiza, Camagüey, Cancún, Caracas, Cayo Coco, Fort-de-France, Guantánamo, Holguín, Las Tunas, Madrid, Managua, Manzanillo (Cuba), Mexico City, Moa, Montréal–Trudeau, Nassau, Nueva Gerona, Paris–Orly, Pointe-à-Pitre, Port-au-Prince, San José, Santiago de Cuba, Santo Domingo–Las Américas, Toronto–Pearson
  • Delta Air Lines – flies to/ from Atlanta, Miami, New York–JFK
  • EasySky – flies to/ from Tegucigalpa
  • Edelweiss – flies to/ from Air Zürich
  • Evelop – flies to/ from Airlines Madrid
  • Fly All Ways – flies to/ from Paramaribo
  • Iberia – flies to/ from Madrid
  • InterCaribbean Airways – flies to/ from Providenciales
  • Interjet – flies to/ from Cancún, Mérida, Mexico City, Monterrey
  • JetBlue Airways – flies to/ from Fort Lauderdale, New York–JFK, Orlando
  • KLM – flies to/ from Amsterdam
  • LATAM Perú – flies to/ from Lima
  • Meridiana – flies to/ from Milan–Malpensa
  • PAWA Dominicana – flies to/ from Santo Domingo-Las Americas
  • Plus Ultra Líneas Aéreas – flies to/ from Barcelona
  • Southwest Airlines – flies to/ from Fort Lauderdale, Tampa
  • Sunrise Airways – flies to/ from Port-au-Prince
  • TAAG Angola Airlines – flies to/ from Luanda
  • TAME – flies to/ from Quito
  • Turkish Airlines – flies to/ from Istanbul-Atatürk
  • United Airlines – flies to/ from Houston–Intercontinental, Newark
  • Virgin Atlantic – flies to/ from London–Gatwick
  • Wingo – flies to/ from Bogotá

Cruise Ship

A variety of Cruise Ship companies offer cruises to Cuba. For the latest schedules and prices, you should check the following websites:

Getting Around

Air

Air

Most domestic air services are offered by Cubana who operate a fleet of 16 planes. Apart from two ATR 72 (French) aircraft, Cubana’s fleet consists entirely of soviet-era metal, namely Antonov (Ukrainian), Ilyushin (Russian) and Tupolev (Russian).

Ticket prices are very reasonable (US$130 one way from Havana to Santiago de Cuba) which means flights are very popular and often sold-out well in advance. Flights can be booked online a variety of OTA’s including Skyscanner.

Domestic flights are also offered by the 2nd carrier – Aerogaviota, who connect Havana to Baracoa, Cayo Coco, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. 

Bus

Intercity Bus

There are two national bus companies in Cuba with Viazul being the company used by tourists. This state-owned (of course!) company operates a fleet of modern and comfortable coaches which provide regular connections to most Cuban cities with journey’s typically costing around 3 CUC per hour.

Schedules and prices are available on their website where you can also book tickets. Alternatively you can purchase tickets at any bus terminal. Some routes (e.g. Havana – Trinidad, Havana – Santiago de Cuba) are very popular so it’s recommended to book in advance.

AstroBus is a bus service which is available only to Cuban Residents who must produce their ID card when purchasing a ticket, which are payable in CUP. The fleet is comprised of modern Chinese YUTONG buses,

Colectivo

Colectivo

Riding in a Colectivo is a quintessential Cuban travel experience.

Riding in a Colectivo is a quintessential Cuban travel experience.

Colectivo’s (also known as Almendrone’s) are taxis running on fixed, long-distance routes. They are generally old (pre-revolution) American clunkers. with room for two passengers up front and four in the back.

In other countries these cars would be displayed in museum’s but in Cuba they are an integral part of the public transport system, operating like buses, dropping off and picking up on demand. Journey’s typically cost 50 cents CUC per person per journey.

The driver of this Colectivo in Holguín told me his car was built in the United States in 1948.

The driver of this Colectivo in Holguín told me his car was built in the United States in 1948.

Taxi

Taxi

Pre-1959 classic American cars are used as taxi's all over Cuba.

Pre-1959 classic American cars are used as taxi’s all over Cuba.

Taxi companies in Cuba are government owned and charge reasonably priced fares (compared to major cities around the world) with a typical tariff of 50 cents (CUC) per kilometre.

Taxi drivers will often offer tourists a flat, off-meter rate that usually works out very close to what you’ll pay with the meter. The difference is that with the meter, the money goes to the state to be divided up; without the meter it goes into the driver’s pocket.

Old-time classic car taxi in Havana.

Old-time classic car taxi in Havana.

Havana Taxi Tours

Taxi drivers offering rides in beautifully maintained American classic cars congregate opposite the Hotel Inglaterra in downtown Havana. Taxi tours cost around 25 CUC per hour and can be pre-booked here.

Coco Taxi

Coco Taxi

An old baseball bat is all that's needed to support the weight of a Coco Taxi.

An old baseball bat is all that’s needed to support the weight of a Coco Taxi.

A section on ‘Getting Around’ Cuba wouldn’t be complete without mention of the iconic, yellow Coco Taxi, an auto rickshaw found only on the streets of Havana.

The Coco carries 2-3 passengers, runs on a two-stroke motor and is made of lightweight fiber-glass which makes raising the body for repairs a breeze. The Coco gets it’s name from it’s rounded body which resembles a half-coconut. These noisy, smog belching rickshaws costs less than a regular taxi.

Bici-Taxi

Bici-Taxi

Two girls in Cienfuegos enjoying a ride in a Bici Taxi.

Two girls in Cienfuegos enjoying a ride in a Bici Taxi.

Bici-taxis are one of the best and cheapest forms of transportation in Cuba and are a great way to explore a city, with a one hour sightseeing tour costing 5 CUC.

Bici’s are pedal-powered tricycles (the Cuban Rickshaw) with a double seat behind the driver. They are commonly found in Havana and most large cities and are cheaper than taxis but fares need to be negotiated in advance. While locals pay 10 to 20 pesos (CUP) for a short journey, drivers will charge tourists 1-2 CUC.

A family in Cienfuegos shopping from the comfort of a Bici Taxi.

A family in Cienfuegos shopping from the comfort of a Bici Taxi.

Horse Cart

Horse Cart

A Horse cart is the best way to explore Cienfuegos and other Cuban cities.

A Horse cart is the best way to explore Cienfuegos and other Cuban cities.

The most relaxed form of transport in Cuba – Coches de caballo (horse carriages) provide a pleasurable way to explore cities such as Cienfuegos or Camagüey. While carriages normally trot along fixed routes, they can be hired for sightseeing trips or direct point-to-point journey’s with a short trip costing 1 CUC.

Touring Cienfuegos in my horse carriage.

Touring Cienfuegos in my horse carriage.

Train

Train

Cuban rail network. Source: Wikpedia

Cuban rail network. Source: Wikpedia

The first railway in Latin America was inaugurated in Cuba in 1837, with a 27.5 km line running between Havana & Bejucal. Built by the Spanish to transport sugar, it was constructed at a time when no railways existed in Spain.

Known for it’s slow, unreliable service and poorly maintained carriages, improvements are slowly happening with the government making investments in recent years in new rolling stock, with new locomotives ordered from China and new carriages from Iran. Tickets (payable in CUC) should be purchased in advance from stations.

A good source of information for everything related to Cuban train travel is ‘The man in seat 61‘.

Car Rental

Car Rental

Car Rental is possible in Cuba with a compact car (all manuals) costing about US$75 per day. It’s best to pre-book in advance, which you can do on several websites including TripCuba.

 

For Sights, Accommodation and Restaurants, please refer to Cuba Travel Guide Part 2.

Further Reading

Other travel reports from the Caribbean region include:

 

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About taste2travel.com

Author: Darren McLean

Owner of taste2travel.com – an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer and adventurer.

I hope you enjoy reading my content.

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Cuba Travel Guide
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Cuba Travel Guide
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A Cuba travel guide by Darren McLean - covering history, sights, accommodation, restaurants, visa requirements, getting there & around.
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Darren McLean

Owner of taste2travel.com - an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer and adventurer.

I hope you enjoy reading my content.

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