The Caribbean island of Cuba is one that has long had an air of mystery because of its Communist history, and the positively frosty relationship it had with the United States from the late 1950s onwards. Today, steps to thaw that frosty relationship have been moving forward, but visitors from the United States will still need relatives living in Cuba to be permitted to travel there. However, this relationship with the United States has had a significant impact on the wealth and the transport network of the island, which means that you will see plenty of old American vehicles on the road, while newer transport options are slow in penetrating to much of the country.
The Train In Cuba
The main railway line in Cuba runs from Havana on the north west coast of the island down to Santiago de Cuba on the south east coast, and is the most reliable route in the country, operated using former French railway rolling stock. This route is an overnight trip running every other night, and has stops at Santa Clara and Camaguey. There is a range of branch lines traveling to many towns and cities across the island, but these do tend to be less reliable, and often if there is a breakdown the delays can be a day or more.
The tickets available are more expensive for visitors than for Cubans, but they are still usually cheaper than taking the bus, while on the main route first class offers affordable comfort for most visitors, although there aren't any sleeping compartments on this overnight route.
Getting Around Cuba By Bus
There are two main companies that operate the majority of the bus network in Cuba.
Viazul has a fleet of modern buses that are mostly used by visitors to the country, and each has a bathroom on board, and air conditioning. These buses are affordable for visitors, but are not usually used by the locals because of the currency exchange that means that they are rather more expensive for those paying in Cuban Pesos.
The firm that operates the most of the routes used by locals in Cuba, and the widest network of long distance routes is Astro, and their prices are a fair amount cheaper than Viazul. The drawback is that the fleet of Chinese made buses isn't as reliable as that run by Viazul, and there are no bathrooms on board. You will also find that there are plenty of local bus routes usually operated by small firms and covering a relatively small area, and these will usually be running with buses imported from Eastern Europe that are often several decades old.
The collectivo is one of the typical transport methods in the Caribbean, Central America and some parts of South America, and in Cuba as well it is a very convenient way of getting around. These will usually be cars that will run between two towns, and will then take you to a particular place such as a hotel or hostel in your destination. Prices are usually affordable, but make sure you negotiate as the opening price will usually be well above what the locals will pay, while it is also worth noting that the collectivo will wait until all seats are full before starting the journey.
Hitch Hiking Around Cuba
Cuba is probably the only country in the world where hitch hiking is a part of the public transport network, and here there are certain vehicles that have to provide a ride for anyone who is looking for a journey.
There are certain spots along the main transport routes known as 'Amarillo Points' where the vehicles will stop, and an official there will take the details of where you need to get to, and you then wait to be called forward. The traditional technique of sticking your thumb out can also be used, although on some longer drives locals will usually expect a small contribution of up to fifty pesos towards the journey.
Other Methods Of Transport In The Country
There are a small number of ferry services in Cuba that serve two archipelagos around the coast of the main island, with routes from Cienfuegos and Trinidad serving the Canarreos Islands and the Juventud Islands off the north coast of Cuba. There are also some airlines that serve domestic routes, but don't expect the kind of comforts you would get on long distance or international routes.
Cycling is another popular way of getting around the island, but there are only a small number of operators in the major cities that actually rent bicycles, so you may have to source one upon arrival.