How to get around Havana
Getting around in Havana is something you have to know. At least, have a slight idea so you can use your energy and time because one thing is to walk through the colonial hull (Old Havana) and another very different is to move around Havana in general. It’s a pretty big city. In fact, with its 2,150,000 inhabitants, it is the third largest city in the Caribbean. So, as you will understand, the “walking” has its limits.
The three most popular areas, where most of the points of interest are concentrated, are Old Havana, Centro Habana and Vedado. Walking on foot between Habana Vieja and Centro Habana is feasible. Despite that, the tropical heat will make you want to walk, there will come a time when you will be wanting to rest and move in a vehicle that allows you to recover a little.
Is Havanan public transportation good?
Not at all. Unlike. The first impression that will give you is that it is chaotic but, in reality, the thing is not so complicated. It is enough to catch the trick and understand that it is not intended for tourists, but for habaneros who have spent their whole lives using it and are fully adapted.
One thing is clear: public transport in Havana is extraordinarily cheap (if you use the one used by Cubans) and disproportionately more expensive (if you use taxis and tourist cars).
Another thing: when you have doubts, approach the first one that happens and ask him. The Cuban loves to help the tourist and you do not want to go wrong or walk half lost in the city.
TRANSPORTATION FOR CUBANS
Here I will explain how to move in Havana and all the options that habaneros use (and that you can use). They will surprise you when you use them. You will be surprised by their lack of punctuality, their shabby vehicles, queues waiting in the street and lack of comfort. But you will also be surprised by the price: they cost so little that they will seem gratuitous, and because getting on these relics is a small adventure, full of curiosity and fascination.
The “guagua” is a proper term of the Canary Islands (Spain) that was fixed to the Spanish of Cuba and other areas of Hispano-America by the influence of the Canary immigrants in the old colony. In Castilian Castilian would be equivalent to “bus” or “bus”.
There are two types: URBAN buses (whose lines are numbered) and METROPOLITAN buses (popularly known as “metrobuses”, whose line number begins with the letter “pe”).
They lack all punctuality, not having hourly practice, and their cadence is lower than demand, so that, when they arrive at the stops, these are often crowded and you have to get together or you can not get up. The stops are well signposted, but drivers – often – have the bad habit of stopping a few meters before or after, forcing the queue to run off in search of access. And that’s where the tail order is lost and the lio mounts, hahaha. Without disrespecting in such a way that offends, you will have to decide, to leave aside the formalities and espabilar or, as I have already said, you will not manage to rise.
The price is almost symbolic (according to the service you receive): 0.40 MN (0.017 CUC, not even 2 cents).
This is what habaneros call shared taxis. They are always old cars (old American “cars” of the 40s and 50s of the last century, known in Cuba as “almendrones” when the use is not the taxi, but the private transport).
They are vehicles wider than the current cars. Apart from the driver (“chauffeur” in Cuba), two people can be mounted in front and up to four behind (although they usually never climb more than three, to avoid friction with the heat and the sweat of others). Important one detail: they do not take you “to the door of your house”. They work within pre-established routes. They leave from the stop (“piquera”) of beginning and end in the one of arrival. They always come and go on the same route. You can go up and down wherever you find them, but they do not deviate. They simply “bring you closer”.
The way to take them is by placing you on a main avenue, on the curb of the sidewalk, and raise your hand every time you see a machine approaching. Sooner or later some will pass that is not full and will stop next to you. You bend over and tell the driver, through the copilot’s window, where you want to go. Hahahaha, before you had to ask the Cubans what machine you are interested in and when you know it, it will suffice that you give the name of the “end of the journey.” If the machine is doing that route, the driver will tell you to go up, otherwise … start and continue with your route.
Already inside, you can warn that you do not know the city and that you stop as close to your real destination. The driver will take it into account and will let you know when, more or less, you pass near the site.
It’s a fun experience: 4,000-pound cars, at 60 years old, bad brakes and worse lights. An adventure. Of course: the radio with USB jack will always work, at a higher volume than you would like and sound reggaeton most of the time.
Once you have climbed, do not wait at the end of your journey to pay, that makes them lose time and do not like. Pay before you arrive. The price of a trip (regardless of whether you are mounted little or much, is 10 MN (about 40 cents CUC). Those that go from Miramar to the Capitol, are more expensive (the tour is much longer and worth it) These will cost you 20 MN (approximately 80 cents of CUC).
They are taken in the old port of Havana, next to the Russian Orthodox Church (by the way, beautiful building).
They are perfect for crossing the port in the direction of Regla or Casablanca.
The trip – if you are Cuban – cost very cheap: 1 MN
If you are a foreign tourist: 1 CUC
If you shut your mouth to go unnoticed …: 1 MN (hahahaha! The picaresque!)
TRANSPORTATION FOR TOURISTS
If the above means, being typically Cuban, you can use them freely, in the following alternatives I will explain to you how to move in Havana using special transport. You will realize that they are of almost exclusive use for tourists by the mere fact that their prices escape the buying power of the average Cuban.
We are referring to the taxi in the most classical sense of the word (not to the “machines”, which we have talked about before). The official taxis (“state taxis” are called) are yellow, have a meter and -logically- have the official license to practice the trade. The taximeter is – very often – rather a decorative device than a device that calculates the price of the race. The vast majority of taxi drivers prefer to negotiate a closed price before starting the journey.
The truth is that they are expensive and are paid at CUC. A short run can cost between 5 CUC and 10 CUC. A long way – for example – going to José Martí airport usually costs 25 CUC. If you have to wait for a flight in which a customer arrives, it is customary to add a surcharge for waiting. In this case, the thing is set at 30 CUC.
If you require to be taken with the taximeter connected, you should know that the rate is this (2015 prices, I do not know if they have gone up):
- Lowering of flag: 1 CUC
- Each kilometer traveled: 1 CUC
This is an individual who exercises “unlicensed” taxi. In these cases, the tourist and the taxi driver are accustomed to agree that if they give them a police patrol they will both say that they are friends and that the owner of the car is approaching this or that place to the tourist without charging him anything, hard.
This type of vehicles can be old utilities of the Soviet time (Lada or Moskvitch) or some more modern car (Peugeot, WolksWagen, Fiat …). But the vast majority remain the “almendrones” (automobiles of the 40s and 50s of American origin: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Pontiac, DeSoto, Oldsmobile, Buick …). Of course we can also get into some rarity (like the German Mercedes Benz, or the Soviet GAZ, Volga or ZIL). They all share something common: they keep running at the cost of cannibalizing the pieces of scrap of other vehicles. You can find an old Ford, with Mercedes engine, Peugeot brakes, Seat steering wheel, unbranded tires, Volga carburetor, second hand spark plugs and Toyota steering. Jejejeje, authentic!
These taxi drivers are paid before arriving at the destination, just in case it is bad luck that at the time of arrival the police arrive (so you can never prove that they took you “for money”).
The amount of the trip must be agreed beforehand. I have been taken to the airport for 10 CUC (very cheap, but illegal).
It is a valid option for short tours around Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and little else. Keep in mind that a guy starts pedaling his tricycle and behind it may lead two adults sitting under an awning. The man will see that, as the race runs, he begins to sweat so much from the effort that you feel like getting off and pushing.
The Cuban usually uses it to take home a small heavy load (bags of cement, for example). The tourist uses it to travel in small routes and enjoy the life of the streets. If you do not agree before riding … they can try to charge you like a taxi, be careful and make it clear (before you sit) if it seems correct what the driver asks for.
A trip can cost between 2 CUC and 5 CUC (it depends on whether you have to take you near or not so close). Do not be fooled, the price is not per person, but for the race.
They are three-wheeled motorcycles (motor tricycles) with a body painted yellow whose shape resembles that of an egg or a coconut (hence the name). Fast, extremely “well ventilated”, and noisy. The truth is that it is very fun to move in the cocotaxis. You have the feeling that they are going to overturn in the curves and the cars pass so close that sometimes it is not clear if you are going to get to the destination, hahaha!
Sorry, I do not remember the prices!
They are the same as the machines and the almonds: American cars from the 50’s (although there may be some European rarity, especially Mercedes Benz and some Jaguar of those same years).
So … why call them classics if we already have machines and almonds? Hehehe, because it’s not the same old as old, right? The old is thrown to the landfill, the old is collected, pampered and valued. For neither is a machine or an almond tree the same as one of these precious classics.
The classic is the old car, well maintained, clean, restored and pampered. It looks great (even if it’s a Toyota engine inside). In many cases, we talk about real asphalt ships: cars that are almost five meters long (like the Oldsmobile of the 58, or the Cadillac of the same year), huge, wide, convertible (convertible). Luxury with old patina, lol!
These cars are jewels on wheels and do not make a cab service. They hire to bring the brides to the altar, events and parties and – especially – to take tourists to take walks and take the photo next to the vehicle, or sitting before the wheel putting face and attitude “look what piece of car I’m driving “. Where you are going to see them more easily is between the Capitol and the Hotel Inglaterra and by the Malecon. But if you walk between Habana Vieja and Centro Habana, you will not need to look for them, they will find you. Hehehehe!
Hire them for a walk (4 people, maximum 5) will cost between 25 CUC (cheap) and 35 CUC (not so cheap). The route usually lasts an hour.
By the area of the Hotel Sevilla and next to the Castle of the Real Force are met without difficulty.
The coachmen will tell you that if you get on your car it is equipped with air snorted (I imagine they say it by the breath of the horse).
The trips usually take two and a half hours and cost 25 CUC. It’s a really nice walk.
These are two-story buses. The particularity is that the top floor has no roof (it is panoramic and perfect for photographing Havana or simply admiring buildings and landscapes).
There are three routes. The most demanded is the one that runs through the center of the city, passing through all the historical sites of interest.
But there are two other routes that allow you to reach more distant areas, one reaches the beaches of the East and the other runs through the Playa neighborhood, until reaching the Hemingway Marina.
They cost 5 CUC and you can get on the bus and get off the bus as many times as you want in one day.
In many hotels in Havana you can rent bicycles.
The cost is 15 CUC x day. The problem is that in Havana you can not leave a single bicycle on the street because it is likely to disappear quickly. So either you do not get away from it, or leave it in guarded parking areas.
Every time you park your bike in a guarded parking lot, you will have to pay 1 CUC (it does not matter if it is a long or short time, the price does not change).