Destination guide: Havana, Cuba
Havana is the capital of Cuba, an island located between the Atlantic and the Caribbean, near the shores of Mexico and the United States. This tourist destination was declared a World Heritage Site due to the fact that it has preserved, among other things, its beautiful architecture and a culture rich in traditions.
Traveling through Havana, you can visit the Main Square, the National Capital building, the Cigar Museum, the Embankment, the National Aquarium and an endless number of places where you can try exquisite Cuban cuisine.
Havana - Transportation
To & From the Airport
Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí is at Rancho Boyeros, 25km southwest of Havana via Av de la Independencia. There are four terminals here. Terminal 1, on the southeastern side of the runway, handles only domestic Cubana flights. Three kilometers away, via Av de la Independencia, is Terminal 2, which receives flights and charters from Miami and New York and some to and from the Cayman Islands. All other international flights use Terminal 3, a well-ordered, modern facility at Wajay, 2.5km west of Terminal 2. Charter flights on Aerocaribbean, Aerogaviota, Aerotaxi etc to Cayo Largo del Sur and elsewhere use the Caribbean Terminal (also known as Terminal 5), at the northwestern end of the runway, 2.5km west of Terminal 3. (Terminal 4 hasn’t been built yet.) Check carefully which terminal you’ll be using.
Public transport from the airport into central Havana is practically nonexistent. A standard taxi will cost you approximately CUC$20 (40 minutes). You can change money at the bank in the arrivals hall.
True adventurers with light luggage and a tight budget can chance their arm on the P-12 metro bus from the Capitolio or the P-15 from the Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras on the Malecón, both of which go to Santiago de Las Vegas stopping close to the airport (about 1.5km away) on Av Boyeros. This is a lot easier for departing travelers who will have a better knowledge of the local geography.
To & From the Bus Terminal
The Víazul bus terminal is in the suburb of Nuevo Vedado and taxis will charge between CUC$5 and CUC$10 for the ride to central Havana. There are no direct metro buses from central Havana. If you take the P-14 from the Capitolio, you’ll have to get off on Av 51 and walk the last 500m or so.
Two-seater bici-taxis will take you anywhere around Centro Habana for CUC$1/2 for a short/long trip, after bargaining. It’s a lot more than a Cuban would pay, but cheaper and more fun than a tourist taxi. Laws prohibit bici-taxis from taking tourists and they may wish to go via a roundabout route through the back streets to avoid police controls – a cheap tour! If they get stopped, it’s them that get the warning/fine, not you.
Havana’s (and Cuba’s) only official bike rental shop, El Orbe ([tel] 860-2617; cnr Agramonte & San Rafael, Centro Habana; [hrs] 9:30am-4:40pm Mon-Sat) in the La Manzana de Gómez shopping center in Centro Habana, was closed at the time of writing. Whether it opens again was a matter of much speculation. The bikes here were passable imports, mainly from Canada, but don’t bank on using them for anything more than a city tour. The best time to cycle in Havana is on a weekend morning when the Malecón is traffic-free and positively sublime. Locks and helmets are a must (El Orbe used to supply them).
Passenger ferries ([tel] 867-3726) shuttle across the harbor to Regla and Casablanca, leaving every 10 or 15 minutes from Muelle Luz, at the corner of San Pedro and Santa Clara, on the southeast side of Habana Vieja. The fare is a flat 10 centavos, but foreigners often get charged CUC$1. Since the ferries were hijacked to Florida in 1994 and again in 2003 (the hijackers never made it outside Cuban waters), security has been tightened. Expect bag searches and airport-style screening.
There are lots of car-rental offices in Havana, so if you’re told there are no cars or there isn’t one in your price range, just try another office or agency. All agencies have offices at Terminal 3 at Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí. Otherwise, there’s a car-rental desk in any three-star (or higher) hotel. Prices for equivalant models are nearly always the same between the companies; it’s called socialismo.
Cubacar ([tel] 835-0000) and/or Havanautos ([tel] 273-2277) – it’s essentially the same government-run company – have desks at most of the big hotels, including: Meliá Cohiba, Meliá Habana, NH Parque Central, Habana Libre, Comodoro and Sevilla.
Servi-Cupet gas stations are in Vedado at Calles L and 17; Malecón and Calle 15; Malecón and Paseo, near the Riviera and Meliá Cohiba hotels; and on Av de la Independencia (northbound lane) south of Plaza de la Revolución. All are open 24 hours a day.
Guarded parking is available for approximately CUC$1 all over Havana, including in front of the Hotel Sevilla, Hotel Inglaterra and Hotel Nacional.
Havana Bus Tour
The handy new hop on/hop off Havana Bus Tour ([tel] 831-7333; Calle L No 456 btwn Calles 25 & 27) runs on three routes. The main stop is in Parque Central opposite the Hotel Inglaterra. This is the pickup point for bus T1 running from Habana Vieja to the Plaza de la Revolución (via Centro Habana, the Malecón and Calle 23), and bus T3, which runs from Centro Habana to Playas del Este (via Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña). Bus T2 runs from the Plaza de la Revolución (where it connects with T1) to Marina Hemingway (via Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón and Playa). Bus T1 is open-top. All-day tickets are CUC$5. Services run from 9am to 9pm and routes and stops are clearly marked on all bus stops.
Havana’s bus service has improved immensely in recent years with the introduction of a brand new fleet of Chinese-made ‘bendy’ buses that replaced the famously crowded and dirty camellos (the city’s former metro buses) in 2007. These buses run regularly along 14 different routes, connecting most parts of the city with the suburbs. Fares are 20 centavos (five centavos if you’re using Convertibles), which you deposit into a small slot in front of the driver when you enter.
Cuban buses are crowded and little used by tourists. Beware of pickpockets and guard your valuables closely. All bus routes have the prefix P before their number:
P-1 Diezmero – Playa (via Virgen del Camino, Vedado, Línea, Av 3)
P-2 Diezmero – Línea y G (via Vibora & Ciudad Deportiva)
P-3 Alamar–Túnel de Línea (via Virgen del Camino & Vibora)
P-4 San Agustín – Terminal de Trenes (via Playa, Calle 23, La Rampa)
P-5 San Agustín – Terminal de Trenes (via Lisa, Av 31, Línea, Av de Puerto)
P-6 Calvario – La Rampa (via Vibora)
P-7 Cotorro – Capitolio (via Virgen del Camino)
P-8 Calvario – Villa Panamericano (via Vibora, Capitolio & harbor tunnel)
P-9 Vibora – Lisa (via Cuatro Caminos, La Rampa, Calle 23, Av 41)
P-10 Vibora – Playa (via Altahabana & Calle 100)
P-11 Alamar – G y 27 (via harbor tunnel)
P-12 Santiago de Las Vegas – Capitolio (via Av Boyeros)
P-13 Santiago de Las Vegas – Vibora (via Calabazar)
P-14 San Agustín – Capitolio (via Lisa & Av 51)
P-15 Santiago de Las Vegas – Hermanos Ameijeiras (via Av Boyeros & Calle G)
P-16 Hospital Naval – Playa (via Calle 100 & Lisa)
Older buses still run along some cross-town routes (eg bus 400 to Playas del Este) but there are no printed timetables or route maps.
Metered tourist taxis are readily available at all of the upscale hotels, with the air-conditioned Nissan taxis charging higher tariffs than the non-air-conditioned Ladas. The cheapest official taxis are operated by Panataxi ([tel] 55-55-55), with CUC$1 starting fare, then CUC$0.50 a kilometer. Tourist taxis charge CUC$1 a kilometer and can be ordered from Havanautos Taxi ([tel] 73-22-77) and Transgaviota ([tel] 206-9793). Taxi OK ([tel] 204-0000, 877-6666) is based in Miramar. Drivers of the tourist taxis are government employees who work for a peso salary.
The cheapest taxis are the older yellow-and-black Ladas, which are state-owned but rented out to private operators. They won’t wish to use their meters, as these are set at an unrealistically low rate, but you can bargain over the fare. They’re not supposed to pick up passengers within 100m of a tourist hotel.
Private pirate taxis (ie those that aren’t supposed to take foreigners) with yellow license plates are a bit cheaper, but you must agree on the fare before getting into the car, and carry exact change. There are usually classic-car taxis parked in front of the Hotel Inglaterra.
Yes, walking! It’s what the gas-starved Habaneros have been doing for decades. Most parts of Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and Vedado can be easily navigated on foot if you’re energetic and up for some exercise. You’ll see a lot more of of the local street life in the process.