-What is the easiest, safest, and cheapest ways to travel from Havana to Varadero, Cuba?
-Which type of car should i take? Vintage car or Yellow taxi?
-Is the bus safe?
-Can I just rent a car?
First of all, if you aren’t familiar with Varadero, google some pictures! It is absolutely beautiful. TripAdvisor has consistently rated it as one of the top Caribbean beaches. I can honestly say, as someone who has visited most of the Caribbean that is is definitely on par with places like St. Maartin and Aruba. The water is usually crystal clear and a bright blue with nice white sandy beaches. Googling the pics should portray what I am describing, but experiencing it, is what matters.
There are a few different ways to travel to Varadero from Havana. But first, you should know, there are also some international flights that fly directly to Varadero. I know of some from Canada, so it is worth a search if your primary destination is Varadero. Otherwise, most people go through Havana first. We will go over the benefits of each option to travel to Varadero from Havana: Private car (Taxi), Bus, Collective Car (Maquina/Collectivo), or your own Rental car. The drive is about 2 hours or less without stops and the bus ride can be anywhere from 2-3 hours. Google maps or maps.me may say less time, but in Cuba it always takes longer. It is roughly 91 miles (or 74km) from Havana to Varadero. – more or less, depending on which parts of Havana or Varadero you depart/arrive.
Which private car option is best?
Private car: I will start with what I think is the BEST option for going to Varadero, but it is not the cheapest. You can rent a private taxi, either a vintage car or newer government yellow car/van (Agencia de Taxi), or if you’re feeling adventurous, any car! But that last option is not legal, so I do not recommend it.
The vintage cars are super cool and look amazing, and can be a really fun experience. But you should know that almost none of them have seat belts, which can be okay for adults, but if you are bringing your kids I do not recommend them. I however ride in them all the time and most drivers are very safe. The driving culture in Cuba is typically much safer than what I have experiences in other Caribbean and Latin American countries. Cars are not easy to come by, and your safety is a top priority of the driver and government.
It can be a very big deal for the driver if you are in an accident and get hurt at the fault of the driver. I always feel safe as an adult riding in vintage cars, but I would prefer to have my future child in a seatbelt/car seat. Most of the official vintage car taxis are fully functional because they are regularly inspected by the government. You need to look for a sticker in the window that says that they are a taxi and their license number.
The absolutely safest bet, but not as cool, is the yellow government agency taxis (Agencia de Taxi). They are usually newer cars and vans with seatbelts. They have a great variety of different cars and vans, most of which are always waiting at the airport. If you are worried about your (S4TCP) Support for the Cuban people license, you do not need to hire through the agency, you can opt to hire a driver directly and pay them.
That fulfills part of your Support for the Cuban people license. In fact, your entire 2 hour or so trip is itinerary time towards your S4TCP license. It is not illegal to pay the government agency, Agencia de Taxi, either, because they are not on the OFAC Cuba Restricted List. The difference would be that if you paid the driver directly you could count it towards your S4TCP itinerary needs.
The cost of a private taxi can vary, and it is absolutely negotiable, but I will give you a starting point. You can usually get a private taxi (roundtrip) and “for the day” from about 200-230CUC. (One CUC – Cuban Peso is typically $0.87 USD, based on official exchange rates) They will usually pick you up at your casa or hotel around 7 or 8am and they will want to return before nightfall, usually by 6 or 7 pm. So, roughly 12 hours. If you are wanting to have a car take you from the Havana airport to Varadero to stay for a few days it can cost around 100-150CUC one way. Mostly because of the return. It will also cost about the same to come back to Havana.
A lot of times you can make arrangements with the same driver to pick you up at a certain time at the end of your trip. You can easily exchange phone numbers and your casa host or hotel concierge can help you change times or dates as needed. Also, they can help you find a driver to come home when you are ready, but maybe you can negotiate a better price on your own. Up to you!
The collective taxis are sometimes a good option, but I recommend knowing some Spanish. It can be a good option if you have a few friends together, maybe missed the bus, it is sold out, or the bus times just aren’t good for your schedule. Most of the collective taxis to Varadero will be at the Viazul bus terminal near Plaza de la Revolución in Havana. The drivers are ways out making deals and trying to fill their car with people going to the same destination.
You may have to wait until they get enough people to leave, but if you start earlier it is usually faster. I do not recommend doing this late in the afternoon. None of the drivers in Cuba like to drive long distances at night, and you shouldn’t either. Some of the roads can be bad, and this requires good daylight to see where you are going. Luckily the roads to Varadero from Havana are in pretty descent shape. (Other destinations, not so much)
The collective taxis, also referred to as “maquinas” or “collectivos” usually cost around 15-30cuc per person each way. So, if you were paying attention, you could have a few people in your group and get a “private taxi” cheaper. But the cars aren’t as cool and sometimes aren’t officially legal taxis. But this is a very common way for Cubans to travel and for more experienced travelers. You can ask which car and make sure it is safe and if they have their taxi permission. Again, this is why I recommend knowing a little Spanish.
Taking the Bus
For the cost, this is likely the overall best option. It only costs around 10-20CUC each way to take the Viazul Bus. the Viazul bus operates from the terminal mentioned above near Plaza de la Revolución in Havana. The schedule is usually very limited, as in, maybe only 1-3 departure times per day. You can easily to go viazul.com to reserve and pay for your bus ticket in advance. You MUST print the ticket and bring it with your passport. A lot of times Viazul is sold out weeks in advance, so if your itinerary is not confirmed and you want to “wing it” in Cuba, this may not work out for you. Sometimes you can go to the terminal and get a seat when the online portal won’t let you confirm a spot. But, there is another option… Cubanacan.
This is a travel agency that stays inside of many major hotels. You can walk into popular hotels like Hotel Nacional, Melia Habana, and a few others and buy a bus ticket as well. This is usually slightly more expensive than Viazul, but in my opinion, totally worth it! They use some of the nicest and newest buses and they will pick you up at one of many different hotels.
Even if you are in a casa, it may be easier to get to one of the hotels versus the Viazul terminal. Again, they may be sold out, especially at the last minute. In regards to Cuba, it is better to map out and design your trip itinerary in advance. It can be difficult, but at least know when you will travel to different cities. If you are a US citizen, it is a requirement to have a full time itinerary. It is best to go ahead and try to plan most of your trip.
What about a Rental Car?
The rental cars can be a great option for freedom of travel. Like most places Cuba rental agencies let you have unlimited miles, so you can explore more remote areas. Again, this is a good option for the Spanish speaker. You will need to navigate signs in Spanish and need an international driving permit. (Super easy to get with places like AAA.) A couple major cons with the rental cars.
1. It is very expensive, usually around 100CUC or more per day. If you were paying attention, you may realize that you can basically get a private chofer for that price. You must really desire your driving freedoms to pay for rental cars in Cuba. 2. The insurance process is weird. The one time I rented a car, I was MADE to pay for a 10CUC per day insurance policy. I am pretty confident that no external insurance will cover you in Cuba. Not your Credit card, car insurance, or even travel insurance. I could be wrong, but definitely ask and tell them you will be in Cuba renting the car. In any case, I highly recommend the Cuba rental agency insurance.
Renting a car in Cuba definitely requires booking your car and paying for it in advance. You will not be able to use a credit card (usually, and especially for US citizens.) You can easily reserve the car in advance with the website cubatravelnetwork.com. Do not expect to arrive in Cuba and there be a car available for you. It can happen, but don’t count on it. (Especially during the high tourist season December – Ma