Getting Around Cuba with Kids
There are four main options for transport in Cuba.
Car Rental in Cuba
Most independent travellers opt for car rental and this is what I’d personally recommend to families and small groups. Driving in Cuba is not as daunting as you might think. According to our Lonely Planet guide there is less traffic on the roads in Cuba than in 1940s Britain. The main obstacles to be aware of are pedestrians, wandering animals and potholes! This is especially true at night.
Drivers should also pay close attention to their speed as police patrol all highways and can be remarkably efficient with their fines!
The only other challenge you may face is a lack of signposts but the following tools can guide you instead:
- Map.me An road atlas map (think google maps) which can be used offline. We tested this out in Cuba and it worked really well.
- You can buy a detailed road atlas such as Cuba: Road Guide (Escandon Edicones) from the airport or at some hotels. A friend lent us her copy and we found the maps accurate.
- Alternatively check out cubamappa.com where you can download a full atlas and print out the relevant maps to your trip, for free! I haven’t personally tried Cubamappa maps so cannot vouch for how up to date they are.
- Highway Guide by Cuba Junky: a free and downloadable 12-page guide on driving in Cuba, including routes between cities and what to look out for on the way.
How to book a rental car in Cuba
There are many state-run car rental agencies in Cuba that have modern cars for hire. As the vintage American cars are privately owned they are rarely available to rent. If you want to take a spin in one of these classic cars, the best way is on a ‘classic car tour’, available in the big cities. See our guide to Havana for more information on classic car tours.
The main car rental agencies include:
- Cubacar: 40 outlets across the island.
- Rex: slightly more expensive than the others but considered by many to have the best reputation (although to bear in mind that all agencies are of course owned by the same people – the government!)
- Havanautos: largest fleet of cars with most outlets on the island
- Our guide also mentioned a service called Flexi and Drive that allows you to book a package holiday with hotel and car rental vouchers. The advantage being that there are no set routes or schedules and you can cash in your hotel vouchers at any of their approved hotels. As I haven’t tried it I am unable to personally vouch for it but the Flexi Drive offer I found on this site for example, looked interesting! I’d love to hear from anyone who has booked one of these packages. Please leave a comment below!
Car Rental Rates in Cuba
To rent a car in Cuba expect to pay around USD $70-85 per day for a basic (e.g. Kia) to medium size (e.g. Peugeot 301) car. This includes insurance. When we visited (2016) petrol/gas was 0.95c per litre. Our itinerary was around 1480km in length and in total our petrol (in a minivan) came to USD 190.
Tips for Car Rental in Cuba
- Owing to a limited supply of rental cars, you should book as far in advance as you can. When we started making enquiries (17 days before departure) there were no rental cars available. We had to rent a car with a driver instead (see option 2 below)
- Keep an eye on your petrol / gas tank. There aren’t many gas stations along the highways and some can be as far apart as 50km.
- You may want to start your holiday with a taxi ride into Havana. Once you’ve settled into your hotel and had a chance to recover from your flight you can pick up your car from town. Besides, you are unlikely to need a car in Havana. It’s much easier to get round on foot, cyclo or taxi. Or in a classic car! (See my guide to Havana).
- Insurance. Even if your personal insurance covers you for driving you should take out Cuban insurance as well.
- Scams: We found Cuba an extremely safe place, but like anywhere in the world, scams can happen. The rule of thumb is not to accept help with a roadside puncture if you can avoid it. Stories of seemingly friendly individuals offering to help out and then stealing luggage, or puncturing the spare tyre (so that you accept a lift with them) are occasionally reported. Make sure your car rental agency provides you with an emergency number to call for roadside assistance.
Renting a Car With Driver
As we booked last minute there were no rental cars left when we made our enquiry. Instead, we were offered the option of hiring a minivan with driver. We also discovered that if you hire a driver you have to also hire a guide – a stipulation the local agency wouldn’t budge on.
It is considerably more expensive than renting a car on its own but the way to justify it is to think of all the time you’ll save having someone in the front seat that knows where they are going!
We made our reservation through our UK-based partner agent. To receive a quote, make an enquiry here: Guide to Cuba for Families. (See form at bottom of page)
If you aren’t planning on travelling long distances in Cuba, then hiring a local taxi is an option worth considering. Modern taxis charge between 50c – USD $1.50 per mile. Many drivers may consider long journeys (e.g Havana – Viñales) if it’s a round-trip.
Taxis from Jose Marti International Airport to Old Havana take around 20-30 minutes and cost around $25-35 (make sure you agree a price before hopping in the taxi). There are normally lots of official yellow taxis in the taxi ranks outside the terminal.
The Viazul Bus is a reliable and comfortable coach service that is popular with backpackers. Many tourist guides and blogs recommend the service, including cubajunky.com that compares the air-conditioned buses to Greyhound buses in the US. During peak periods it’s advisable to buy tickets in advance.
For rough travel times and bus prices, see the following:
- Havana – Viñales (4 hours) $12 pp
- Havana – Cienfuegas (5 hours) $20pp
- Cienfuegas – Trinidad (1.5 hours) $6pp
- Trinidad – Havana (5.5 hours) $25pp
Depending on how many members there are in your family, it might cost less to rent a car or to hire a taxi.
Lonely Planet recently included The Hershey Electric Railway linking Havana to Matanzas (near Varadero on the North coast) as one of ‘The Best Train Journeys You’ve Never Heard Of‘. And it sounds like there is a good reason behind this! Generally speaking the trains in Cuba are considered highly unpredictable with numerous delays and cancellations and are best avoided, especially when travelling with children. There is, however, one exception! We discovered a characterful little steam train that shuttles back and forth between Trinidad to the Valle de los Ingenious (The Valley of the Sugar Mills). Sadly we discovered it too late in the day and were unable to experience it ourselves but one of our readers gave it a thumbs up. You can read more about it here: Cuba with Kids: A Trinidad Time Warp
You May Also Enjoy the Following Posts:
Pin for later!
Bookmark this post by pinning the image below to one of your Pinterest boards.
To view all our blog posts in the Cuba with Kids series see our Family Guide to Cuba.