Víazul (Av. 26, esq. Zoológico, Nuevo Vedado, Havana, tel. 07/881-1413, www.viazul.cu, daily 7 a.m.–9 p.m.) operates bus services for foreigners to key places on the tourist circuit using modern air-conditioned buses. Children travel at half price. At press time, a 5 percent discount was offered for round-trip tickets to Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Pinar del Río, and Viñales. A 10 percent fee applies for cancellations made more than 24 hours before departure; a 25 percent fee applies if you cancel within 24 hours. A 20-kilo baggage limit applies. Excess baggage is charged 1 percent of your ticket cost per kilo. Bicycles are charged CUC0.80–4, depending on distance.
Transtur (tel. 07/838-3991, www.transtur.cu) operates tourist bus excursions within Havana and Varadero by open-top double-decker bus, and in Matanzas, Viñales, Playa Girón, Trinidad, Cayo Coco, Holguín, Guardalavaca, and Baracoa by minibus.
Since 2005 Cuba has imported more than 5,000 modern Chinese-made Yutong buses to replace its aging, decrepit fleet of hand-me-downs. There are two classes of buses for long-distance travel: Especiales are faster (and often more comfortable) than crowded and slow regulares, which in many areas are still old and rickety with butt-numbing seats.
Most towns have two bus stations for out-of-town service: a Terminal de Ómnibus Intermunicipales (for local and municipal service) and a Terminal de Ómnibus Interprovinciales (for service between provinces). Often they’re far apart. Caution: Pickpockets plague the buses and often work in pairs; foreigners are their first targets.
Interprovincial Services: The state agency Astro (Av. Independencia #101, Havana, tel. 07/870-3397) operates all interprovincial services linking cities throughout the island. However, in 2009, it became off-limits to foreigners, except for students signed up at Cuban institutions.
Intermunicipal Services: You may or may not be denied service; it’s a crap shoot. No reservations are available for short-distance services between towns within specific provinces. You’ll have to join the queue.
Camiones: The staple of travel between towns in most areas is a truck, or camión. Often these are the only option for public transport, especially in the Oriente. Most travel only to the nearest major town, so you’ll need to change camiones frequently for long-distance travel. Some are open-sided flatbeds featuring basic wooden seats welded to the floor, with a canvas roof. Sometimes it’s a truck with a container with makeshift windows cut out of the metal sides, but hot as Hades, with no seats.
Camiones: The staple of travel between towns is a truck, or camión. Most travel only to the nearest major town, so you’ll need to change camiones frequently for long-distance travel. Some are open-sided flatbeds with canvas roofs. Sometimes it’s a truck with a container of makeshift windows cut out of the metal sides and basic wooden seats welded to the floor. They depart from designated transportation hubs (often adjacent to bus or railway stations). You pay in pesos (1–10 pesos), depending on distance. Officially, foreigners are banned, so expect to be turned away by the drivers.
Within Towns: Provincial capitals have intra-city bus service, which can mean camiones or makeshift horse-drawn coches. Buses—guaguas (pronounced WAH-wahs)—are often secondhand Yankee school buses or uncomfortable Hungarian or Cuban buses. They’re usually overcrowded and cost 10–20 centavos (the standard fare). In El Oriente, many cities use camellos, uncomfortable and crowded homemade articulated bodies hauled by trucks.
Bus stops—paradas—are usually well marked. To stop the bus, shout ¡pare! (stop!), or bash the box above the door in Cuban fashion. You’ll need to elbow your way to the door well in advance (don’t stand near the door, however, as you may literally be popped out onto your face; exiting has been compared to being birthed). Don’t dally, as the bus driver is likely to hit the gas when you’re only halfway out.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition