The extended bus ride has gone the way of the dinosaur in many parts of the world but it still holds the crown in Cuba transportation. A long distance bus ride is not really necessary in many parts of the world, thanks to the rise of the discount airlines and their feverish attempts to beat each other’s prices. A long distance train ride can also be a comfortable way to travel, particularly in many European countries.
There’s something truly intoxicating about sitting in a train’s dining carriage, enjoying a sumptuous (if overpriced) meal while watching the landscape whizz by. There are some parts of the world where the bus is still your best bet. There are trains in Cuba, but these are about as reliable as a coffee cup made of ice, and will often use their timetables as only a loose suggestion. There are also a fair number of domestic flights, but the price is rarely nice (especially when you decide to go somewhere spontaneously).
So what are some of the things you need to know when catching a long distance bus in Cuba?
Say Hello to Viazul, Your New (and Sometimes Only) Friend in Cuba Transportation
You will get to know the Viazul bus company rather well in Cuba, as it’s the primary provider of intercity travel in the country. The Cuba transportation world has also recently welcomed AstroBus, but this is for locals only (their tickets are sold in Cuban pesos, which are generally not used by foreigners).
Viazul accepts Cuban convertible pesos, allowing foreigners to easily buy tickets in person.
Their website also accepts credit cards, and you can pay online using euros or US dollars.
At the Bus Station: What You Need to Know
Sometimes it seems that the bus will stop and allow people on pretty much anywhere on the route, but this is not an aspect of Cuba transportation that you should rely on. You will need to go to the bus station in your city of departure, and you should get there well before the departure time as the lines can often be hectic.
There are also a lot of buses leaving from the station, so you need to work out where your particular bus will be leaving from. Be prepared to queue for a while if you plan to buy your tickets at the bus station. Some bus stations will have offices where you need to buy tickets for a same day departure, with a different office if you’re buying a ticket for a later date.
If you happen to go to the wrong office, you will be sent to the back of the (correct) line. The service staff will not necessarily speak English either, so you should ask a native Spanish speaker (perhaps at your accommodation) to write down the key points, such as your destination and date of travel. You could also ask at your accommodation to see if they know which ticket office you need to go to.
On the Bus: Stay Warm!
The Viazul fleet is relatively modern, which is fairly rare in Cuba transportation. The buses are clean and comfortable, aside from one significant thing. The air conditioning seems to always be cranked to its maximum setting, and it will stay there for the duration of your journey. You might not think that you’ll need a warm sweater while in Cuba, but trust us, you will want to take one on your bus trip.
Many of the buses have onboard toilets (of varying levels of cleanliness) and there are frequent rest stops. These rest stops also allow you to stock up on food, since there’s nothing available for purchase while on the bus. You might want to take snacks with you, since it can be a while before you can reach the first rest stop. You might be able to convince the driver to drop you at your accommodation when you reach your destination city (if it’s close enough to the bus station), but some drivers will request an extra fee for this service.
It’s often cheaper and easier to just get a taxi from the bus station.
The Distance of Travel
A bus is a bus, and no matter whether it’s a luxury coach or an old schoolbus, it can become uncomfortable to stay on the bus for a long duration of time. Viazul buses will stop every few hours, but when you’re on an overnight cross country trip that lasts 14 hours, you might not be in the mood to get out and stretch your legs… particularly at 4am.
A long distance bus is the most reliable of all the forms of Cuba transportation, but you might want to rethink your travel plans in order to break up the trip. Instead of a mad cross country dash to get back to Havana in time for your flight, book a bus trip for a few days earlier. You can then stop somewhere in the middle and spend a day or two in a part of Cuba that you’ve not seen before, and then continue your journey.
You will be more refreshed and comfortable, and will get to see even more of this stunning country.