Bus Travel in Cuba

Viazul Bus Travel Cuba

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

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Getting around

Bus travel in Cuba

Viazul Bus Travel Cuba

For individual trips through Cuba, state-run buses are the most common mean of transportation. With the comfortable buses, travelers can reach most important places, absolutely reliable and quite inexpensive. This article provides all important information that you need to know before traveling by bus in Cuba.

If you want to travel across the country without a rental car, state buses take you from one end of the island to the other and that fast and quite comfortable. First, you should know, that there are two bus companies available in Cuba: The larger and better known company is called Viazul. It offers regular connections between all major cities and also to the most important smaller vacation destinations. Less known as Viazul is the second company, branded as Transtur, that operates exclusively for foreigners. It connects different tourist destinations and selected cities.

Viazul Bus in Cienfuegos

While the Viazul buses travel between bus stations, Transtur connects hotels in different cities and vacation destinations. Both companies have in common that they operate with relatively modern coaches. All vehicles are air-conditioned and have comfortable seats. The Transtur buses are a bit more modern, they usually have a toilet in the back and travel with a guide. These companies have very similar prices, ranging from 5 to 10 USD per 100 km of driving distance. 

Their travel times keep absolutely reliable; therefore, delays are almost non-existent. Some tour operators like to declare that the buses are unreliable. If you receive such information it is better stay away from the provider. 

Every passenger can transport a specific allowable weight of luggage free of charge, which must be stowed in the luggage compartment of the buses. Generally it is safe, but as a precaution, you should take valuables with you in the cabin luggage.

The air conditioning systems of the vehicles are usually running at full load, so it can get ice-cold inside. This is especially the case in longer night trips. It is therefore strongly recommended taking a sweater with you into the cabin. If you freeze quickly, you may also take a scarf on longer trips.

On Board Viazul Bus Cuba

Inside a Viazul bus (2019)

As is common in tropical regions, you have to expect that air conditioning systems are contaminated by molds and bacteria (health risks). It can cause respiratory problems in sensitive people. Therefore, travelers with previous illnesses should take it into account and consider a rental car or a taxi, especially for longer journeys. 

When traveling longer distances, the buses regularly stop at special points on the road, some of them have been particularly set up for tourism. There you will be able to get drinks and snacks. Since the offer at the normal rest stops can be very limited, it is better to take enough food drinking water for the trip - especially in Eastern Cuba.

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Viazul

The Cuban state operates the most important bus company for tourists under the Viazul brand. All larger cities and vacation destinations are included into the network, so they reach most places directly. It is advisable to deal with the desired route in advance. You can find the routes and departure times on the Viazul official website. There it is also possible to reserve tickets online, so you need a credit card for payment.

Nowadays, you can cancel the reservation and get the refund of the payment in the credit card used for the booking. The cancellations are charged with 3 USD, and they should be made at least a week before the trip date, only like that you will get the refund.

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Viazul: Time Tables & Prices (2021)

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How to reserve a Viazul-Bus

It is better to make reservations online, but it is essential to make them well in advance. In the best case, you should book at least two weeks before your desired date. The company establishes that bookings online must be made at least 7 days before the planned trip. The prices of the tickets are not subject to fluctuations over time. Therefore, you can reserve early because the time of booking is irrelevant in terms of costs.

The prices are usually in a range of about 5 USD per 100 km distance. Payment is made by credit card, with debits either in American dollars or euros. 

Viazul Office Habana Terminal Nacional

Viazul Office Terminal Nacional Havana 2020)

After booking, you will receive a confirmation by email that should be printed out. You need to present this document at least half an hour before departure at the bus station to receive your ticket. At stops without a ticket office - such as Varadero Airport - the booking confirmation acts as a ticket and must be shown when boarding the bus. 

Alternatively, you can buy tickets on site at the respective bus stations. Often these sales points have still available tickets even if they are no longer offered online. It happens due to the limitation of the booking system.

As is often in Cuba, you can expect considerable waiting times. It happens not only in Havana, but also at other bus stations that usually travelers need to wait for a long time. In the case of the Cuban capital, generally it is less crowded in the late afternoon. 

Especially during the high season in winter, it must be expected that popular routes can be booked out several days before departure. In order to prevent staying without a seat, it is highly recommended reserving your tickets at least five days before the planned trip to Cuba. Actually the best is to book all tickets in advance on the Internet.

Frequently happens that travelers don’t make the reservation on time. In that case, often their only alternative is to take significantly more expensive taxi rides. Enterprising taxi drivers have developed a business model from the lack of seats: They wait at the bus stations and offer their services to travelers who cannot get tickets at short notice. Depending on the number of travelers, the rides can be many times more expensive. To know what prices you have to expect, take a look at the article about taxis. 

In any case, you should not rely on the statements of the taxi drivers, always ask first at the Viazul office if there are still tickets for the desired route. Beware, because offering expensive taxi rides to tourists is a popular trickery to take money out of foreigners' pockets. 

If you cannot get a ticket and want to avoid a taxi ride, maybe you still will have a chance. You can try to arrive at the bus stop before your desired departure and register on a waiting list. Sometimes seats become free at short notice - for example because passengers do not show up – then you will receive a remaining seat!  In case you are not lucky, then you can only take one of the taxis or try an alternative means of transport.

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If the Viazul buses are fully booked

Frequently happens that travelers don’t make the reservation on time. In that case, often their only alternative is to take significantly more expensive taxi rides. Enterprising taxi drivers have developed a business model from the lack of seats: They wait at the bus stations and offer their services to travelers who cannot get tickets at short notice. Depending on the number of travelers, the rides can be many times more expensive. To know what prices you have to expect, take a look at the article about taxis. 

In any case, you should not rely on the statements of the taxi drivers, always ask first at the Viazul office if there are still tickets for the desired route. Beware, because offering expensive taxi rides to tourists is a popular trickery to take money out of foreigners' pockets. 

If you cannot get a ticket and want to avoid a taxi ride, maybe you still will have a chance. You can try to arrive at the bus stop before your desired departure and register on a waiting list. Sometimes seats become free at short notice - for example because passengers do not show up – then you will receive a remaining seat!  In case you are not lucky, then you can only take one of the taxis or try an alternative means of transport.

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The route between Varadero and Havana

The most important Viazul connection is probably that between Varadero and Havana. The Viazul Terminal in Varadero is located at the end of 36th Street. Vacationers staying in a Casa Particular can often walk, and travelers coming from the Hotel zone can take a taxi for about 10 USD. At Varadero Airport, the Viazul office is a little hidden, just behind the exit of the airport building on the right side. There you can reserve bus tickets, but only if free seats are available at short notice. The bus leaves directly in the exit area of the airport building. 

From Varadero, the bus first stops at Varadero Airport and shortly after passes at Matanzas train station. Once in Havana, it typically stops twice: first in Habana Vieja just behind the tunnel, diagonally across from the Spanish embassy. If you have booked accommodation near the old city center, it is best to get off at this stop to save yourself the trip back to the city, because the bus journey ends at the Terminal Nacional - Cuba's largest bus station, that is located around 5 km away from the center.

On the way back to Varadero there are no other stops, so you have to start the journey from the Terminal Nacional. The Terminal Nacional is the central hub for all other Viazul connections, such as the important routes to Viñales, Trinidad and eastern Cuba.

To reach the capital's bus station you can take a taxi for around 5 - 10 USD, but also many buses (e.g. P12, P16) and shared taxis (ask for "Boyeros" or the Terminal) will take you to the terminal.

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Bus stations

Viazul has its own bus stations in some places, but most of the time the buses run at the same stations as Astro, the bus company that only transports Cubans.  At the stations you will find small cafeterias where you can get drinks and, with a little luck, a simple snack. Especially on longer journeys, it is highly recommended to make sure you have enough food and drink for the trip. The toilets are often in poor conditions, and it’s advisable to have your own paper with you. 

Varadero Viazul Station (2018)

In Havana, since 2019 the buses have been running at the Terminal Nacional (map) and no longer at the old Viazul terminal across from the zoo in the Nuevo Vedado district. The Terminal Nacional has some small shops and snack bars where you can usually get the most important goods and groceries. 

If you want to travel on from Terminal Nacional by shared taxi, leave the building in a southern direction. The drivers are waiting directly at the exit. Get to know details on routes, prices and the procedure for trips with shared taxis in the corresponding article.

 

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From and to the bus stations

In many places the bus stations are within walking distance of the city center. This is the case in Pinar del Rio, Cienfuegos, Matanzas and Trinidad for example. The stations can also be located a little outside the city centers, such as in Santa Clara, Holguin or Santiago de Cuba. 

There are usually enough taxis waiting at all bus terminals. Generally you should not pay more than 2 USD per kilometer. During the day, 1 USD per kilometer or per minute is a fair fare. 

From the bus stop next to the terminal in Havana, you can go to the city center by bus (number P12) for 2 CUP or a bit more expensive "shared taxi". Both also drive out of town close to the airport. If you take a taxi in Havana, you shouldn't pay more than 5 to 10 USD depending on the location of the accommodation. It is always better to agree the price before getting in to avoid discussions or misunderstandings. 

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Transtur

As an alternative to Viazul, the Cuban state operates a bus service exclusively for foreigners under the Transtur brand. This service isn't well known-for many visitors but it offers eight different connections across Cuba. 

The vehicles under this brand are air-conditioned and usually modern and comfortable. The buses have different stops: They collect passengers at large hotels.  These connections can be an advantage to get on and off centrally. In many cases this avoids going to the bus stations. The disadvantage is that the journeys often take a little longer because of the increased number of stops.

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How to reserve a Transtur bus

The reservations can only be made in Cuba at Cubanacán offices, so the Internet won’t be an option for bookings. This is a state-owned tourism company that has small travel agencies in some hotels. The offices are mostly in the large state hotels in a central location, so that you may save yourself the trip to the bus station.

All travelers can make reservations. This also includes vacationers who are not guests of a hotel but stay in a Casa Particular. They can make the reservation and take the bus in the nearest hotel to their accommodation.

On the route between Havana and Santiago, Transtur includes a simple meal in the fare. Also, the buses stop at rest points prepared for tourism. In these stops you can buy coffee, drinks or sandwiches. By Cuban standards, the toilets are in good conditions, but as a precaution, travelers should have their own toilet paper.

 

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The Transtur routes

As mentioned, Transtur offers eight connections across Cuba. The hotels in Havana are categorized into zones according to their location: Zone 1 includes the hotels in the city center, Zone 2 are the hotels in El Vedado district, and Zone 3 are the hotels in the eastern district of Playa (Miramar). There are also two hotel zones in Varadero, the first one includes the hotels of the eastern and the second zone the accommodation in the western peninsula.

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Astro busses for students

»Astro« is the third large state bus company with the difference that only Cubans or foreigners with a temporary residence permit (Residencia Temporal) are allowed to use it. According to that, the prices of the tickets are cheaper than the Viazul´s and the payment is made in the national currency.

Travelers must present their identification when booking at the bus station. Despite the restrictions of its services to foreigners, it is possible that Astro buses pick up along the route those backpackers moving through the country like Cubans. In this case you pay directly to the driver.

 

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