Havana is one of my favourite cities in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to travel there for extended periods of time, and always gravitate back. I’m going to assume you already want to go, but if not, then trust me, you should.
I could go on at length about why everyone should travel to Havana, as soon as possible. For now though, I’ll stick to one topic that can be rather confusing: Havana taxis. Or more broadly, the fact that Cuba often seems to have two different systems for everything, one for locals and one for tourists. On an official level, this is absolutely the case, though the reality is often a little more flexible, if you’re brave. First and foremost, there are two different sets of currencies: locals use the national currency, pesos cubanos or moneda nacional (CUP/MN), while tourists use convertible pesos (CUC; for exchange purposes, 1 USD = 0.8 CUC, and 1 CUC = 25 CUP). But even this rule is flexible: it is not illegal for either locals or tourists to use either MN or CUC, but it can be tough for a tourist to get their hands on MN, and vice versa.
So why does this matter when it comes to cabs? Well, it comes down to which taxi system you use. There are three different cab systems to consider. The first is the ‘official’ system: these are government-managed under the umbrella name Cubataxi, written on the side of the cab. These are not the vintage cars you think of when you think of Cuba. Cubataxis are your run-of-the-mill taxi system and the same guideline applies – always make sure they turn the meter on. Many are also open to negotiation, if you have a sense of what a ride is worth. This system uses convertible pesos, and rides start at 1 CUC.
Collective Havana taxi system
Next you have the ‘unofficial’ collective system. And by unofficial I mean that they are not generally used by tourists, but I recommend that you do (and it’s perfectly legal to do so). This is the system used primarily by locals, and is a little overwhelming at first since everyone there just knows how it works. These cabs can be recognized by the taxi sign on the dash or on top of the car and are generally among the more decrepit looking 50s models. You can find them at fixed areas on the major streets, or you can hail one if you see it drive by. Fares are discussed before you enter the car, and while it may seem like they’re negotiable, there is some underlying logic at work. If your ride is around 5km or less, you can expect to pay around 10-25 CUP/MN, and the amount goes up at regular intervals as the ride gets longer. You can also use CUC, but don’t expect to get change. Fares often go up later at night, especially for longer rides. Cabbies can also refuse if they don’t want to go to where you’re asking, but if, upon discussion, they say vamos, then hop right in. You’ll often end up sharing your cab with locals (that’s where the ‘collective’ part comes in), since cabbies try to fill their cars to capacity. You can expect to be dropped off on the nearest major corner on their route rather than at an exact address. Now, all of that may seem overwhelming, but I assure you, it’s worth it, both for the money you save and the experience you get. Even if with my abysmal Spanish, I was always able to get where I needed to be.
Other taxis and modes of transportation
Lastly, you have the ‘especially unofficial’ system (aka technically illegal, but the risk is on the driver). By this, I mean, that basically every Cuban with a car is willing to act as a taxi. I would treat this as a last resort. Most people prefer to be paid in CUC. There’s really no need to use these within cities, and you’d probably pay the same amount or more than a Cubataxi, but they can be useful for going between cities for less. If you do, it’s best to ask a local you trust, and they can help you arrange something.
Besides cabs, there are local buses (not for the faint of heart, but an experience!), tourist hop on/ hop off buses, horse-drawn carriages and Grancar for tours (about 30 CUC/ hour), bicycle taxis, and Viazul buses for going from town to town. There are also Cocotaxis (about 10 CUC an hour, and at minimum around 3 CUC), and I would recommend trying these at least once on your trip to Havana. These are little two-seaters on a motorcycle, shaped roughly like coconuts (get it?). These can sometimes be cheaper than Cubataxi and, really, are just a lot of fun to ride in. Of course, Havana is also just a really great city for walking, so keep that in mind as well.
Do you have any tips for getting around in Havana or in the rest of Cuba?