Colectivo, Maquina, Taxi and Camións – What’s The Difference?
Colectivos are like taxis that operate all over the island in different forms, night and day. They are like a bus operating on specific routes around the town or city, such as Habana or Santiago de Cuba. They also travel from city to city, for instance, from Habana to Santa Clara. As they drive along a route defined by the driver they drop off and pick up people on the way. Colectivos are mainly cars but in Santiago de Cuba they are motorbikes.
How safe are they? School children - boys and girls from the age of 7 or 8 - will take Colectivos across Habana alone. In other words, children every day enter cars, sometimes with only the driver (normally a stranger) and they arrive at their destination safely. At night, or more likely in the early hours of the morning, my Cuban and foreign female friends will catch a Colectivo, again alone, and again sometimes with only the male driver, and they always arrive at their destination safely.
Down in Santiago de Cuba cars used in this way are not permitted to enter the city centre (or so it has been reported). Instead people use motorbikes to get from place to place, sitting behind the driver who carries an extra helmet for customers. Rides cost between 10 and 20 National Pesos.
Maquinas or Maquina is a Spanish Cuban colloquialism; it’s a local name for a classic car that refers to US models built before 1959. The “old American cars”, in other words. However, when locals say it within a sentence they are most likely to be referring to a Colectivo or getting a taxi. Colectivos are normally a Maquina and/or a Russian made Lada. Sometimes to an untrained eye it can be difficult to distinguish the difference between a private Maquina, Lada and a Colectivo. Most will have a yellow or green “taxi” sign in the front windscreen or on the roof. Don’t get them confused with the black and yellow Lada Taxis - these are not Colectivos.
Camións are large trucks which drive from town to town or city to city.
City and Habana based Colectivos will not take you directly where you may want to get to, but they will get you very close.
To use Colectivos effectively it helps to have a good sense of direction and know some general geography of the city. Get to know pick up points and when to get out. Don't dress like a tourist and, depending on the circumstances, limit speaking in anything other than Spanish.
Pick Ups - Stand on the side of major roads, at cross roads or junctions. Ensure you are standing on the correct side of the road for the direction of travel. When traffic is passing raise your hand, point a finger in the air and then hold up the same number of fingers as the number in your group. If there is a T-junction a few blocks down the street point with your finger in the direction you are wishing to travel in after the junction. When the car stops, tell the driver the major road or location you’re heading to. Depending on where you are picked up, the Colectivos are likely to have passengers already who may swap their seat to be nearer the door (if they are getting out before you).
Drop offs - Just tell the driver you want to be dropped off or ask them to stop.
Say “aqui”, which is “here”. Pointing also helps. Have your money ready for when the driver pulls over.
In Habana the price is $10 National Pesos per person until you go under a tunnel in either direction - for instance to Miramar or Playa del Este - then it’s $20 National Pesos.
Below is a quick idea of some of the routes made by Colectivos in Havana.
Colectivo Taxi Havana