This is easier said than done, but you have more options than you think. A Víazul coach appears to be the default option for many, but you should consider taking the Hershey train from Casablanca just over the harbour to Matanzas. You can also leave by truck or Camións, or a Maquina Colectivo Taxi, from either Habana train station or the Omnibus National Station.
Depending on your timescales and departure point, it is worth flying down to Santiago de Cuba. In December 2013, I booked a flight there for the following week. It cost $120CUC, but prices normally start at $75CUC. The most I have ever paid, and this was for a flight leaving the following day, was $170CUC. More recently it’s been necessary to book flights well in advance, so you will need to do some forward planning if you want to fly. The choice is 15 hours on a Víazul coach or 90 minutes on a plane to Santiago!
From experience, Viazul provides a punctual and reliable service and should not be compared with coach services from other nations. This is because you’re not in another country - you’re in Cuba!
Unfortunately, Viazul coaches in popular locations, such as Habana, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba, tend to get oversubscribed as demand is high. This can get frustrating. In Habana between March and June 2015, seats for express Viazul coaches were fully booked four to five days in advance, and internet bookings via its website weren’t honoured.
I have managed to purchase a ticket on board a Viazul without booking in advance, however, I was either traveling alone or in a pair; I doubt this would work for a group. In the near future everyone will have to book in advance.
It’s a pain to have to go out to the Viazul station just to make a booking, so use a Maquina/Colectivo from Calle 23 or from xxx, then visit the zoo next door or walk back to Calle 23. You’ll experience a part of Habana you wouldn’t normally see so take a camera, there are some great authentic shots to be had.
Booking A Flight
Head to what looks like a bookstore opposite the Capitolio in Habana Vejia on the corner of Calle Teniente Rey. Go inside and you will see the flight desk to your left.
Maquina/Colectivo City to City
Head to the Omnibus National Station near Plaza de la Revolucion - on Avendia de la Independencia - Between or entre C19 de mayo y Bruszon.
Upon entering the station from the main front entrance on Avenida de la Independenica, turn right and head towards C19 de mayo. You need to negotiate the rate to your destination, and either pay the same as you would for a Víazul bus or less. Your journey will be quicker than the coach and not as cold.
Otherwise, if you don't mind travelling by truck, head to the train station in Habana Vieja. Trucks leave throughout the day and night but plan your journey so you avoid travelling in the middle of the day; it’s really not pleasant.
For People With A “Carne”
As I hold a “Carne” (a temporary residence of Cuba) I am entitled to use Omnibus National Coaches, which are much cheaper and reliable. However, journey times are long as they stop in lots of different places. Individuals who do not hold a Carne are normally prevented from using Omnibus National services because Viazul is designed to accommodate travellers and tourists. You won’t get on an Omnibus unless you have a Carne or speak Spanish and smile. I use them for journeys with friends or when I have time on my hands and don’t need to be at my destination at any particular time.
My best experiences while travelling through Cuba have been on tucks, in Maquinas and on Omnibus coaches.
Víazul - From Habana
I have travelled many times across Cuba using Viazul, so I have a lot of experience of these coaches to share with you.
Tips For Travelling By Viazul in Cuba
Bring warm layers. Like most buses in Latin America they get very cold, especially if you intend to sleep.
Many of the toilets in terminals require paying for and they do not have change. Bring lots of coins and plenty of tissues!
Bring all the food and water you will need for the entire journey. Most terminals have little food or drinks except for Habana and Santa Clara For example, if you do the trip from Baracoa to Trinidad via Santiago de Cuba it’s a 16-hour journey with limited stops and short time for food. Casa hosts are often happy to pack you a meal for the trip.
Familiarise yourself with bus fares and timetables listed on the official Viazul website, ideally before you arrive in Cuba.