Public transport is perilous, chaotic - but you get there

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The Independent Travel

Perhaps the most visible evidence of the effects of the US economic embargo on Cuba over the past 40 years is in public transport.

Perhaps the most visible evidence of the effects of the US economic embargo on Cuba over the past 40 years is in public transport.

The national airline, Cubana, has a fleet consisting mostly of ageing Soviet aircraft, and is the most dangerous airline in the world (two fatal crashes in five days last Christmas alone). An attempt by the Central American company Taca to start an alternative airline was crushed by the US blockage.

Cuba's railway network makes Britain's look a model of order and efficiency - if you arrive in roughly the right town on approximately the right date, you can count yourself lucky. Buses are mostly clapped-out Hungarian monsters that do the best they can on a highway system consisting largely of pot-holes, which they share with collective taxis decades beyond their scrap-by dates. Many locals still hitch-hike, with official marshals assigned to allot passengers to trucks.

The big new development, coinciding with Cuba's emergence as a backpacker destination, is the Viazul bus network. From humble beginnings with a pair of buses shuttling between the two biggest cities, Havana and Santiago, a fleet of air-conditioned coaches now reaches all the big tourist destinations. From the capital to the leading resort of Varadero costs $10, while the 500-mile haul to Santiago can be covered in relative comfort for just $51. But don't tell the Americans.

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