Like majority of the people visiting Cuba, I arrived at Havana Airport. Upon deplaning, you will make your way to the immigration area. I speak Spanish, so I did not have a problem with communication, but for the non-Spanish speakers, most of the immigration officers do speak some sort of broken English. I heard the officer next to me speaking in English.
The process is usually very quick, they take a picture and stamp your passport or the tourist card. If you are an American, it is probably wise to get the stamp on the tourist card. In case you don’t have a tourist card, it can be purchased upon arrival. I recommend getting one in advance via the airline company or Air Canada gives one on board.
Security Check & Arrival Luggage
Then, you proceed to the security check where you lay your cabin luggage on the usual conveyor belt. I’m not sure what they are looking for upon arrival, but I guess they must be looking for drugs or something. By this time, you are already in the arrival luggage area.
You will most likely feel the humidity and stuffy air in the luggage pickup area. Guess what? The air-conditioning either does not work or they are turned off. For my flight, it took around 30 minutes for the bags to show up. I recommend sitting on the floor, since there were no chairs in that area. Meanwhile, you will see Cubans returning with television sets, vacuum cleaners, basically any kind of electric appliances.
The customs inspection line was very short for foreigners. All you need to do is show your passport and give them the arrival form. The officer will most likely say, “Bienvenido a Cuba” (welcome to Cuba).
Once you enter the Arrivals Hall, it is a bit of a chaos. You will be approached by at least 5 people for a ride to Havana. Just ignore them. There is an Information Counter, but the ladies working there were not very helpful.
First thing you need to do is to go exchange money. Unless you arrive very early or late in the evening, the exchange place outside will have a long cue. Keep in mind that waiting is a normal thing in Cuba. My recommendation is to go to the second floor of the Arrivals Hall and there will be a government exchange office (all exchange offices are run by the government) and even an ATM. Exchange your money there but make note that the rates at the airport are about 1% lower than the city. It won’t make a big difference unless you are changing a lot of cash and the fact that waiting in line at the bank or the exchange office can be hot and tiring. I changed 100 Euros and got 106.5 CUC.
Note: Make sure to bring Euros or Canadian Dollars, which have the best exchange rates. The USD gets a heavy 10% surcharge, which means it is not the best currency to carry.
Transportation to Havana
If you are a family or a group of people, the taxi option might be the easiest thing to do. As informed earlier, you will be approached by a lot of people. Some of them wearing plain clothes, some wearing the taxi driver outfits. If you speak Spanish, you should be ok with going with one of the guys that approach you. If not, go back downstairs to the Arrival Hall and walk out of the main exit and you will see a taxi stand with lines of white taxis. Most of these taxis are brand new Chinese cars and very comfortable. These are the official airport taxis and will cost you anywhere from 20 to 30 CUC. If you speak Spanish, my recommendation is to negotiate with the person that approaches you. You can most likely negotiate the price down to around 20 CUC to Vedado, 23 CUC to Havana Vieja.
If you don’t want to bother negotiating, you wait in line at the taxi stand and the gentleman yelling out “taxis” will get you into a taxi. The prices are fixed and most likely 25 CUC to Vedado and 30 CUC to Havana Vieja. Make sure you agree on the price with the taxi driver, since they do not use the meter. They could ask you 30 CUC to Vedado or 35 CUC to Havana Vieja. Stick with my advice and offer them only 25 or 30 CUC. Another side recommendation will be to look around for other backpackers and share the taxi to minimize costs. Most of them will be going to Vedado or Havana Veija anyway.
The journey from the airport to the city center takes roughly 30 minutes and in no time, you will be at your guesthouse. The driver will most likely ask you a few questions in broken English and will pump up salsa or reggaeton in the background. The highways have very few cars and you will see billboards of Castro, Che, and propaganda along the sidelines.
By Public Bus
The public bus option is the cheapest way to get into town, but it may take anywhere between one hour to one and a half hour. The cost is 2 Cuban pesos, which is approximately 8 cents Euro. If you are arriving in Cuba for the first time in your life, this option could be an interesting and difficult one, but it is worth trying.
Note: 1 CUC = 25 Cuban pesos, if changing at the exchange office, the rate will be 24 for 1.
Follow my step by step approach below and I am sure you will make it to Havana from Terminal 3.
Once you exit the Arrival Hall on the 1st floor, walk to the left past the taxi stand. You may see a few airport workers standing in line waiting for the bus. It will be a white bus and will look similar to the picture below.
The bus will not have a number. Just ask the driver if she goes to Avenue Joyeros. Otherwise, ask one of the Cuban colleagues waiting at the bus stop. The wait can be anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes for the bus. Ensure you have local pesos or else you will be wasting money if you put 1 CUC. The driver will not give you any change. If you don’t have local pesos and the exchange office runs out (sometimes, they do not have local pesos), just ask a local to change 1 CUC to pesos. If you can get 20, that should work. The driver normally does not provide change to foreigners. Drop the peso into the coin holder and sit back and relax until Joyeros Avenue, which will be about 10 minutes away.
For some reason Step 1 fails, then the bus stop has changed! In that case, start over from the Arrivals Hall and walk right out of the airport past the exchange office and into the parking lot. Beyond the parking lot, there is a building with a restaurant. Walk past this building and you will be on a two-lane road. At this point, you are OUTSIDE of the airport. Ask anyone on the street about the bus stop or just wait at the street. There is no need to cross the street. You will be heading towards the domestic terminal, which is Terminal 1. If you are waiting by the street, don’t worry. You can flag down the bus. While you are waiting, there may be random cars or taxis running by. They will try to pick you up, but don’t bother wasting your time. Hitchhiking does not work well in Cuba. Since they get paid so little, they will most likely demand some kind of monetary payment. Once you get on the bus, get off at Joyeros Avenue.
Assuming you got on the bus on Step 1, get off the bus on Joyeros Avenue. You will have to walk to the other bus stop (about 100 meters away), heading towards Havana. This is a 2 lane highway, so ask someone about the direction towards Havana. If you are not sure, it is handy download Maps.Me application on your phone in advance. Wait at the bus stop for the P12 or P16 buses.
The P12 bus goes all the way to the Capitolio and it is the last stop before Havana Vieja. You can get off there to head to Havana Vieja. The P16 bus goes to Vedado. The best thing to do is to ask a local at the bus stop if the bus is going to Havana (Vedado or Vieja). Cubans are friendly people and will be willing to help. Very few people speak English, so brush up on your Spanish. The bus ride will be 1 local peso, so that’s all you need to put in into the holder. Once you board the bus, without traffic, it will take you around 40 to 50 minutes to Havana.
So that is it. It’s not that difficult and very simple. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.