How to Hail a Cab in Cuba

The process of hailing a cab in Cuba isn’t all that different from anywhere else in the world: Wave an arm at a taxi, hope it stops for you, tell the driver where you want to go and then hop in if he says “vamos” (or anything in the affirmative).

From there, however, things get slightly more complicated because Cuba has different types of taxis. But don’t be intimidated: No matter which taxi, it’s an opportunity to hear upbeat music and have an interesting conversation en route to your destination.

First, a few rules of thumb:
1. Tourists are only allowed to use certain taxis.
2. Almost everything is negotiable. If your taxi doesn’t have a meter, be sure to negotiate the price before it starts rolling.

Official Grancar Taxi: These government-run and licensed cabs are the most comfortable (and expensive) of the options. They have meters, and if you have little experience with cabbing in Cuba, request that your ride be metered. Alternatively, you can negotiate the price, but it’s a good idea to already have a feel for the pricing first.

Cuba Taxi: These yellow cars, usually Russian Ladas, are a good deal and likely the safest inexpensive option at night. You’ll get a better rate if you haggle with the driver.

Old yellow taxi on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba

Taxi Colectivo:  These old cars (called almendrones, big almonds, or máquinas, machines) from the 1950s have a taxi sign on the window and operate much like a bus, traveling a fixed route on main thoroughfares at a set rate per person in a ride-sharing fashion where people hop in and out at stops. These taxis are cheap and used frequently by Cubans, so they’re a good way to mix with locals. If you don’t know the fixed route, be certain to tell your driver where you’re headed before you jump in. One useful trick with these almendrones is to watch the drivers for hand signals: They’ll stick their fingers out the window to indicate the number of spaces available. And if they point up, they’re going to head straight through the next main intersection; if they point right or left, they’ll turn accordingly at the next main intersection.

Illegal Taxi: Anyone driving a car will probably give you a ride for a price, but you’ll want to negotiate that price first.

Coco Taxi: These tiny three-wheeled motorbikes hold only two passengers and are an inexpensive way to get from one place to another in Havana. The yellow coco taxis are for tourists; the black ones are for locals.

Scooter taxi in Havana, Cuba

Bici Taxi: The least expensive taxi is the pedicab (or bicycle rickshaw) seen in the streets of Havana. Tourists are not officially permitted to ride in these taxis, but the drivers are generally happy to provide a lift. 

Text by Lise Waring
Photo by Robin Thom