Havana is famous for its old American cars, but one very interesting local phenomena is their taxi system. The range of taxis available in Cuban capital varies highly: from old Russian Lada to American cabriolets to what a western person knows as a taxi. Mayte, our host, told us about taxis colectivos (collective taxis). It’s simply a taxi type that follows a certain route and picks up/drops off people on the way. As Mayte said, the cost of being a passenger on one of the routes is 10 CUP or 0.5 CUC (which is 0.5 USD) per person. That’s when we decided that we need to make it our mission to try it. Here are our attempts, mistakes and victories in catching Cuban taxi colectivo.
P.S. To my own surprise, I didn’t take any pictures of an actual taxi colectivo, so instead I’ll try to show you what NOT to look for if you want to catch one.
We are staying in the casa particular close to the famous 1830 club and Cuban Art Factory. All information we have about taxi colectivo is its price, our final destination (El Capitolio) and that the car should be very old. Surprise-surprise, it seems that 95% of cars in Havana are old! We’re heading to the western end of Malecon and start walking towards the city while trying to get a ride.
Many cars stop and ask if we need a ride. Some of them have big taxi signs on, some have small ones that you can barely see. We start asking drivers of less official-looking cars what they charge to get to El Capitolio, and answers range from 10 to 20. Trying to understand which taxi is taxi colectivo, we get a bit confused, as cars with passengers already inside don’t stop for us. Finally, after spending a little too much time on it, we agree with one of the drivers on 5 CUC and let him drive us to our destination. Car was old indeed, but it wasn’t what we were looking for.
Mistake #1: not asking a driver what kind of taxi it is.
After a long night out with our new Cuban friend we are heading home from the other side of Malecon. We are quite tired, so decide to find a taxi. Again, everyone who stops for us, asks for 10+ CUC. One driver says that he will drive us for 5, but we settle it down to 3. When talking to the driver on our way home, we found out that this is definitely NOT a taxi colectivo, and ordinary taxis won’t normally drive you that cheap. At home we spoke to Mayte and found out what we were doing wrong.
Mistake #2: don’t look for taxi colectivo on Malecon – they don’t normally drive there; catch one at Linea.
Today we decide to try again and walk out to Linea to get some water and finally catch taxi colectivo. Here we see much more taxis with passengers stopping to pick up more people. We look at folk standing on the side of the road and stopping cars and decide to do the same. There are few buses that have “taxi colectivo” written on them. We also start getting an idea about what kind of car it is: it’s normally an old American car (not cabriolet), like 1955 Chevy or hardtop Bel Air from 1950s (sometimes, but rarely, old Lada). To double check, I ask the driver if it’s taxi colectivo and he confirms. I also ask him (to make sure) how much it is, and he says: “uno y uno” (one and one). I’m not sure if he wants 2CUC for 2 people instead of 1 and we decide to go in anyway. In the end, when we reach El Capitolio, I give him 1 CUC, but he asks for 1 more, which I also pay (he said that in the beginning so I didn’t argue).
Mistake #3: asking driver about the price – just pay 0.5CUC or 10 CUP per person when you leave (don’t confuse with normal taxis, where you should always agree on the cost beforehand).
Win #1: even though paying double price (which is still only 1 CUC more), we enjoyed a ride in our first collective taxi!
We’re planning to get to the other side of Canal de Entrada to see a fortress. Mayte says that to get there we should either get a taxi for 10 CUC, or get taxi colectivo to El Capitolio and from there get another taxi for 5 CUC. We decide to try the second option, so we walk over to Linea once more. After waiting for quite a long time, we realize that most taxi colectivos have only one seat available. We end up catching a “normal” taxi for 6 CUC to drive us all the way to the fortress. At the entrance to the fortress taxi gets stopped by a police, and taxi driver says that if police asks, he’s our friend. Luckily, police didn’t come to speak to us and after checking his documents and his car, they let us continue.
Mistake #4: not having enough patience. Stopping taxi colectivo can be a tricky business at busy times. There’s quite a few of them, but if two people want to travel together, it can be hard to find a car with enough seats.
On the way home from the city we decide to give it one more try. Not that far from El Capitolio we find a taxi colectivo. Smiling, I say where we need to go and driver lets us jump in. After a pleasant ride we reach our destination. We give driver 3 CUC note and he gives us 2 CUC back. Mission accomplished!!!!
Win #2: we managed to find a right car and pay local price for the ride!
To sum up:
- Find out at your hotel/airbnb/casa particular what’s the route of taxi colectivo nearby and double check the price.
- Look for taxis that look like old Chevrolets, say “taxi” on the window and probably already have passengers inside.
- Get ready to wait if you have a travel buddy.
- Don’t ask about the price, just make sure the car drives along the route you need.
- Enjoy your ride in taxi colectivo and pay 0.5 CUC or 10 CUP when you leave!
To read other tips about Cuba, check out our article on how to survive in Havana.