Useful country information

Train operator in Cuba:

Ferrocarriles de Cuba.  No official website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time zone:

GMT-5 hours (GMT-4 hours first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October).

Dialling code:

 

+53

Currency:

Foreigners generally used to pay in US dollars, but in 2004 the Cuban government announced that US dollars would no longer be accepted.  Instead, dollars, pounds or euro can be converted into 'convertible pesos' where 1 convertible peso is US$1.  A 10% tax applies to conversion of US dollars into convertible pesos (plus the bank's fee), so assume in practice that $1=0.87 CUC.  The 10% charge does not apply to conversion of euro or pounds into pesos.  Cuban citizens use 'ordinary' pesos.

Tourist information:

 

www.travel2cuba.co.uk      Recommended guidebooks

Flights:

 

Flights to Havana

Hotels:

 

Recommended classic hotels in Havana & Cuba

Visas:

UK & most other western citizens need a 'Tourist card' to visit Cuba.  You can get a tourist card direct from airlines & tour agencies serving Cuba, or via Cuban consulates, or from agencies such as (for UK residents) www.visacuba.com.

Page last updated:

1 April 2014


Travelling by train in Cuba

Cuba is a fantastic country. Cubans are very hospitable people and Havana has to be one of the most vibrant cities in the world.  It's a safe place to visit, too, unless of course you fall down one of the many potholes in the street...  Cuba's rail network runs the length of the island, linking the main cities and towns, and it's an interesting way to get around, especially if you want to travel with Cubans the way Cubans do, and not in a tourist bus.  Don't expect western standards on the trains, take your own toilet paper, and allow for the odd breakdown - think of it as all part of the Cuba experience!  In particular, the new 'Tren Francès' from Havana to Santiago is a safe, comfortable and (contrary to popular opinion) now reasonably reliable way to make the trip from one end of Cuba to the other, much better than taking a cramped long-distance Viazul bus or worse, a flight...

Train times, fares & tickets...

  Train times for Cuba      Train fares      What are Cuban trains like?       How to buy train tickets

Estacion Central, Havana, Cuba   Train travel in Cuba:  A train from Santiago de Cuba arrives in Havana

Havana's Estacion Central...

 

A train from Santiago, just arrived at Havana Estacion Central...

Sponsored links...

 


Train times & fares

Here is the timetable for the main line linking Havana, Santa Clara, Camagüey & Santiago de Cuba, and the branch lines to Sancti Spiritus, Holguin, Cienfuegos, Moron, Bayamo & Guantanamo.  Information on Cuban train services is difficult to confirm, this information is cobbled together with help from a March 2013 Havana departure board, a March 2013 Camaguey departure poster plus previous known timetables.  So treat it as a guide and check exact times locally.  The shortage of fuel in Cuba can sometimes affect buses and local trains, but these mainline trains have priority.  Fares for foreigners are also shown below.

 Havana ► Santa Clara ► Camagüey ► Santiago de Cuba   

Km

Train number:

73

1*

3

15

13

7

9

See note below for days of running:

C

A

B

C

C

D

C

0

Havana (Estación Central) depart

07:15

18:27

16:00

18:13

19:20

21:21

 

-

Havana (La Coubre)

|

|

|

|

|

|

 

90

Matanzas

|

|

17:47

22:10?

21:04

23:54

 

286

Santa Clara

|

00:06

22:00?

02:20?

02:22?

05:40

??:??

-

Cienfuegos

17:45

|

|

|

|

|

|

-

Sancti Spiritus

 

|

|

|

|

08:33

|

436

Ciego de Avila

 

|

00:40?

03:00?

04:00?

 

??:??

-

Moron**

 

|

|

|

|

 

|

538

Camagüey

 

03:39

01:58

04:10

05:27

 

21:26

-

Bayamo

 

|

 |

|

10:17

 

|

729

Cacocúm

 

|

 07:30?

10:30?

 

 

??:??

-

Holguin

 

|

 |

|

 

 

|

-

Guantanamo

 

|

 |

12:19

 

 

|

854

Santiago de Cuba arrive

 

09:12

08:05

 

 

 

??:??

* = recommended train, see note A below.

** = For Moron, travel to Ciego de Avila & change for the local line to Moron.  There are several daily trains Ciego to Moron & back.

? = Guesstimated time.  All trains, even overnight ones, only have seats.  There are no couchettes or sleeping-cars in Cuba.

Note A:  Tren Francés (the French Train).  Since 2009 it's been running every third day, but you'll have to check which days it runs locally, by asking at the information office or looking for posters at the station in Havana.  This is the recommended train to take, air-conditioned and contrary to what some guidebooks say, reasonably reliable.  It is a fast service using comfortable air-conditioned stainless steel coaches with reclining seats bought second-hand from France.  It offers two classes of seating, basic leatherette 'Primera' and quite luxurious (albeit grubby) 'Primera Especial'.  See the information & photos belowTrain currently cancelled February until summer 2014 due to overhaul see 'latest situation' update below.

Note B:  Runs every third day, on a day when the Tren Francés isn't running.  So together trains 1/2 & 3/4 provide a Havana-Santiago service on 2 out of every 3 days.  However, train 3 & 4 has much more basic passenger cars than the Tren Francés.  Primera class seats only.  Train currently cancelled February until summer 2014 due to overhaul see 'latest situation' update below.

Note C:  Runs every third day.  Primera class seats only.  Ask at the station to find which days it runs.

Note D:  Runs every second day.  Primera class seats only.  Ask at the station to find which days it runs.

Note E:  Not sure when this runs - probably every 2-3 days.  Primera class seats only.

Can you help update this timetable?  Feedback or photos of the departure boards at Havana or any main station would be much appreciated!

Latest situation 2014...

Cuban train services have changed quite a lot over the last few years, reflecting difficulties in keeping locomotives going and finding fuel.  However, the problems now seem to be easing, helped by a fleet of brand-new Chinese locomotives.  These timetables reflect the last concrete information from July 2013, origin and destination times are correct, Camaguey & Matanzas times are correct, but other intermediate times are guesstimated.

Latest update April 2014:  In February, trains 1, 2, 3 & 4 were reported as cancelled until the summer while the carriages are overhauled.  An alternative train, train 11 & 12, is running between Havana & Santiago every 4 days, departing Havana at 18:20 (arrival in Santiago next morning, time not known), departing Santiago de Cuba at 23:45, arrival in Havana next day, time not known.

If you have any more information that might help other travellers, please email me!

 Santiago de Cuba ► Camagüey ► Santa Clara ► Havana   

Train number:

10

2*

16

4

14

8

74

See note above for days of running:

C

A

C

B

C

D

D

Santiago de Cuba depart

07:20

20:17

 

23:15

 

 

 

Guantanamo

|

|

08:50

|

 

 

 

Holguin

|

|

|

|

 

 

 

Cacocúm

|

|

13:00?

02:45?

 

 

 

Bayamo

|

|

|

|

02:45

 

 

Camagüey

15:52

02:07

17:15

06:15

03:59

 

 

Moron**

|

|

|

|

|

 

 

Ciego de Avila

|

|

19:16

08:16

10:30?

 

 

Sancti Spiritus

|

|

|

|

|

20:45

 

Cienfuegos

|

|

|

|

|

|

07:00

Santa Clara

22:43

06:38

21:30:

11:00?

14:00?

00:15?

|

Matanzas

 

|

01:00?

13:59

18:15

05:26

|

Havana L Coubre

 

|

|

|

|

|

|

Havana Estación Central arrive

 

10:57

03:12

15:41

22:02

07:55

17:30

 Havana ► Pinar del Rio

            

 

 Pinar del Rio ► Havana

(Train number:)

71

(Train number:)

="center" style="margin-top: 0; margin-bottom: 0"> 72

(Notes)

G

(Notes)

G

Havana

23:00

Pinar del Rio

09:00

Pinar del Rio

05:05

Havana

14:55

Note G: Runs every second day, ask at station to find which days it runs.

Fares...

Foreigners pay higher fares than Cubans.  Foreigners used to have to pay in US dollars, but since November 2004 US dollars are no longer accepted in Cuba and foreigners pay train fares in 'convertible pesos'.  1 convertible peso = around US$1.20

 One-way fares for foreigners

 Havana - Santiago de Cuba:

62 convertible pesos in primera especial, train 3 or 4  (Tren Francès)

 

50 convertible pesos in especial, train 3 or 4  (Tren Francès)

 

30 convertible pesos in primera class, train 7 or 8

 Havana - Sancti Spiritus

14 convertible pesos in primera

 Havana - Moron

24 convertible pesos in primera

 Havana - Pinar del Rio

  7 convertible pesos in primera

 Havana - Bayamo / Manzanillo

26 convertible pesos in primera

 Havana - Guantanamo

32 convertible pesos in primera

Havana (Casablanca station) - Hershey - Matanzas (the famous Hershey Railway)

An electric railcar runs on a railway originally built by the Hershey Corporation (the chocolate company) from Havana's Casablanca station, across the harbour from Havana itself, to Hershey and Matanzas.  The timetable changes every so often, so always double-check train times locally, although these are the July 2013 times.  See the Hershey Railways photos below...

To reach Havana Casablanca station, take the frequent ferry across the harbour from the foot of Santa Clara Street in Havana old town.  The ferry runs every 20 minutes, only costs a peso or so, and gives great views of the bay - although it can be interrupted in bad weather.  There's an airport-style security check for the ferry, implemented after a ferry was hijacked and sailed to Miami in 2003, and items such as razor blades are not allowed, so be prepared and allow plenty of time.  Once on the other side, Casablanca station is immediately west of the ferry dock,  looking more like a tram stop than a conventional station, but just follow the overhead electric wires along the street.

In Matanzas, the Hershey railway station is about 2km from Matanzas mainline station.  

 Havana ► Hershey ► Matanzas

  

 Matanzas ► Hershey ► Havana

Havana Casablanca 

04:45

12:21

16:35

Matanzas (Hershey station)

04:39

12:09

16:25

Hershey

06:24

14:00

18:16

Hershey

06:30

14:00

18:16

Matanzas (Hershey station)

08:07

15:41

19:59

Havana Casa. 

08:01

15:31

20:07

Fare:  Foreigners pay in convertible pesos, Havana to Hershey is 1.40 pesos, Havana to Matanzas is 2.80 pesos (1 convertible peso = $1.20). Tickets go on sale 1 hour before departure.

What are Cuban trains like?

The Tren Francés Havana-Santiago (trains 1 & 2)

Fast trains 1 & 2 between Havana and Santiago use comfortable stainless-steel air-conditioned coaches bought second-hand from French Railways and known as the 'Tren Francés'.  These classic coaches were originally used on the glamorous Trans-Europe Express (TEE) service between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam before being replaced with high-speed Thalys trains.  They were shipped to Cuba in 2001.

There are no sleeping-cars or couchettes, just seats in two classes - primera (first class) and primera especial (special first class).  Primera is the old European 2nd class, with vinyl padded seats 2-abreast on each side of the aisle.  Primera especial is the old European first class, with much more space and seats arranged 2-abreast on one side of the aisle, one-abreast on the other side, as shown in the photo below.

The train is getting worn and grubby, but the seats are comfortable (even if they don't recline), there is powerful air-conditioning, a café, and even piped music.  A hostess looks after each coach.  Make sure you bring your own toilet paper!  This train is normally reasonably reliable, with up to three locomotives hauling it - in fact, if the Tren Francés runs more than an hour late, Ferrocarriles de Cuba will refund your fare.

To quote one traveller, "The journey from Havana to Santa Clara was very comfortable and there were only 7 foreigners on a train full of friendly Cubans - a marked contrast to the rather grumpy 'tourist only' bus network."

Tren Frances from Santiago de Cuba to Havana, at Santiago   Close-up of stainless steel on the Tren Frances to Havana

The Tren Francés from Santiago to Havana, boarding at Santiago.  Photos courtesy Chuck Anderson.

 

These once-glamorous stainless-steel cars used to run on crack TEE trains between Paris, Brussels & Amsterdam! 

Primera especial seating on the Tren Frances to Havana   The French train from Santiago de Cuba, arrived at Havana

Primera especial seating...

 

Arrival in Havana, an hour late...

Air-conditioned railcars 

Some services (if, as & where shown in the timetable above) are provided by railcars, either ex-Spanish Railways or stainless steel Budd railcars bought second-hand from VIA Rail Canada (shown below).  The latter are comfortable, carpeted, air-conditioned single-coach railcars with reclining seats, hostess service and refreshments.

Budd air-conditioned railcar   Comfortable seating in the railcar

Other trains

Other trains, such as trains 3 & 4 between Havana and Santiago overnight, consist of older cars, in many cases bought second-hand from Germany, Mexico or Japan.  In spite of travelling overnight, there are no sleeping-cars or sleeping accommodation of any kind - the trains just have reclining leatherette seats.  These trains are an experience - don't expect them to be the cleanest or best maintained trains you will see!

Seats on an ordinary overnight Havana-Santiago train    The ordinary overnight train from Santiago approaches Havana

The Hershey Railway: Havana - Hershey - Matanzas

Hershey train at Havana Casablanca station, Cuba   Hershey train at Hershey station

Above:  Hershey electric train at Havana's Casablanca station.  Photo courtesy of Kees Lafeber

 

Above:  The Hershey train at Hershey station...  Photo courtesy of Kees Lafeber

How to buy tickets

Santiago de Cuba's new railway stationDriver & cigar, Budd railcarBuying train tickets...

You can book train tickets up to 5 days in advance, only from the station you are leaving from.  You'll need your passport.

Buying tickets in Havana

Foreign visitors cannot buy train tickets at the Estacion Central, but should walk on round the corner to the Le Coubre station on the Avenida del Peurto.  From the Estacion Central, continue down Egido Street along the Old Wall towards the harbour and then turn right, and it's about 100m away.

At other stations, you can book at the normal ticket office.  It's best to book a day or two in advance if you can.

Children aged 0 to 4 travel free, children aged 5 to 11 travel at half fare, children aged 12 and over pay full fare.

Traveller Murray reports from 2011:  "At Le Coubre station, The waiting room is open with 4 smaller rooms along the left hand wall.  A man seated at the desk just inside the door will ask you which train you would like to catch.  I was asked to go into the room at the end of the row in the far left hand corner.  The ticketing person asked for my passport and then I took a seat for about 5 mins before I was called back into the room to pay and retrieve my passport.  The ticket is a flimsy piece of paper so take care of it because this is what you hand over to the person at the window when you check in, the person at the gate entrance to the platform and to the staff member at the door of your carriage."

Traveller Emil reports:  "You cannot buy a ticket from the Estacion Central, you have to go to a building around the corner, closer to the port [The LADIS office].  There are seats and you have to wait to be called.  I think we were called quite quickly though, being foreigners.  There are undesirables at the station that will offer to help confused tourists, so don't believe everything you're told. Foreigners have to pay in convertible pesos, abbreviated CUC. The locals pay the same amount, but in national pesos so actually they pay a lot less. We did this the day before - I am not sure if you can do this on the same day as you travel.  When you go to the station to catch your train, you first need to go to a window in the middle of the station where you confirm your ticket. You need to hand them your tickets together with your passports and they will fill in some paperwork. You must do this before getting on the train!  There are no signs or anything saying that you have to do this."

Picture above right:  The driver of a Havana to Santiago train smoking a Havana cigar...

Pictured above far right:  The new passenger rail station at Santiago de Cuba.  The old one is now derelict.

Buying tickets in Santiago de Cuba...

Traveller Chuck Anderson reports (2014):  "You can get tickets up to 5 days in advance for the 860km journey from Santiago de Cuba to Havana. It’s probably a good idea, as our carriage on the ‘Special train’ [Tren Frances] was quite full. The station is a large modern barn down by the port, but you can’t buy a ticket there. The ticket office is about a hundred metres west. No, not the first building, that’s a refreshment stand. It’s that white structure further on that looks like a temporary shed. You can get information at the window, but to buy your ticket you have to enter an unmarked door around the side. Here, as in any procedure to do with transportation or communications in Cuba, you will find a waiting room with a patient queue of customers. But, because we were obvious foreigners who would pay in hard currency, within a few minutes they opened a special window for us. The process still took some time, as it involved a lot of writing and stamping by hand. You will also need your passport and 62 CUCs for a first-class ticket. You are instructed to be at the station an hour before departure. Good advice, because you still can’t get on the train until you get your ticket stamped There was a lengthy queue at the window, so we went round the back and the woman in the window ticked our names on her list and stamped our tickets.


Guidebooks

Rough Guide to Cuba - buy online at Amazon.co.ukLonely Planet Cuba - buy online at Amazon.co.ukTake a good guidebook to get the most from a trip to Cuba.  For independent travellers I'd recommend either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide, both guidebooks provide an excellent level of practical information and historical and cultural background.  Lonely Planet Cuba - Rough Guide to Cuba

Click the images to buy at Amazon.co.uk

 


Find hotels in Cuba

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Personal hotel recommendations in Havana...

There's no shortage of historic hotels in Havana, many with movie star or Hemingway connections.  The oldest hotel in Havana is the venerable Hotel Inglaterra, very central near the Capitolio and walking distance from Old Havana.  The most luxurious hotel, even today, is the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, once the haunt of Sinatra and Ava Gardner, although it's quite a hike from the Capitolio in central Havana, and further still from Old Havana. The Hotel Sevilla is also a good choice, not far from the Inglaterra and once Al Capone's favourite.  Finally, there's the comfortable Hotel Ambos Mundos, located right within Old Havana, where Hemingway's room can still be seen, complete with typewriter, an excellent choice.

The Inglaterra Hotel, Havana, Cuba  

The Inglaterra Hotel, Havana

 

Vintage Cuban car taken near the Havana seafront...


Flights

Overland travel by train & bus around Cuba is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But a long-haul flight might be unavoidable to reach Cuba in the first place.  For flights to Havana, compare airlines at Skyscanner.com.

skyscanner generic 728x90

Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you're resident in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you're resident in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find some huge bills waiting for you.  I've known people run up a £1,000 bill in data charges just by leaving their iPhone connected during a simple trip to Europe.  However, if you buy a global SIM card for your mobile phone from a company such as www.Go-Sim.com you can slash the cost by up to 85% and limit any damage to the amount you have pre-paid.  It cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also works for laptop or PDA data access.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.

 


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