Transportation in Cuba: (More) trains, ferries and domestic flights

An ATR-42 in factory livery (source: Commons).

Around a year after the end of the last pandemic measures in Cuba, many means of transport are still running on the back burner due to the economic situation. The number of passengers transported recovered last year, according to the statistical yearbook, but was still almost 45 percent below the level of 2019. Slowly, however, more movement is coming back to the island. According to Cuban media reports, numerous routes by land, air and sea that had been discontinued for years have resumed in recent weeks.

Several train lines that were still suspended since the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020 have been operating again in eastern Cuba since last month, regional news papers reported. Among them the Santiago de Cuba-Manzanillo, Bayamo-Manzanillo, Guantánamo-Holguín and Holguín-Las Tunas connections. “These provincial capitals of Oriente are connected to Havana every four days by the respective national train with six first-class and five second-class cars,” said Rubalcaba Pellicier, head of the Eastern Cuba Department at the Cuban Railways “Unión de Ferrocarriles de Cuba” (UFC). He added that the severely limited regional connections between San Luis and Santiago de Cuba and between Santiago and Contramaestre could also be improved. Meanwhile, in Havana, a regional train to the beaches of Guanabo will operate again over the summer. The Havana-Santiago connection has been operated several days a week since October 2022, as in the past, seats remain scarce and requiere reservation in advance.

The new car ferry Preservancia connects Batabanó in the south of the province of Mayabeque with the Island of Youth (Source: Cubadebate)

On Saturday, a new car ferry between the Cuban main island and the Island of Youth began operation. The “Preservancia” was built in 2021 and has a capacity of 430 passengers. According to Cuban media, it was a “million-dollar investment” for the Ministry of Transport. The price for the six-hour crossing is 200 pesos (about US$ 1.5 according to the official exchange rate), as usual, and 650 pesos (about US$ 5) are charged for taking a car. In August, there will initially be two crossings per week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, from the main port in Batabanó. From September, in addition to the daily catamaran crossings, the ferry will operate every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Last but not least, the state airline “Aerogaviota” has also increased its range of domestic flights in Cuba. This is intended not least to revive tourism. The airline plans to resume twice-weekly flights from Havana to the popular vacation islands of Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Coco. In addition, the Havana-Santiago route is to be served again, with an extension of the route to the Jamaican capital Kingston in the future. Further domestic flights will be operated from Havana to the eastern Cuban city of Manzanillo, and the Island of Youth (Nueva Gerona Airport) will also be served again. Two European-built ATR 42-500 turboprop regional aircraft will be used for this purpose, the first domestic flights by the tourism company since November 2022, when connections had to be suspended due to fuel shortages.

Beyond the “Víazul” tourist bus line, some central intercity connections in Cuba are available again for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, which is good news for travelers and locals alike. However, the overall transportation situation remains tense, with public transportation in all cities still far behind pre-crisis levels and numerous regional connections still thinned out.

This article was first published on Cuba Heute, a German-language news portal.

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