After arriving at Havana Airport, which might involve a bit of a wait until there’s an empty gate for your plane, you’ll take a quick stroll over to the dimly lit immigration area.
I waited in line at immigration for a few minutes, handed over my passport and about 45 seconds later I was done. No questions were asked, they took a quick photo of me and then they stamped my passport.
The next step was a security check (yes, even when arriving) – the standard conveyor belt x-ray for your bags that you find at every airport. This only took a few minutes and then we went to collect our luggage from the luggage carousel, which also didn’t take long at all. From here, we walked through the customs inspection in about five seconds and ended up in the Arrivals Hall right after.
So far, a very easy process.
Entering the Arrivals Hall, however, is when you receive the reality check of traveling to a country that has little to no tourism infrastructure.
Here’s what happened when I arrived and how you can have a very smooth experience:
Arriving at Havana Airport – Take a Moment to Breathe
The first thing I did was to visit the lone “Information Desk” but all the woman tried to do was set me up with a sketchy taxi driver.
I gave up on that option and decided to go outside. Well, there I stood outside, with my friends, with no clue at all what to do in order to get to where we needed to go – the Vedado neighborhood of Havana.
We gathered together. We politely brushed off those who approached us with offers that we couldn’t yet quite understand or figure out if they were real.
As I write about often, the first thing a traveler should do when they arrive in a new, unfamiliar land – whether by plane, train, bus, foot or any other method – is to stop for 20 minutes. Find a quiet corner, take a seat and relax. Stay calm, be patient and observe everything around you, until you calmly figure out what’s going on and what you need to do in order to get to your destination. This helps you avoid rushing into a decision that could become a bad one.
And that’s what we did, and before long, we started to make sense of this airport arrival scene and began putting together a plan on how to get to the guesthouse that we had booked.
Here’s what we learned about transportation at the airport:
Arriving at Havana Airport – Taking a Taxi from Havana Airport
STEP 1: Head to the second floor of the Arrivals Hall
Before going outside, take the stairs to the second floor of the Arrivals Hall. This will instantly make arriving at Havana Airport much easier. Up here it’s super quiet, there are bathrooms and there is actually a helpful information desk, a money exchange office without any line (the exchange offices outside have long lines) and even an ATM.
Take a breather up here for a few moments and change some money. I changed $40 USD and received 36 CUC (the Cuban Convertible Pesos that foreigners must use – the exchange rate is about .89 CUC = $1 USD).
STEP 2: Find a real taxi
All kinds of people will approach you inside and outside of the airport asking if you want a taxi but it’s confusing because you have no idea what they’re really up to. The best option is to go back downstairs, walk out of the main exit and turn left.
Keep walking for about 1 minute until you see a collection of yellow taxis. Here you will find a taxi dispatcher (I use this term informally because it’s just a man or woman yelling out ‘taxis!, taxis!’ in front of these yellow cabs). Approach this person and he or she will ask where you’re headed and then they’ll get one of the taxis to pull up to the curb.
STEP 3: Agree on the fare
Before getting into the taxi, you’ll tell the dispatcher and/or driver where you’re headed and they will give you a price. The woman at the helpful information desk on the 2nd floor of the Arrivals Hall told us it should cost 30 CUC (about $33 USD) to get to our guesthouse and our driver’s first offer was 30 CUC. So we took it.
If you’re headed to Vedado or Old Havana, the cost should be about 25 – 30 CUC. Make sure you agree on the price before starting the journey. There are meters in the yellow taxis but they are never used.
At this point, once our journey into the city began, we simply assumed that it was going to be an interesting one, a ride full of surprises, maybe a sudden change in fare or bringing us somewhere we didn’t want to go.
But that never happened.
After piling into the somewhat beat-up minivan, the driver cranked up the reggaeton and off we zoomed at 140 kms/hour along near empty highways for 30 minutes or so.
And just like that, we were right in front of the address we had given the driver. We paid the fare, he wished us a good afternoon and in the center of Havana we had arrived.
That was it. Too easy. Once you navigate the chaos of the airport and actually make it into a taxi, it should be all good from there. Arriving at Havana Airport is the challenging part and now you can just enjoy your first glimpse of Cuba and prepare yourself for a fascinating experience ahead.
*Side note: At the end of our trip, we simply had our guesthouse owner order us a taxi on the phone to take us to the airport. The price was 25 CUC and it was a super smooth experience. Wherever you stay in Havana, they should be able to call one of these yellow taxis for you.
Any questions? Please let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to reply.
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