Overland Travel: Varadero to Havana, Cuba.


Cuba can be a challenging country to get around in. With limited tourist accessible public transportation networks, much of the available transport is through private vehicle rentals with a car and driver. In this post, I outline our experience getting from Varadero to Havana, Cuba along the coastal highway. We had some interesting sights and stops along the way as we made our way to Havana.

This post is one chapter on our trip to the isolated country of Cuba. This trip was planned through Westjet Vacations. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Activity: Overland Travel – Varadero to Havana, Cuba.

One of the places that I wanted to see on this trip was Havana. I have to chuckle a bit at some of the other travellers out there that visit Havana, Cuba for 24 – 36 hours and have a rough time during their visit. There is usually a complaint of how difficult is it to see everything, and that things didn’t run at the pace of North America. The challenge of Cuba is that it can be tough to get around on your own without the usual transportation networks. You really need to get your self a guide and a driver in order to make the most out of your visit.

The Route to Havana:

Our traveling partners booked a van through a contact that they had identified on Trip Advisor. We each chipped in $50 USD a day for the van and the driver (6 of us total). For that we got a 12 hour trip, all gas and a day full of stops and guiding, along with an English speaking guide. This price point appeared to be a bit cheaper than what was offered through the resort tour desk.

Our travels would take us on a two hour drive toward Havana at 150+ km each way. We left the Ocean Varadero El Patriarca hotel at a reasonable 8:15 AM in the morning. The trip was along the scenic Northern coast and took us away from the tourist zoned area of Varadero.

Communist Style Residence Blocks
Vintage American Cars Line Roads in Cuba
Highway Coastal Views Looking North Towards Florida, USA

I was in the back row of the van today. There aren’t very many luxury options in Cuba so I’d imagine it could be far worse than this. The scenery was interesting as we rolled along the highway with other older Vintage American cars all around us.

Coastal Views from the Van
Highways Views on the Road to Havana
American Vintage Cars

Travelling through Mantanas:

Our route took us through the city of Mantanas. The town has a railway bridge built from the year 1904 rail bridge right on the water.

The 1904 Rail Bridge in Mantanas
Rail Bridges in Mantanas

A rest stop at Mirador del Bacunayagua:

Our first stop was at Mirador del Bacunayagua. It was a natural halfway point between Varadero and Havana. There is a massive natural canyon here with a high bridge, along with a concession and rest stop. When we stopped, there were heaps of private charters and relic cars near the gorge.

A Rest Stop at Mirador de Bacunayagua
Coffee Concession Bar at Mirador del Bacunayagua
A Couple Posing next to their Ride for the Day
American Vintage Cars in Cuba
American Red
Chevrolet History
It’s Amazing to See this Cars Still Running
Mirador del Bacunayagua Gorge Views
Highway Bridges next to Mirador del Bacunayagua

At Mirador del Bacunayagua, there was a live band playing. Many of the drivers actually took to dancing to some of the music. It was a neat place to stop and emphasized the effects of music and dancing on the local culture of Cubans.

Mirador del Bacunayagua Deck Views
Live Bands
Impromptu Dance Sessions

Arriving to Havana, Cuba:

From Mirador del Bacunayagua, we continued on towards Havana. We eventually arrived after 1 hour, passing by the soccer stadium built for the Pan American Games held in Cuba in the year 1991. It was reportedly built for the games and never used again.

Oceanside Towns
PAN American Soccer Stadium

We eventually arrived into Havana, Cuba on the Malecon. The city of Havana had some impressive almost Soviet styled buildings as we approached the city limits.

A Summary of our Travel from Varadero to Havana:

Overland Travel in Cuba was a slow and cumbersome experience. Although the pace was slower than I was used to, it made for an interesting morning of our day. The Cuban towns and villages led a certain simple charm, and the pride in the ownership of their automobiles and spirit of the culture was warming to the heart.

If you’ve travelled overland in Cuba, how did you go about arranging and doing it ?

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