I just returned from a one-week trip to Cuba. It began in Santiago de Cuba (and ended there) – with a quick three days in Baracoa in the middle.
This was the first time I would be venturing to Baracoa, but it was not my first time on a bus in Cuba. During two of my trips to Santiago de Cuba I took a bus from the airport in Holguin to get there. Unfortunately, the roundtrip (direct) flights from Toronto to Santiago de Cuba are only between like November and February, so the other months if you want to head there you’d have to land in Holguin and take the two hour bus.
We planned on going from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa from Saturday, December 28th until Monday, December 30th.
According to the Viazul.com website, the cost is $30CUC (about $40CAD) roundtrip per person and it would take just under 5.5hrs each way.
Because the website is quite glitchy, we opted to purchase our tickets for the journey when we arrived in Santiago instead. People will tell you that it isn’t busy enough there and that you can just purchase them the morning of the trip – I advise AGAINST that choice. We purchased our tickets at the bus station in Santiago two days before our trip and we were happy we made that choice because the morning we were supposed to leave for Baracoa the lineup for the tickets was crazy long. Avoid that!
Getting to Baracoa
The bus towards Baracoa is scheduled to leave at 8am every day, but ours did not depart until 830am. Unfortunately in Cuba you get pretty accustomed to lateness in most activities you’ll end up getting into.
Our bus was so full that it even had four people standing in the back for the journey. This particular bus had a bathroom on board and I will say has the furthest reclining back seats you could imagine. We slept for first half of the journey and woke up to occasional views of sugar cane fields and ocean.
The best part of the bus ride, you DO need to be awake for. As you can see on the Google Maps image below, technically the drive from Santiago to Baracoa should take under four hours – if you were in a car.
There isn’t many stops and it goes simply through Guantanamo. Yes, THAT Guantanamo.
The bus does not take only 3hrs and 46 minutes. Aside from it leaving 30 minutes late, this is a bus and not a car. Please see the picture below for what the route over the mountains looked like….
You see those squiggly lines? That part took FOREVER to get through. You have this huge passenger bus climbing up and down the mountain on a very narrow road. If you are afraid of heights, you should remain sleeping during this time. However, if you want to see the most incredible views – stay awake. This was my highlight of the bus ride. Although instead of 5.5hrs we took a little over 6 hours and got into Baracoa after 2pm, it was worth it for these views in the mountains.
Getting back to Santiago de Cuba
Our return bus ride was meant to leave at 2pm from the only bus station in Baracoa. The city is very small, so there is literally no way you could miss where you have to catch your bus.
The station is also quite small though, so be prepared for a cramped wait with everyone else.
We were lucky that this time the bus left promptly, but this one did not have a bathroom on board. This meant about 3-4 stops along the way so people could purchase random foods along the route and use a bathroom at those stops.
It was an equally beautiful drive on the way back, only thing that sucked was that it gets dark pretty early in Cuba so by 5pm it was pitch black outside. We had downloaded some movies on my laptop for this portion of the trip, so we were entertained nonetheless.
I feel like the driver on the way back was also a tad bit more experienced as those slow turns over the mountains from my first bus ride didn’t happen. This guy was WHIPPING around the narrow bends and we did get to Santiago within the 5.5hrs, even with having stops on this bus ride.
Overall, the experience went great for me. I would say between my bus trips to Holguin and to Baracoa, take the damn bus if it’s an option. It is comfy and well air conditioned. I would just advise that if you have a very strict time frame for a flight or a tour in a different city and are taking the bus – take whatever the next earliest one is. The timing can really be off sometimes.