Train lines run from one end of Cuba to the other and it is easy to travel by train between the major cities. This is an interesting way to see some of the country, especially if you want to see the 'real' Cuba and interact with some locals rather than sitting on the tourist buses. The main railway line runs like a spine down the island, linking Havana, Santa Clara, Camagüey & Santiago de Cuba. There are branch lines to Sancti Spiritus, Holguin, Cienfuegos, Moron, Bayamo & Guantanamo. The fuel shortages Cuba experiences can sometimes effect buses and trains but these mainline trains are prioritised.
It has to be said that a train journey is Cuba is more like an adventure than a straightforward journey from A to B. Trains are relatively comfortable but you should not expect to see Western standards. There can be breakdowns and other delays and the key to it all is simply to relax and enjoy the experience – live in the moment rather than worrying about any delays. Cubans are used to small niggles and hold-ups and so tend to be far more phlegmatic than those who have only ever experienced first-world problems. When you travel the trains in Cuba, you should take the time to admire the Cuban scenery and perhaps also to get to know some local people, who can tell you what it is really like to live and work in Cuba. One tip though, if you plan a longer train journey, is to be sure to bring your own toilet paper. Just in case!
Unfortunately, it is also rather difficult to confirm train timetables and stops in advance, though this information can be found at the stations on posters or billboards. Trains are probably not the best nor most reliable way to make it to a destination at a specific time, but if exploration is your goal they could be a really good choice. If you do decide to travel around by train, it is worth noting that the efficacy and reliability has somewhat increased of late with the addition of some new Chinese locomotives, though you should also note that Havana Estación Central is closed for a major renovation from June 2015 until summer 2018. Instead, trains are using instead the nearby La Coubre station.
One highlight of the railway system that should not be missed is the Hershey train that runs from Havana to Hershey and on to Matanzas. This electric train, the last electric train in the country, is a popular tourist attraction and many tourists make the trip with all the Cubans on board. Most simply get off at Hershey for a little look around. If you want to get off the beaten track however, you could stroll easily from there to the coastal settlement of Santa Cruz del Norte, where you are unlikely to see many, if any, other tourists. Or you could stop at one of the smaller places on the route to explore the Cuban countryside and enjoy the beautiful scenery and small villages.
Whether you choose to travel around Cuba by bus, train or other modes of transportation, you will find that it is indeed a wonderful place to explore, offering far more than just the beautiful white beaches and the glossy allure of the tourist resorts. Seeing the real, working Cuba is a delight that reminds us what travel is really all about.