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Adventure of a Lifetime: Cycling in Cuba

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Biking in Cuba is an experience of a lifetime. The best of Cuba’s attractions will be laid out at your feet or maybe your wheels where you can fully immerse yourself in the island’s beauty and cultural richness. Touring the back roads, you will see Cuba in all its glory, experiencing a Cuba that is nothing like the typical Cuba beach resort vacation. You can stay in Casas Particulares (private homes) and eat in local restaurants, all proudly owned by Cuban citizens, and you will see up close and personal the dramatic changes happening on the island during this time of transition.

Cycle the Best of Cuba

Any first trip to the island should include a stay in Havana. It is a natural starting point for a bike trip showcasing the best of Cuba’s attractions. Bustling with tourists and locals, Old Havana is ground zero for the changes that are sweeping the country.

This is where you will see scaffold-clad buildings, their glorious ruins being brought back to life, new hotels being built for the first time in decades, and private residences renting out rooms for tourists. There are so many room for rent signs in the city that sometimes it seems as if every apartment in the city centre is now a Casa Particular (private house accommodation).

Cubans artists, musicians, and buskers crowd the quaint cobblestone streets of old Havana. You can find tourist wares being sold in the entrances of private houses, bands playing music in every café, restaurant and street corner, salsa dancing in nightclubs, and shiny bright 1950’s cars scattered throughout the streets ready to become the star of your next Instagram or Facebook post. The city is alive, it vibrates with excitement and energy, and it is fast on its way to becoming a major player in the world’s top tourist destinations.

You can cycle your way through Revolutionary Square, Prado Promenade, catch a breeze along Havana’s famous Malecon waterfront, and visit Havana’s most important Colonial Squares.

The Best of Cuba, The Bike, and the Road

No bike tour of the island would be complete without heading out to rural Cuba. The roads are empty; it’s just you, your bike, horse and carts, and other bikes. This is so very special. It is where you will see the real Cuba and experience everyday life on the island. You will come to understand the many challenges facing the island today and witness the intense pride Cubans have for their country and for their culture. It is a trip that will transform you as you bike, talk, live, and laugh with Cubans and your group. Be prepared though as the days are very hot, so biking in Cuba is best done in the morning hours so that the afternoons can then be well spent cooling down with a well deserved Piña Colada or Mojito!

A true bike tour treat is a visit to one of Cuba’s popular roadside rest stops. Here you won’t see the usual fast food offerings you find at rest stops in North America. Instead they provide something much more welcoming after a long blistering hot morning ride: Deliciously cold Piña Coladas. We were informed by our guide that we were fortunate to stop near Penon Del Fraile, the very best Piña Colada rest stop in all of Cuba. Drenched in sweat, hot and tired, we unanimously agreed that the ice-cold sweet drinks were pretty awesome.

From Havana to Central Cuba by Bike

Biking in rural Cuba means biking through swamps, former sugar fields, quaint villages, and pine forests. It means historic stops in the beautiful, colonial towns of Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Trinidad. Distances traveled each day ranges from 60 to 80 kms, the roads are quiet, sometimes flat and sometimes with undulating hills. (Undulating hills were our guide’s code word for serious inclines we decided).

The best food in Cuba today is usually found in the small paladars (family run restaurants) that are now popping up throughout Cuba. We discovered one of our favourite paladars during an evening stay on the Bay of Pigs, in Playa Largo. Mily, a tiny, six table paladar, offers the traditional Cuba dinner choices of chicken, pork or fish but the food is beautifully prepared, proudly served by the owner, and is so very tasty. This is where you discover that in Cuba, simple food is good food.

A Swim at Caleta Buena and Strolling through Pretty Cienfuegos

One of our hottest biking days in Cuba ended perfectly with a late lunch and a welcome afternoon swim in the Caribbean Sea at Caleta Buena. This small, natural rock lagoon makes for a tranquil break after a grueling hot bike ride. With clear aqua blue waters teeming with tropical fish, this sweet spot is ideal for snorkeling, scuba diving, or lazily floating in the warm clear sea.

We ended the day in the beautiful seaside city of Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos’ ‘pretty in pastel’ town square is filled with families enjoying the cool ocean breezes and wifi conversations with far-flung relatives. This is a town you wish you could stay in for more than one night. In 2005, UNESCO placed the historic centre of Cienfuegos on the World Heritage list, its buildings being the best examples of neoclassical architecture in the Caribbean.

For the best dinner in Cienfuego, visit the sumptuous Villa Largato Paladar; which comes complete with brisk ocean breezes, white tablecloths, shining silverware, and meat courses of rabbit, pork, lamb, and fish. With full tummies and after a long hot day of biking and touring, spending the night in Cienfuegos’ beautifully restored and historic Hotel La Union is a luxurious treat.

The Cobblestone Streets of Trinidad

The road from Cienfuego to Trinidad is a long 80 km ride filled with lovely undulating hills, bustling villages, and spectacular views of the Escambray Mountains. After one last killer hill, and a full day of biking, the late afternoon arrival in the pretty, colonial town of Trinidad is a welcome stop.

One of Cuba’s top destinations, Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a place that time forgot. Known as one of the best-preserved cities in the Caribbean, it was built during the time the sugarcane industry ruled the surrounding countryside making the town and its inhabitants wealthy. With the collapse of the sugar trade, Trinidad’s rich citizens abandoned the town, leaving its beautiful pastel-hued Spanish colonial architecture intact and undisturbed for decades.

This is where you can arrange to fill your much-deserved free time by idly wandering through the quaint and bumpy cobblestone streets, shopping in the open market stalls found throughout the town, or relaxing at the beach. You can also choose to head out for a horseback ride, arrange for a sailing trip on a catamaran, or take salsa lessons in one of Trinidad’s pretty town squares.

Santa Clara, Che Guevara and the Day of Hills

The final cycling day traveling to Santa Clara is where you really hone your hill climbing skills in Cuba. The kilometers biked might have only added up to a mere 40 km but most of them are uphill.

The bonus being with going up, is that you, at some point, need to go down.

This is where you can experience a few extreme and thrilling downhill bike rides whizzing through small villages and pine forests in central Cuba. What a blast, it is the ultimate Cuban cycling challenge, a day of big hills and downhill speed.

The top attraction in Santa Clara is a visit to the mausoleum and museum honouring Che Guevara, one of Cuba’s most famous heroes. Newly built and modern, the museum offers a wealth of information about Che, his early life and his time in Cuba in both Spanish and English.

Top Cuba Bike Tips

  1.    You can bike on your own in Cuba but it can be a challenging task.It is best to join an established tour like the ones offered by Canadian company BikeHike as they have plenty of experience running biking and hiking tours in Cuba.
  2.    Bring bike gloves! Your sweaty, hot hands will thank you! Also nice to haves: your own bike seat, padded bike shorts, water bottle and, of course, a helmet.
  3.    Cuba has some steep hills, be sure to practice on some serious inclines before you head to the island.
  4.    Bring enough cash, it can be difficult to get to a bank in the smaller villages.
  5.    Remember, it’s Cuba! Bring your patience and understand that you will not be heading to any 5 star resorts. Instead, this charming, undeveloped Caribbean island beauty and its people will enchant you and make you want to come back year after year.

Taking a bike tour of Cuba gives you the freedom to see beyond the inexpensive beach resort most people experience when they visit the island. A slow journey through the back roads of this unusual country allows you to truly know and love the heart of Cuba.

You experience the dichotomy of an island that is so rich in culture, pride, education and yet so financially poor. But the best parts of Cuba will never be about material things or a robust infrastructure. The best of Cuba is the Cuban people and their immense love of their Caribbean paradise.

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