Why To Bicycle Cuba’s Oriente – And Where to Stay When You’re There


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Cuba is a lot bigger than I thought.  In the end focussing on the eastern and southern end of Cuba was the right way to go about creating an eighteen-day 1100 kilometer  bicycle tour.  From what I later read, I ended up picking the best of Cuba in terms of dramatic scenery and traffic-free roads.  From the hurricane-battered road between Moa and Baracoa, the epic (in Cuban terms!) ride over La Farola to get to the Caribbean coast, and the fantastic ride along the southern coast almost all the way to the western tip –  this is cycling in Cuba at its best. A bonus is spending some time in Cuba’s second largest city – Santiago. the pulsating heart of Cuba’s music scene.


Click here to see the interactive Google map of the above image.

After checking out a number of organized bicycling trips in Cuba, I decided that what I really wanted was something a bit more challenging and less dependent on support vehicles that these trips offered. The organized tours do offer a great opportunity to do some cycling without the need to organize anything. This is great for anyone who does not have a lot of time or the inclination to do  pre-trip research and planning.

I actually like doing that kind of stuff (maybe the fact that I was a school teacher for 35 years has something to do with the desire to be in control of all the details!) Also, doing it on my own gets me away from that English-language bubble I would be experiencing Cuba in if I were to do it with a group of fellow cyclists from the U.K. or North America.  This way  I’ll be forced to do all the asking and negotiating by myself in Spanish instead of having a tour leader do it all for me.

The favourite destination of tour companies- west to Vinales from Havana is always a possibility for some future trip. Compared to the road from Baracoa to Guantanamo or the one from Santiago to Pilon, it sounds pretty flat and tame, which may be why touring companies like it, given that they have to take into account that they will have a whole range of clients, some of whom will not be in the best of shape .  Bike tours cater to the average. If you’re an avid cyclist you’ll probably get a bit impatient with the pace of the trip and the fact that the slowest people get to set it.


If organizing everything yourself does not appeal to you- or if a more leisurely pace suits you just fine- then there are companies out there who can provide what you want. Here are a few I looked into as I got a handle on what I wanted to do-

a Canadian company- WowCuba– that has been doing this for quite a while-  one of the better organized commercial tour companies who may provide exactly what you want for your Cuban cycling adventure. It certainly ain’t cheap!

If you’re a Brit (and even if you’re not) there are a couple of U.K. adventure travel companies that have Cuba trips on offer-

 Exodus Travel has a two-week sample of Cuba’s roads complete with shuttle van

a similar package from Saddle Skedaddle titled Cuba Revolutions

My choice of Oriente began with a thread I found in the Thorntree Forum (Lonely Planet’s traveller post). More surfing the net turned up turned up these useful trip reports –

1.two cyclists from Saskatchewan do a two-week tour of Oriente in March 2008

2. a Dutch couple cycles Oriente in 2003

3an  8- day October 2011 Oriente tour from Santiago to Baracoa  (much more ambitious than the 17 days I spent to cover pretty much the same distance !)

over 10 years old but still THE guidebook

Then I found a copy of Bicycling Cuba and read through it.  The Smiths do have a website (click here)  where you can find some updated info. I found a new copy available on Amazon and spent $30. to get a copy  ($10. for the shipping!).  Click here  for info.
It was definitely worth the expense – lots of maps, useful info and tips and road descriptions and a gear list that should ensure that you will have what you need.  I ended up taking the last section – the 100 pages on Oriente – along for the ride.  I may use the material on the ride west from Havana on a future ride.

There is another book which comes up when people discuss cycling in Cuba.  It too was published a decade ago and could use an update. It is Lonely Planet’s Cycling Cuba by Rosa Jordan and D. Choukalos, which was published in 2002.  The Toronto library system has massive holdings but it doesn’t have this one.  I did find it listed on Amazon (see here) but it was categorized as “currently unavailable”.


Back to why I chose Oriente as my first visit to Cuba.  Not only did it provide me with the best route, but it was also the most convenient.  When I checked Air Canada’s flight schedule to Cuba I saw that they had twice-weekly direct flights to Holguin.  Air Canada also takes on bicycles for a $50. charge- either boxed by you or bagged by them.  I liked the idea of avoiding Havana and the pandemonium of Cuba’s largest city on my first trip to Cuba-  Holguin was a perfect entry point and it made sense of the idea of focussing on the eastern part of the island on this trip. (I’ve already filed away a plan to cycle from Holguin to Havana next January.)
So here is the plan I followed-
  • fly to Holguin,
  • put my bike back together at my casa particular in Holguin and leave the bike box there
  • spend a day cycling in the Holguin area
  • over the next seventeen days bicycle about 1000 kilometres  around the coastal edges of Oriente,
  • and find my way back to Holguin and the airport for my flight back to Toronto.
Check out the map below for an overview of the route I followed-

Post Script- The trip actually unfolded pretty much the way I planned it. The only thing I changed was a day less in Niquero and a day more in Bayamo.  The following links will lead you to components of the trip report:

1. The Roads of Cuba’s Oriente – The View From My Brooks Saddle

2. Cycling Cuba’s Oriente – All About Food and Accommodation

Where To Stay When You  Get There:

Picture this- it is 2:00 p.m. and you’ve been cycling along the coastal roads of eastern Cuba and you spot a beautiful stretch of uninhabited beach. It is hot and you decide that this is where you will be spending the rest of the day. You wheel your bike towards the beach and lean it against the tree while you go about putting up the tent in the shade. Soon you are in the water in your own little piece of paradise and looking back at your tent- the end of another great day on the move.

That is how I thought it would be when the idea of Cuba first crossed my mind. Island, beaches, tent…freedom. Not every night but maybe every other. The original plan was to take along my lightest tent (a 1 kg. Big Agnes UL Fly Creek) along with my lightest sleeping bag and a Thermarest pad. I figured I would spend maybe a third to a half of the nights camping and find accommodation for the rest of the time.

Well, it turns out that Cuba doesn’t really work that way. Camping is not encouraged and may even be illegal. There aren’t any KOA campgrounds along the highway or down by the beach. You can, of course, find online accounts of keen cyclists who have camped in the “wild” and had a great time but given that the locals don’t really want you to be doing it, I have decided to pass up on the tenting option this first time in Cuba.  Check out this Lonely Planet thread  for a discussion of camping on the beach in Cuba. [Do note that the people commenting are not cyclists and, as often as not, have pulled up to their spot on the beach in their car.]

So my load will definitely be a little lighter thanks to my revised plans. It does turn out that Cuba has campismosused mostly by Cubans on vacation but sometimes open to tourists. These are not tenting places but rather campgrounds with rentable huts. Of the eighteen nights I’ll be needing accommodation in Cuba, I plan to stay in one campismo. Campismo Yacobo Abajo is on the way from Baracoa to Guantanamo and will make a great stop after my ride over the Farola, the mountain road that crosses the Sierra Cristal. The fact that I’ll be passing through on a Monday may complicate things if it is closed (as campismos often are from Monday to Thursday). I’ll phone ahead from Baracoa to make arrangements. Time will tell!

My number one choice of accommodation ended up being tourist hotels and resorts. I went this route because I wanted some degree of security and insurance built into my trip. (You may not like the idea of being boxed in and committed to the degree I have accepted for this trip.) I was able to book a number of places on-line so I knew that there was a room waiting for me on a particular night.  All of my reservations worked perfectly – no hassles whatsoever. I was quite impressed!

Being able to prebook and prepay also means that I didn’t have to travel around with a lot of money on me or make frequent use of my VISA card (along with the 15% service and administrative charges). In fact, forget about using a VISA card as almost no places will be equipped to deal with it!

– I booked a room at the Brisas in Guardalavaca for one night- it was my single most expensive stop. It did include lunch, dinner, and breakfast, and provided me with food and water for the next day’s ride.

– I also booked a room at the Islazul Miraflores in Moa, my end point after a longer day’s cycle from Mayari.

– Down the road from Moa I splurged on a room at the idyllic Villa Maguana after what should be an interesting day’s cycle on what is left of the coastal roads after 2008’s Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

– In Baracoa I booked two nights at El Castillo, the hotel with the view and the great restaurant according to the guide books.

– I also booked a room in the centrally located no-frills Islazul Hotel Guantanamo for the day after the stay at the campismo.

Along the southern coast I booked rooms at resorts in Chivirico and Marea del Portillo and then the Hotel Niquero as I headed north towards Manzanillo. My last hotel was the Hotel E Royalton in Bayamo.

The rest of the time I  sampled what many consider to be the best option when visiting Cuba- the casa particular, the Cubano version of a bed and breakfast. For the past decade or more Cubans who have gotten the appropriate licence have been able to rent out rooms to tourists. The going rate seems to be about $25. or so. I stayed in casas particulares in Holguin, Banes, Mayari, Santiago de Cuba, and Manzanillo- a total of seven nights.

Obviously, you need some basic Spanish to get by so any time you spend beforehand upping your fluency will be a plus! You will sometimes be approached by people as you are cycling through town; they will offer you illegal accommodation at their home but it can be somewhat dicey. You will be taking someone’s bedroom for the night and they will be getting tourist pesos – as long as they don’t get caught, sometimes turned in by jealous neighbours.

I take a more detailed look at accommodation and food in the following post –

Cycling Cuba’s Oriente – All About Food and Accommodation

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8 Responses to Why To Bicycle Cuba’s Oriente – And Where to Stay When You’re There

  1. Bill Cookson says:

    I also live in Riverdale (or Roverdale as you call it). I read your account of the Oriente trip. I have been looking at a Cuba trip myself and would like to talk to you about your experiences and hopefully get additional information. I frequent the Rooster and Broadview Espresso. Do those sound familiar? I was looking at a western trip through Vinales but your eastern trip looks pretty interesting and more closely resembles what I think biking in Cuba would be like.

    • true_north says:

      Bill, the cycling possibilities in the eastern and southern part of Cuba combined with a direct Air Canada flight from YYZ to Holguin makes it an excellent choice for a two or three week tour. I walk by the Rooster with Viggo every morning; he usually stops for a sip or two of water while I read the witty saying of the day on the chalkboard! I’d be happy to talk to you about the trip…I’ll email you and we can set something up.

      • Bill Cookson says:

        Haven’t heard back from you. Perhaps it was because I typed my email address incorrectly on my last message. Anyway, I’m in the Rooseter having coffee on Jan 2nd. Only two people here. If you go by drop in and we can chat. Or send me an email at my proper addrss below.
        Happy New year!

      • true_north says:

        Bill, I sent you an email on the 19th of December after correcting the typo. I just sent you another. It would be ironic if two fellow internet-surfing cyclists who live in the same neighbourhood cannot connect! I’ll drop into the Rooster tomorrow (Jan 3) at 10:15 on the way home from Viggo’s walk. We’ll maybe see you then- if you’re not in Holguin already!

  2. T.Rick says:

    Great info. Juss starting planning on cycling Cuba in Oct-Nov. First concern is bike itself… 26″ mountain bike with touring tires? Plan to donate bike at end. Your thoughts? Any info dialogue/info much appreciated. Thx Toby

  3. Frederic Nadon says:

    Hello True North! So this is my number source of information for cycling the Oriente – Thank you! I am flying to Holguin on Feb 18th, where I will have the afternoon to get as far away from the airport as I can, returning for a morning flight on the 25th of February. Only 6 real days of cycling I am afraid and so I think I will have to choose a itinerary instead of the loop and rely on local transport to close the loop. If you had six days, with 4 or 5 days of cycling, what would you choose in your itinerary? Thank you very much for your help, Frederic in Chelsea, Quebec.

    • true_north says:

      Frederic, nice to hear from you. Chelsea is a beautiful little place to be! My wife spent a week there last June with her friend Monique.

      Five days is not a long time! I loved the two-day ride on the broken road right by the water from Santiago to Pilon on the south coast. The ride from Moa to Baracoa was also memorable. How fit are you? Are you good for 80 to 100 kilometers a day – or more? Your route will partly be determined by the availability of accommodation at the end of the day!

      The biggest problem is accommodation; there is no tourist infrastructure away from the beach resort area. Having said that, once you stay in one casa particular the owner there will know someone in the next town you might be headed for and will even phone and make reservations.

      Check out this potential route – https://goo.gl/maps/2cZZAQASG982

      It is 435 kilometers and then a shuttle back from Santiago to Frank Pais Airport. According to my calculations you would be in Santiago on Feb 23 in the afteroon if you cycle to Bayamo right on the first day after landing instead of getting a taxi into Holguin and spending the first day there. Bayamo is a much much nicer town! The hotel there was great by Cuban non-resort standards. it has a walkable downtown area with a central square.

      Manzanillo is drab in comparison but it is on the way to the south coast so what can you do!

      Niquero is town that looked like it was thriving compared to some other towns I cycled through. It also has a nice hotel by Cuban standards.

      the next three days are the best – from Niquero to Marea del Portillo – I stayed at a resort there which was $100. a night but was all-inclusive so it was a treat – okay food and TV and all that. It also meant that the next morning I had a good breakfast and lots of water for the ride. From Marea del Portillo to Chivirico and another resort. I did pass locals who asked me if I was looking for a casa particular – I told them I already had a room. You might try the casa option or go deluxe like I did! the next day from Chivirico to Santiago – a nice ride. Santiago – downtown lots of energy…I could spend more time there. I did sit in the Grand Hotel off the central plaza and watch the world go by one morning over coffee. It was nice.

      there will be very little traffic on the roads – you will see the occasional horse and buggy. Very few privately owned vehicles – they have a coloured licence plate system which I forgotten about but you can tell if it is a taxi or a tourist or a government official or a private Cuban by the colour.

      Check out my post on accommodation for the names of some of the places I stayed at. I wonder how much things have changed since 2012. My guess is – not much!

      Good luck with your plans. Email me if you have any other questions. And do write a trip report on your return and send me the link. Cycling Cuba is definitely going to get more popular in the next few years and the more recent info the better!

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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