Previous Post: Tips For Planning A Cuba Bike Tour
Before I left home I made use of two online sources-Cubaism and Cuba Travel Network– to book eleven of my eighteen nights’ worth of accommodation. I am happy to say that they were 100% reliable- there were no hassles or mix-ups at all. Everyone was expecting me and it took very little time to check in. By the time I got back to Toronto I even found emails from both companies asking for evaluations of each of their hotels I had booked!
The one drawback of pre-booking your accommodation is that you lose the flexibility of making it up as you go along. Given that I had never been to Cuba before, one reason I booked my accommodation was to eliminate the need to worry about finding each night’s room at the end of a day of cycling, especially given the scarcity of accommodation along stretches of the road I cycled in Oriente. I also felt better having pre-paid for the rooms via credit card while I was still at home, instead of having to have tourist pesos or credit card ready to pay as I travelled along. The prices ranged from $110. CDN for the night at Brisas Guardalavaca to $27. a night for stays at Islazul Moa, Guantanamo, and Hotel Niquero. The 5 CUC at the Campismo Yacubo Abajo on the way from Baracoa to Guantanamo was the cheapest by far! The Islazul hotels were as cheap as most casas particulares but the food was much worse!
In retrospect, I needn’t have booked the room at El Castillo in Baracoa because there are lots of casas available- but El Castillo was a terrific place to stop for a couple of days. One can get a little bit too caught up in the “saving $25.” mindset when bicycle touring- I figure when you’re spending $1500. + on your adventure a few more dollars does not really make that much of a difference. Maybe it is just a sign that I’m getting older and appreciate some comfort and luxury at the end of a hard day working in the sun!
Casas particulares were a different story. I stayed in various casas a third of the time (Holguin, Banes, Mayari, Santiago, and Manzanillo). Of the three I had pre-arranged with phone calls the night before, only one honoured the reservation. The rest did make arrangements with another casa owner to put me up for the night. Food at the casas was plentiful and sometimes even memorable!
The Best Casa Particular(es)
It is a toss-up between Casa Liba in Holguin and Casa Delicias in Banes and San Carlos Hostal in Santiago. Each provided a comfortable place to relax and made me feel at home. The owners were all very sociable and helpful- making phone calls, providing information, accommodating my early morning breakfast requests, and coming up with something not involving meat or fish for a vegetarian guest. I’d recommend any and all of them to a friend visiting Cuba and looking for a place to stay.
The Best All-Inclusive Resort
I stayed at the Guardalavaca Brisas, the Chivirico Los Galeones, and Marea del Portillo’s Club Amigo Farallon. They all provide exactly what you’d expect for the money you’re paying so in that sense they were all fine. I did find the atmosphere at the Chivirico resort the nicest- this is probably because it was the smallest of the three, with only 32 units available (and some of those were apparently shut down for renovation). It also had a Canadian flag draped in the central courtyard. I thought I had dropped in on a Canuck retirement community! If you’re not from The True North it might be less charming.
The other two places were massive in comparison. I will admit to looking around at my hundreds of fellow diners at suppertime, after unexpectedly having a pretty difficult time putting an interesting veggie meal together, and thinking- “What the hell am I doing here?” Well, eating as much as I wanted of food that was filling if not much else, filling up my water bottles for the next day’s ride and putting them in the room fridge, watching satellite TV in my room, which was nicely cooled thanks to air conditioning, walking along some pretty nice stretches of beach- that is what I was doing. In the end, you just have to stand back and say- “It’s all good”. In its own way, of course!
The Best Islazul Hotel
Islazul is the budget line of Cuban state-owned hotels. $30. seems to get you a room in most of them. I stayed in the following during my trip- Hotel Miraflores in Moa, Hotel Guantanamo, and Hotel Niquero. While all were in need of some tender loving care and maintenance, all were quite adequate for the money they were charging. Showers worked, the rooms were secure, the front desk people were helpful, breakfast was included.
At Moa’s Miraflores they had a breakfast buffet which made for an efficient way of dealing with the morning diners streaming in at 7:00 a.m. The Guantanamo decided to go with individual orders for breakfast, which would then be taken individually back to the kitchen, and brought out individually. I got there at 6:55 a.m. and watched one rather inefficient waitress put down the place settings at each table. She was still at it at 7:15 as more and more diners streamed in. Still no coffee or even the hint of food or even of an order- no, each time someone new came in the most important thing to do was return to the area where the plates and cutlery were stored and return to set yet another table. I actually left at 7:20 figuring that it would take another hour before I would actually be served. I had a couple of energy bars instead and set off for the 100 km. ride to Santiago. That evening I’d have a great supper at the San Carlos Hostal, along with a couple of mojitos.
The Best Food
Cuba would not seem to be a destination for anyone looking for great cooking. Looking for great vegetarian cuisine? That is even more ridiculous. Somehow even the pepper tastes bland in Cuba- past its expiry date or diluted, who can say how they do it! But decent meals can be had here and there. Señor Mezerene’s cucinera Lydia at the Casa Liba in Holguin prepared some very tasty meals during my two-day stay there; the folks at the Casa Las Delicias filled the table with edible dishes. All in all, the three best places I found for vegetarian food were at the already-mentioned San Carlos Hostal in Santiago, the Casa Liba in Holguin, and a restaurant in Baracoa called El Colonial.
The Worst Restaurant
In Bayamo I found my first vegetarian restaurant. The most recent edition of Lonely Planet’s Cuba has what, in hindsight, is a ridiculously generous review of its offerings. Granted I paid for what I got in moneda nacional (perhaps the equivalence of 1 CUC), so it may be unkind to be overly critical. However, as sad as the overcooked and reheated spaghetti and a micro dollop of gel-like tomato sauce looked as it was placed in front of me, to go along with some on-the-way-to stale bread, the worst thing was the indifference shown by the late-teen/early 20’s waitress.
She could only look at me as if were mad when I asked her if she was a vegetarian. I never did press her to repeat exactly why the door of the restaurant was locked at 6:45 when I tried to get in and why she locked it again as soon as I got in- and my question as to why pollo and cerdo were on the menu got a cursory “no se”. I am just glad I wasn’t sitting there with more yumas with Lonely Planet guides. Like the Hotel Guantanamo at breakfast, this place reminded me of the saying that in a socialist paradise the workers pretend to work and the government pretends to pay them. Had I not been a vegetarian I may well have ended up at this place instead-
The door was open, it wasn’t busy…but no grain or tofu burgers! Vegetarianism does not really seem to be something that the locals want to embrace. It’s got to be a poor little piglet on a stake over some coals. However, I should remember that 95% of the folks living around me right here in Toronto are no more interested in vegetarianism than Cubanos are. Time to end my little rant…
The Hotel with the Best Views
El Castillo in Baracoa is a great place to stay for the views alone. The excellent breakfast, the okay lunches by the swimming pool, the very clean room and the friendliness of the staff- well, it is everything that Restaurante Vegetariano that I told you about just now was not! Click on some of the following panoramas to make them bigger! They were all taken from the balcony of the El Castillo.
I also really liked the views from my balcony at the Brisas Galeones. Yes, the 5 CUC’s the manager charged me to change my room from an inland facing to a sea-view room may have been easy money for him, and yes it was dark at 6:30 anyways so the view wasn’t there for long- but in the meanwhile it was great to sit there and inhale the scenery. I rested my camera on the balcony railing and got these shots near sunset-
Next Post: The Roads of Cuba’s Oriente – The View From My Bicycle Saddle
Thank you for the tour report! At the end of March a friend and I will begin a tour in this region, so your experience will be very helpful. I have a few questions:
1. We’ll probably be staying in a couple of campismos. Would you recommend bringing a very lightweight sleeping bag or would a cloth sheet sack be warm enough? Would a travel pillow be a good idea?
2. Our tour will be in the dry season but it still rains. I have rain jacket, pants, helmet cover and booties. How much of my rain gear should I bring? Is it worth having fenders?
3. Will I need to bring anything more than a long-sleave shirt to stay warm?
4. What level of security would you recommend to lock bikes? Would a lightweight cable lock suffice?
Allen, I’m glad to hear my trip report was of some use. Re: your specific questions-
1. campismos and sleeping gear– I brought along a lightweight mosquito net (13 oz) which I made use of in the one campismo I stayed at (Rio Yacobo). I also used the net at a couple of casas particulares because of lack of screens on the windows. I thought the net was a worthwhile thing to bring along; it provided peace of mind while sleeping. I left my sleeping bag at home, as well as my ultra lightweight Thermarest pad- they would have been dead weight. I did bring along an inflatable pillow (4 oz) which I only used on the airplane on the way down and at the campismo. You will find that the casas, the hotels, even the campsites will have bedding. You could bring along a cloth sheet sack if it doesn’t weigh too much but you probably won’t use it much. One thing I was paranoid about before going was bed bugs but I am happy to say I didn’t have to deal with the issue at all.
2. rain gear. All you really need to bring along is a rain jacket. Mine had a hood. The helmet cover doesn’t weigh much but for how often you are going to using it (once?), you may as well just line the inside of your helmet with a plastic bag. I think the rain pants and the booties would be unnecessary. In a pinch you could put on your nylon long pants if your legs are getting chilled (as if!). It never gets below 60 degrees F. As you say, it is the dry season and you will not be seeing much rain. I did the run up to the top of La Farola road in the rain and it was not a big deal. I dried out on the way down the other side. Fenders- I have them. I think they are worth the bit of extra weight, especially on the one day it rains.
3. warm clothing. Before I set off from Holguin I left my lightweight fleece jacket (14 oz) at the casa along with my bike box. I am glad I did because I would never have worn it. I did use my rain jacket on a couple of occasions; mostly I was fine with my short-sleeved shirts. A long-sleeved shirt and your cycling jacket would be fine. I did have a pair of long pants that I wore all the time when off the bike. One thing I stopped down about two-thirds of the way through the trip is wearing my helmet! Instead, I put on my Tilley cotton hat and found it to be way more comfortable during the heat of the day.
4. bike locks. I never left my bike unattended. I did have a small Kryptonite coil lock (6 oz) that I used once in Bayamo when I went into a cadeca office. I met a fellow cyclist who had the maximum security Kryptonite lock; it must have weighed close to three pounds! Plus he had a cable on top of that. Then again, his bike probably cost in the $2500-$3000. range while my 1991 Miyata would fetch maybe $500. Still, I stay close to my bike during the day and leave my bike in the room when the day is done and explore town on foot. My heavy duty Kyptonite lock that I use here in the city would have been dead weight in Cuba. Do bring something but don’t weigh yourself down with too much lock! Have a good time in Cuba.
If you post a trip report, send me the link so that readers can get another perspective of cycling in cuba.
Pingback: The Roads of Cuba’s Oriente- The View From My Bicycle Saddle | ramblin' boy
not sure if you still reply to these old posts, but i’d love to talk to you about being vegetarian in Cuba (or did I miss a specific post on this subject?).
We are a vegan couple that is going to cycle there for about 10 days with our 1 year old daughter and i would love to know more about how you manage food wise. you can contact me at olothstar AT gmail DOT com if at all possible.
thanks for these great posts, it will help for sure.
Simon, Cubans have not embraced the concept of vegetarianism! (As if the people around us have done so either!) It may well have the connotation of being poor, a funny concept in an already poor country. To be a vegan is even more way out there!
I found lots of rice, a smattering of beans, and cole slaw at the various budget hotels I stayed in. I did have better luck at the casas particulares that I stayed at. You certainly are served huge portions of the food they receive for almost nothing from the state. Non-state-subsidized ingredients are scarce.
Most of the food lacked any sort of spark and, as I noted in the post, even the pepper tasted bland or stale. Given the way that nearby Mexicans and Jamaicans are able to work with the same ingredients you have to wonder what happened in Cuba!
You’re definitely not going to Cuba for the culinary experience! On the other hand, it is a great place to bicycle given that there are few vehicles and the roads are in good shape. Taking your child will present its challenges but will also open up doors and hearts and add an extra dimension to your experience. While Mexico and Jamaica may have more exciting food, I am not sure I’d cycle there!
As noted, I did include three nights’ stay in all-inclusives. You might include a few of them in your itinerary if possible. You’d get access to the buffet and all the other amenities that an all-inclusive has. Like me, you will still find the choices pretty limited. They manage to stick bits of meat into most dishes!
If you have any questions about your route or accommodations, feel free to get in touch. And if not, do have a great time. The locals will, of course, think you’re loco for bicycling around in the heat – and it does get hot after 11 a.m.! – when you could be sitting under an umbrella on the beach sipping on a mojito. Add to that your vegan food requests and for them it will be “Case closed!”
Just in case you have not googled your way to this website yet, take a look at what this cycling couples suggests when travelling with kid(s) – http://travellingtwo.com/15693
Did you find the wind along the south coast a problem. I would like to cycle that route counterclockwise your thoughts would be appreciated.
I googled “prevailing winds in cuba’s Oriente” and saw that they seem to blow from the E or NE and occasionally from the S.
I don’t remember the wind being much of an issue at all, perhaps because i was going with the wind or because in January the winds are less significant.
It does seem to get windier as the day progresses – another reason to put on some kilometers earlier in the morning. The other reason is that it gets really hot by 11 or so.
I think you’llbe fine no matter where you start from! Let me know how it went
In preparation to my January Cuba trip I came across your website. It is great source of real life advice and useful information. My preliminary plan is to cover South/East, Middle and West of the Cuba in five weeks.
As you mentioned, accommodation is scarce and unpredictable in rural Cuba.
I would appreciate your advice on campismo booking. Where would one go to check availability, right to access for foreigners, booking in advance? is it done locally, cannot find any info on line?
Would you recommend going day by day and book casas as you go?
Plans on the bike tour can change without notice so all your advanced booking can go down the drain.
I’m having hard time to locate Yacabo Camp. Would that be the compound at the delta of Yacabo river, on the south side of the highway? There is no info on Google maps.
How bad was the situation with mosquitoes and bugs?
On your way from Guantanamo to Santiago de Cuba, did you take Autopista #1 or Carratera Central?
How is the felling riding on Cuban Autopista #1? Any advice?
Did you have any travel medical insurance? I read somewhere that is mandatory and if you don’t have a proof you would have to purchase Cuban one. Any info would be appreciated.
Thanks for the great site and happy travels.
Ivan – great choice of cycling destination! And the hurricane season will be over by January!
Re: accommodation. As I mention in this post, I pre-booked online from Canada most of my accommodation. It eliminated the need to deal with money and credit cards – which are useless in Cuba, even at the airport. The one big drawback, as you mention, is that you are then boxed into to a rigid timeframe. The campismo option is the very bottom of the list in terms of expense and comfort. I only stayed in a campismo once – it was the Yacubo Abajo on my way from Baracoa to Guantanamo City. It is not North American-style camping. It is bungalows with sleeping for multiple people in a big room. When I was there on a Monday I was the only person in my bungalow. I may have the name wrong in my post. I will check and change it if it is. It was at the location you mention. See the post for a photo of the room!
And see this link for a list of campismos – http://www.cuba-junky.com/cuba/campismos.htm Click on Guantanamo for Yacubo Abajo. Cuba junky’s web page did not exist when I went so this is definitely an improvement!
If you can handle the uncertainty, go day by day! I was worried about traveling with lots of $$ but Cuba is a very safe country to travel in. My bank card did not work either time I tried to withdraw money from the bank machine! I also learned that once you are in a casa particular the owner will know a casa owner down the road and phone for you to reserve the room. There may be more casas now than in 2012!
Re: mosquitos and bugs. Not especially bad. I did bring a bug net to put over my bed. I used it three times in three weeks – twice in a casa and at the campismo. I also brought some DEET.
Re: the road from Guantanamo to Santiago. I took the Carratera Central. It was very quiet after I left Guantanamo City itself. It was a 100 km ride and I arrived at my casa in Santiago at around 2:30. My reserved room had been given to someone else! What happens next is that the casa owner takes you to the nearest casa owner with a room and hands you over! There is very little traffic on Cuban roads! And the roads are in pretty good shape all things considered. My favourite stretches of road were the most battered! Once thing I which I would have noted down was all the different colours of license plates – each colour represents a different class of driver – government, private, tourist, etc.
I did take out some additional travel insurance. Your Provincial health card I think is acceptable but spending $100. on additional coverage is not a major expense.
One last thing – make sure you spend some time improving your basic Spanish (if you don’t already have some)! I took a conversational Spanish course at the Spanish Center here in Toronto before going. I had already visited Peru a couple of times and Ecuador once so I had the basics. You will be far from the tourist resort strip along the east coast from Guardalavaca on up. The Cubans are friendly and curious – but I had the feeling they thought I was un poco loco to be bicycling around in the heat for fun when I could be sitting on la playa with a mojito!
Buen viaje y buena suerte!
Thank you for reply.
Good luck on your future adventures.
All the best. Ivan K