Cuba is a lot bigger than I thought. In the end, eastern and southern Cuba was the right place to focus for a fantastic eighteen-day 1100 kilometer bicycle tour route. From what I’ve read and heard, I picked the best of Cuba in terms of dramatic scenery and traffic-free roads.
From the hurricane-battered road between Moa and Baracoa, the epic (at least from a Cuban perspective!) 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.
The trip up from Bayamo or Holguin to Santa Clara is not described by most in positive terms; the cyclists coming from the north of Cuba that I met on my tour also said as much. Even the guidebooks suggest ways of bypassing the central stretch of the island from Holguin to Santa Clara. As for cycling around Havana, it sounds too much like bicycling in or around a big metropolitan area.
The favourite destination of tour companies- the area from Havana west to Vinales – is always a possibility for some future trip. However, compared to the road from Baracoa to Guantanamo or the one from Santiago to Pilon, it sounds pretty flat and tame. This 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.
Click here if you want an interactive Google map of the above that you can zoom in on.
While the odds of spotting a bike tour of Cuba’s Oriente on someone’s “bucket list” is remote, it is not as if no one has ever done the trip before! I spent a bit of time googling and found all sorts of useful accounts, summaries, tips and road info that kindred spirits have posted before me. Here are some of the posts that I found very helpful in getting my trip off the ground:
just click on the blue text
4. an account of an October 2011 Oriente tour that begins in Santiago and ends in Baracoa eight days later (pretty impressive, given the 17 days I have set aside!)
5. one of the better organized commercial tour companies who may provide exactly what you want for your Cuban cycling adventure
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-
6. Exodus’ Cycling Cuba trip- a two week sample of Cuba’s roads
a similar package from Saddle Skedaddle titled Cuba Revolutions
Useful Books To Look For:
There are a couple of books which come up when people discuss cycling in Cuba. Both were published a decade ago and could use updates. The first 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”.
The other book is Bicycling Cuba (50 Days of Detailed Rides From Havana to Pinar Del Rio and Oriente) by Wally and Barbara Smith, the first and only edition also published in 2002.
The Smiths do have a website (click here) where you can find some updated info and find out about the book. I found a new copy available on Amazon and spent the $30. to get it ($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.
One thing I that I initially planned to do- before I knew how Cuba works- was bring my lightweight tent along- as well as a sleeping bag. Check out the first of the following links to see why in the end I did not. Click on the others for other topics.