Feedback from Readers
From time to time, people who have used Bicycling Cuba on their own tours write to tell us about their experiences. Sometimes they make useful suggestions or point out errors in the text (not too many so far!) If you're considering a cycle tour to Cuba, be sure to read everything that follows: these are genuine comments from cyclists who have been there!
Very occasionally we have interjected a comment or explanation. These comments are italicized, in a smaller, distinct font.
Dear Wally and Barbara,
We just returned from an amazing three weeks of cycle touring in Cuba. Your book was very useful to us, thanks! It is still surprisingly accurate. We have some comments/updates that might be useful in the future to readers of your website. We'd appreciate it if you could put these up on the feedback page of your website.
Flying in and out of Varadero:
Cycling from Varadero to Havana:
From Havana to Vinales:
Vinales to Cayo Jutias and Puerto Esperanza:
Pinar del Rio:
Riding to Maria La Gorda:
Cycling from Cienfuegos to Playa Giron:
On Cycling Gear (or the shortage of it)
We are back from 2 weeks in the Orient and I can report that the four of
Our loop was as follows: Holguin, Banes, Gibara, Puerto Padre, Los Tunas,
I have a number of detailed notes .. but in general, they were fine.
In particular, the road west of Santa Lucia was dirt but fine, the road on
Ofcourse the lesson we learned is that when it rains, the mud in the
The south coast road was fine for cycling .. in fact it was excellent and
We have to thank you and Barbara for writing such a good book to inspire
Best regards .. have a great Christmas!
Harold and Marion, Doug and John
Hi Wally and Barbara -
we were following your directions cycling in Cuba for 2 and a half months (on and off) over the summer and wanted to drop you a line and let you know how it went. First of all, thank you so much for helping us have a fantastic trip. Your book was fantastic, not only in terms of giving directions but also for letting us know when and where to get water and accommodation.
We were there from May to July which, as you know, is extremely hot but we certainly enjoyed ourselves. We had no previous experience of touring and certainly learnt a lot along the way! So often when we weren't sure which way to turn we would ask, 'What would Wally and Barbara do?' and turn to your book. We feel like you were travelling with us at times! We were glad of the 'company' since we only met one other person cycling and she was going the other way around the island.
One suggestion that is part made in jest; you never quite explain how small or tall a hill is! Our idea is to put a graph in the book that shows the height and distance of each route - kind of like they do for the Tour de France.
We've attached some photos which we think sum up our trip. Hope things are going well for you.
Charlotte and Matt
I just returned from a cycling trip in Cuba and wanted to commend you on a wonderfully written book. In the week that I spent there, I managed the Rancho Luna, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Rancho Luna loop. Your directions and verbal descriptions were amazing. I never once got lost or even so much as made a wrong turn.
Thank you for writing such a wonderful resource book. Your efforts made for a very memorable cycling experience for me.
Thanks Wally and Barbara for the accurate routes and tips. Five of us cycled from Havana to Viñales via the mountains then back on the north road then over to the central part. We stayed some casa particulares that maybe didn't exist when you updated the book:
Pinar del Rio
In Bahia Honda, the only place to stay is the Casa Particular Villa, run by a young couple called Bibi and Rolando, perfectly ok. The motel now doesn't admit tourists in Bahia Honda.
In Mulatta, the hotel no longer exists. We had lunch there though, a surreal experience, with only one table in the dining room and they had just one spoon which we had to share!
Ah, although we didn't try it, it seems like the coastal dirt road from Playa Giron on the way to Cienfuegos now doesn't exist. We begged and pleaded with the staff of the hotel and they insisted it didn't.
I hope you update the book soon, it was very very useful and I'd definitely
use it again for a trip to the Oriente.
Here's a little feedback on using your book while cycling cuba.
First, the net is now available from the Telemundo offices in most of the larger citi es, it is fast enough and dependable and you can buy a card that can be use d over and over until it's time is up.
I left with a friend who had purchased your book, and against my better judgement and taking your advice , neglected to take some kind of tent and light sleeping sack, this decision was much regretted while cycling from nicero to santiago as we spent two nights on the beach trying to sleep, had it been raining we would have bee n supremely miserable.
After that we tried to get a casa lined up before we left in the morning, also with mixed results, though we always managed to f ind something after that. Still, two nights out of ten is twenty percent, and the relaxed atmosphere of knowing you can stop at any time would have made cycling the more remote parts of Cuba considerably more enjoyable.
(There are a good many places to stay indoors on the road from Nicero to Santiago de Cuba. Since George, the writer, does not mention any difficulties in finding a room, we suspect that he and his friend decided to sleep on the beach to save money. Fair enough.
We recommend against camping in Cuba for at least three reasons: accommodation is cheap and generally available; developed campsites are virtually unknown so you must camp in the rough, without running water or toilet facilities; and staying in casas, campismos and even hotels provides opportunities to socialize with Cuban people. We stand by that recommendation.
We agree with George's observation that carrying camping gear does provide some peace of mind in the event one is stuck in the middle of nowhere. In over 100 nights cycling in Cuba, we were stuck like that exactly once; we slept outdoors and were miserable, as George and his friend were. On one other occasion we had to stay in a crummy, unlicensed room. But that was all the problems we had in over 100 nights. We still think it is better to avoid carrying all that extra gear, even if it means a rare night of discomfort.)
Al so, I would advise people that if they have little or no interest in Havana and the kinds of things it offers, that they fly into another city, where getting to and from the airport as well as in and out of the city, would be considerably eaiser. One other thing, bring canadian currency if you can, or euros. Money was the big discomfort for us as there was always this un derlying concern about loosing or burning through your supply. traveling w ith all your money on your person for several weeks and knowing if you loos e it the consequences would be dire, is disconcerting.
(There is information in Bicycling Cuba about the Transcard, an international debit card that works all over the country. It's a much better solution than carrying enough cash for an extended stay.)
All in all Cuba is a good place to cycle. Saftey seemed to be an issue only when the big via zul busses suddenly blasted past at 65 mph. They make very little noise an d unlike most other vehicles don't honk as they approach so pay attention a nd use a mirror if possible. Generally I found consistent 85 to 90 degrees and mid range humidity to lead to a lack of enthusiasm for the climbier pa rts of cuba, though I usually like hills, and the one night we rode until s everal hours after dark looking for a place to stay was actually pretty nic e temperature wise.. felt like I could have ridden all night. I found the people of cuba to be pretty great, always ready to talk even with my half done spanish, and the lack of materialism was a refreshing change to the usa. Food was iffy but occasionally good, always a surprise, a continuous se arch, which I grew to enjoy, I feel that cycletouring is like the age old a nd perhaps happier days of hunter-gatherer civilizations, endless hours of observation of your ever changing environment, moderated by the fluxuations in the weather, kept simple by the limited ability to carry only small, li ghtwieght essential items, tensioned (or spiced if you will) slightly by th e need for food and water and shelter at the end of day and a steady physic al presence, those pedels going round and round, making you feel stronger e ach day; picture the opposite of working in a factory day after endless da y, the whole ending up as a blur: traveling on a bike leaves you with mem ories of a brightly colored kind, some bad, mostly good, all of them vivid.
Dear Wally and Barb,
As you can deduce, hurricanes have caused a lot of damage.
We saw a lot of damage along the beautiful coast line between Niquero
and Santiago. We had no problems on the road with our mountain bikes but
the road is damaged in many places.
I took your list of Casas on my recent cycling trip around
Cuba. Had a
The best casa I found was in San Diego de los Banos:
Dr. Carlos Alberto Gonzales and Senora Rayda Diaz Menendez
Lovely, lovely people. Clean, comfortable room. Great food. Great
A couple of comments on some on your list.
Raul Sarmiento in Vedado, Habana. Made me very welcome, and his wife
Sol y Mar in La Boca. Lovely room, good food. But a lesson is to always
In general, the casas were great and far, far better than the hotels,
The e-mail cover letter:
... I hope you find the information and opinions useful,
and if you want
1. I think people should be cautioned about visiting Cuba during the first five days of the year. This is festival season, a time to celebrate the New Year and the Revolution. As a result, the casa particulars are very hard to find and bottled water is sometimes hard to find as the dollar stores are often sold out.
2. I suggest people arrive in Santiago during the day. We arrived about nine o'clock in the evening and things rapidly went downhill. We got a minivan at the airport and headed for the casa where we thought we would be staying. There was no room! So, waiting for a couple of hours while many, many telephone calls were made, we, A. and J. and me, were put up in two different places. There I was, by myself with no idea where I was, where A. and J. were, and with no idea how we would ever meet again. Also, it was apparent that we were being housed illegally! To help us out, family and friends of the casa owners took us in, asking only that once inside we not go outside. They were quite nervous about taking in tourists since they were not licensed, but, as we were to find out later, Cubans always came to our rescue and helped out, even at risk and inconvenience to themselves. At any rate, we were reunited the next day and although we eventually stayed in different casas, they were only a few doors away. The casa in which A. and J. stayed agreed to keep our bike boxes and luggage as well. Had we arrived early in the day, finding a place to stay would have been easier and much less traumatic for me.
3. It is best to travel in pairs. Three people make it more difficult to find lodging. Apparently it is against the law for three people to be in one room at a casa. Thus, the third person needs to be in a different place as most casas do not have two rooms to rent. This means I was alone a lot and lonely a lot. At the hotels our rooms were usually close, so there was no real problem. Finding two casas in some places would be impossible, especially at Festival. At Bayamo we stayed in an in-house apartment with a private bathroom, so maybe the three of us could be together because it was an apartment. See more below about Bayamo.
4. I recommend cyclists take a water filter with them because bottled water is not always easy or possible to find. A town may have one store, and it may well be sold out, especially on Sunday and Monday. The Cubans love carbonated water, so one must be careful when buying bottled water to actually buy bottled water. We often had mineral water and were unsure about its affect on us. All of us had one day of discomfort, but each one had his or her day at different points of our trip, so it was not a single case of bad water.
5. Inflation has occurred. We were told that the government has increased the license fees for casas, so the rates have gone up. A casa now may cost 20 to 25 dollars. The hotels and campismos are much cheaper, 10 to 20 dollars.
6. In your book you mention the Restaurante Nautica just outside Chivirico and near Motel Guamo. It's on an island. They take you there via pedal boat - so there's no problem for cyclists! They have two rooms there to rent. We certainly wish we had stayed there rather than the Motel Guama. The Motel looks nice and modern, but when we checked in we found there has been no maintenance in years. One room had no lights in the bathroom. A bucket was provided for the toilet, and all the light switches had the protective covers removed and we were cautioned not to stick our fingers in the wiring. Also, when we awoke in the morning we had no water. We took our buckets down a steep stairway and lugged it back up to flush the toilets. When we went to pay J. said she would not pay what the going rate was because of the poor motel conditions. The manager eventually charged us 10 dollars for each room The good news about this is that the motel is a one mile walk to the Nautica. We walked to the dock and took the boat to the restaurant. We had done this earlier in the day and had a beer while sitting on the veranda. We made arrangements for supper then. Our meal that night turned out to be the best meal we had in Cuba, one of the best I have ever had. We had shrimps, rice, and a salad made of ingredients grown right there on the island. A. and J. shared a lobster. I can't recommend this place enough. It was a little more expensive than a regular restaurant, but cheaper than what we paid at a couple of casas.
7. At Niqiero we took a day to wander down to the campismo, Playa Los Colorados and Playa Los Colorados Desembarco del Granma. At the entrance to the park the guards told us it would cost five dollars each to enter the park and two dollars each for a guide. We said no, turned around, and headed back to enjoy a few hours at the campismo. Seven dollars to enter a park seemed very high considering what seven dollars will buy in Cuba.
8. For anyone going to Manzinillo, the food at the Golfo restaurant is very good and its location is even better, right on the beach. We stayed at the Hotel Guacanayaho because the two casas were full. We took a horse drawn taxi to town and wandered around on foot. A nice place. The Hotel is near the bottom of a long hill down from the Medical School. It really can't be missed. Just down the hill from the Hotel is a kind of sports complex. We were there late in the afternoon to pick up a horse taxi for town. While waiting we noticed that several teenagers were racing their bikes, a couple even had helmets. We watched them for awhile and noted that they were serious about their cycling. Soon, a young man, Anthony, came up to us and introduced himself. Turns out he was the trainer for the city's or school' s cycling team. The kids were training for a crit race in Bayamo in a day or two. Anthony met us the next morning at the hotel and rode out of Manzinillo with us for about twenty miles or so. A delightful young man. So, if in Man., head for the sports complex late in the afternoon and look for him. He went with us into the Parque Nacional lo Demajagua, a park well worth the visit because it gave me insight into the importance of Carlos Cespedes, a George Washington and Abraham Lincoln for Cubans.
9. Speaking of Bayamo. We stayed two days there and loved every minute of it. It's big enough to have the excitement, vitality, and variety of a city, but small enough not to overwhelm as does Santiago. We were originally going to go to Holguin from Bayamo, but in looking at our schedules and plans decided we would do a day ride toward Holguin and come back to Bayamo. We were staying in a small apartment in the city. There were three of us in the apartment and the home was not really licensed. It seems the man who owns the casa rented out an apartment in his parents' home, and so we weren't really in a casa particular. The man drove a newer car, which was frequently parked in front of the city building just across the street from the Hotel Royalton and had what seemed to be a cell phone. So, our host seemed to be a wheeler and dealer. Anyway, the home was great, the people even better. I highly recommend Bayamo as a place to spend time.
10. Re-entry to the US went smoothly for us, but we were caught off guard when the day after our return to Toronto we realized that when we had entered Canada from Cuba the Canadian officials had stamped our passports with the date we had entered Canada. The official stamped the passport way in the last page or so, but a US Border person looking through the passport would wonder from where we had entered Canada. Had we known this we could have asked the officials to please not stamp the passport unless they simply had to.
11. I also recommend that one acquire a working knowledge of Spanish before going, or possibly travel with someone who does. I was uncomfortable, anxious, and at times lonely because I simply did not know what was going on around me. Had I to do it over again, I would have taken some classes and become better acquainted with Spanish. Cubans had a lot of fun with J. as she struggled to talk to them in her halting Spanish. She and they had enormous fun trying to talk to one another. A. and I admit that had it not been for her we would have starved to death! But visits to homes, museums, restaurants, historical sites, etc., would have been much more enjoyable for me had I known more Spanish. One does not need to be fluent, but it sure makes things easier and enjoyable to be able to communicate at some level of expertise.
12. I have friends ask me if I was fearful or afraid. I admit that I was afraid, or more anxious than afraid. Not because of Cuba or Cubans, but because I was in deep culture shock. I had never done anything like this before, so I worried about everything. Every time we had our backs to the wall for lodging, food, water, or changing dollars to pesos, Cubans helped out. I was still intimidated by those who came up to me and started to talk. Partly because I couldn't speak the language except for a few words learned forty years ago in high school, but mainly because I am a reserved, shy person. Plus, in our culture, strangers approaching you in a large city pose a real danger, or so we are led to believe. It took a long time for me to accept that generally they simply wanted to practice English, talk to me because to them I was exotic and fascinating, and partly because Cubans love to talk and socialize. This became obvious to me when in Toronto at the end of the trip we rode the subway to downtown to see the Royal Ontario Museum. The car was filled with people reading books, magazines, materials from briefcases, or simply looking out the windows. It was quiet as a tomb. This would never be the case in Cuba. True, there is nothing to read - no magazines, books, newspapers, etc., that we could see, but in Cuba a subway car filled with people would have been very noisy with people talking, laughing, visiting, slapping hands, backs, and having one hell of a good time with each other. I think now that I could get to prefer the Cuban way, especially if I could speak better Spanish.
13. When visiting the Statue of Celia Sanchez in Media Luna, you can have a wonderful lunch at a local little restaurant just across the street from the park. A one minute walk from the statue and an inexpensive, good meal.
14. When we left our casas in Santiago we were told by one of the owners
that there was a hotel in Contramaestra. Since we did not want to ride
all the way to Bayamo on the first day, we decided to stay there. When
we got there the hotel was closed for restoration! There is also a second
hotel in town, but it was full - Saturday night and Festival! We went
back to the closed hotel and J. explained our problem - four o'clock,
no place to stay, no time to get to Bayamo, etc., and she threw us on
their mercy and said, "Can you please help us." The manager
(?) took mercy, and the young lady who was visiting him for the Festival
found two rooms with a little water, a light bulb or two, and took us
in. We gave her some money and she went to a local restaurant to buy food
and beer for us. We were told that we couldn't go outside once we were
in the closed hotel. He would not charge us for the rooms, either because
he didn't want to for such poor facilities, or, more likely, he legally
could not charge us. Just one more case of Cubans coming to the rescue.
Bless them! So, you might want to check out Contramaestra again and see
what the status is of the two hotels. It sure makes it an easier ride
than to go all the way to Bayamo.
15. Three impressions stick in my mind, and I will close with them. First, I was surprised to learn that Fidel has not made himself into a cult as so many dictators or communist leaders have done. I think I saw one picture of him in my two weeks there. No statues, billboards, etc., exist in huge numbers. Rarely do people even talk about him. The Cubans are fortunate that their leader, while a dictator, is basically a decent human being looking out for the people rather than himself. Second, many people believe that the US will soon invade Cuba. US history with Cuba, such as shutting them out of the peace treaty with Spain, and our invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Granada and the Cuban exiles in the US have convinced many that we will invade them. I commented on this above, but it's still a striking thought to me. Finally, many Cubans were surprised to learn that few Americans come to Cuba because of the US government. Many we spoke to thought the problem was that the Cuban government did not want Americans in Cuba.
A big thank you for writing an excellent book. My husband and I just completed a three week, 1000km trip through the Oriente province with your book under my arm daily as a bible. We traveled Holguin to Santiago de Cuba, bussed up to Bayamo and then back down counter clock wise to Santiago again. Other than being HUNGRY for a lot of the trip except when we had the opportunity to get meals in homes we had a mostly excellent and very interesting trip.
Thought I'd pass along a big hello from Evelyn (in Banes) and the Mercederes family in Santiago. When I brought your book out to them, both families lighted up with smiles from ear to ear and were oh so impressed that they made it into your book with such glowing comments. You obviously left great impressions with them as we were treated royally as bicyclists. So often when we bike tour we're treated like gypsies so it was very nice to go to Cuba and roll up to a nice hotel and be treated as if we had driven up in a Mercedes Benz!
First the most important thing: we had a wonderful trip. It definitely was one the best trips we have ever had. I suppose that for you this does not come as a surprise because you know Cuba and Cuban people. However, I would like to tell you that, with your website and book, you made a big contribution to our journey. For most of the time we followed the suggestions of your book, and had a great time.
We first spent three nights in Havana in the casa of Raul and Magaly Sarmiento. (It was late when we arrived at Havana. We followed your advice and took a taxi. The driver put the bikes on the roof of the taxi.) Thereafter we went to the west.
We rode by combining the rides you suggest in your book (in chapters 1 and 2). We started by following the suggestion you made in your email. (The route suggestion to which she refers follows this message.)
This turned out to be a good start. (We stayed in Villa Juanita, a very nice casa). I will not go into every detail but, approximately, our route was as follows: Las Terrazas Soroa San Diego de los Banos (via "Cuba's Skyline Drive") Vinales (through Parque Natural La Guira) St Lucia/Cayo Jutias (through Pons) Puerto Esperanza Vinales Pinar del Rio City (and neighbourhood) San Diego de los Banos (Carretera Central) Soroa ( Carretera Central) Havana (autopista).
It really was fun and there didn't exist a single intersection at which we would have difficulties in deciding where to go. Everything was in the book.
The weather was fine for most of the time with one exception. The day when we rode "Cuba's skyline drive" was rainy. Therefore we could not enjoy the drive so much as we had expected. It turned out to be the hardest ride during the journey. My wife asked me to tell you that, even though you are reluctant to classify routes as moderate, hard etc, you perhaps could have been more explicit in describing the nature of the skyline drive. (Perhaps we should have been more emphatic. What we call "the Skyline Drive" has some hills that many cyclists would find quite difficult.)
With the exception of four nights (which we spent in Villa Soroa or El Mirador) we spent our nights in casas. In Santa Lucia, Villa Mary was closed but as one of your correspondents has told you, there is another legal casa. Unfortunately, I lost the card but if I remember right the name of the casa is "Villa Almendro". The name of the person who takes care of the casa is Nelida Gonzales la Rosa. The street address is: Calle Jose el Trujillo #88, Sta Lucia, P del Rio.
We hope that we can go back to Cuba (to the Oriente) next December.
I just got back from a cycling trip to Cuba. Pretty much followed your Far East tour from Holguin to Santiago. The book was very helpful.
A couple of comments/observations
if I may:
2. Baracoa to Yumuri. You put it at 40km return but I measured more; 54km I think. (You're right we goofed.)
3. On page 279 you recommend booking Campismo Rio Yacabo in Baracoa at Campismos Populares office on Marti #225. This did not work for me. They said they could only book the El Yunque Campismo there. They were able to confirm that Yacabo would be open the next day (Wednesday) though. When I got there it was half empty and no problem to stay at all, a bit pricey though - $10 per person I think.
4. Also on p 285 you say Garcia is one-way to the left from Prado, but I believe it is actually to the right.
I travelled through Nassau, as that was the cheapest route I could find. Mind bogglingly boring and expensive compared to Cuba. Didn't have any trouble at the US immigration, didn't mention Cuba of course.
(We did not include routes to the big tourist resorts on the north coast of central Cuba. When a reader from the U.S. wrote to tell us he planned to ride to Santa Lucia, we asked for a report on what it was like. This is it.)
The ride to Santa Lucia was pleasant but unremarkable until we turned off onto the 20km spur that takes you to the resort. That bit feels relentlessly straight and we were glad to get it over with, so not a big omission from the book. That said, the resort itself was a pleasant break. After the hurricane we arranged a boat to take us over the channel to Cayo Sabinal. This was more intrepid than we'd planned because it was a day after the hurricane and the sea was really rough. The boat couldn't dock so we had to wade out with our bikes over our heads (I did, G-- got a gallant male volunteer).
Cayo Sabinal WAS a special
ride - it's a conservation area with just a dirt track for 30km. Very
tranquil, lots of wildlife - lovely butterflies - and a causeway ride
through the lagoons. Sorry!
We found a hotel in Bahia Honda with a magnificent view of the water at $15. It's 3 km North of town. Not much breakfast however, a big disappointment when you are looking at 75 more miles to Havana.
We truly loved Cuba, and were smitten by the friendliness and generosity of the people. Your route from Soroa "off the map" was a great ride with absolutely no vehicular traffic whatsoever...
My particular favorite area was Vinales, which I found breathtakingly beautiful. We stayed there for four nights: the first day my husband followed your suggestion to go to Che's cave and the next two days we went to the Gran Caverna San Tomas and to Puerto Esperanza. All of the trips were wonderful experiences.
..... I went to Che's cave past Republica de Chile to San Andres. The road was packed dirt and while I would have appreciated my mountain bike in a few spots it was no trouble on my road machine with 25mm tires. The route was a splendid picture of rural Cuba with lots of basic farms and great mountain backgrounds. (The reader is referring to a dirt-road alternative that we mention but never tried; the route in the book is fully paved, if rough in spots.)
We stayed at Juanita's in Las Terrazas which I found a bit disappointing. The walls all bug splattered, no toilet seat and a breakfast of only juice, coffee and toast. After that we took your advice on hotels and were well pleased. We found the staff at many hotels very pleasantly cheating us out of every dollar they could. Waitresses asked for $10 for a breakfast that was included, desk clerks announcing it was high season our first night for an extra $10 and a bellman hitting me up for $5 for leaving our bike bags. Most Cubans, of course are unbelievably generous. We stopped to take photos of a very poor farmer who somehow got to our hotel that night with a bushel of grapefruits for which he absolutely refused any payment.