biking Cuba

The map below shows, at a glance, the main routes in Bicycling Cuba. Besides long, multi-day tours, there are shorter day trips and overnight loops that are not easily drawn on a map of this scale.

Following the map are excerpts from the beginning and end of the Introduction. Also, you can click here to read one complete, sample route description from the book.

Bicycling Cuba

Table of Contents


The Routes in This Book
Getting Started
When and Where to Go
Cycling Independently versus Organized Tours
Tips on Travel Agencies
Bringing Your Bike to Cuba
Rental Bikes
What Kind of Bike Is Best?
What to Bring
    Cycling Accessories
    Tools and Spares
    Clothing and Personal Effects
Where to Stay
    Casas Particulares
Money Matters
    Overview of Costs
    Cuban Currencies
    Credit Cards versus Cash
    Shopping on a Bicycle Tour
Food, Drink, and Good Health
    Finding Enough to Eat
    Cycling Gourmet's Guide to Street Food
Food and Water Safety
    Cycling Safety
    Health Issues
Freedom, Personal Safety, and Security
    Personal Safety and the Problem of Theft
Topics for U.S. Citizens
    Are Americans Welcome in Cuba?
    Travel Restrictions
Finding Your Way Around - On and Off Your Bike
    Maps and Route Directions
    Asking Directions When You Don't Speak Spanish
    Kilometers and Computers
When You Don't Want to Cycle - Trains, Buses, More
Other Matters
    Cuba's Dual Economy
    The Question

Section 1: In and Out of Havana
Arriving in Havana
Leaving Havana
Havana to Las Terrazas and Soroa (1-2 days)
Havana to Viñales via North Road (2-3 days)
Havana to Playas del Este and Matanzas (2 days)
To and From Víazul Bus Terminal, Havana

Section 2: Pinar del Río
Soroa to San Diego de Los Baños Loop (2 days)
Viñales to San Diego de Los Baños Loop (2 days)
Viñales to Cayo Jutías Loop (3 days)
The Far West Tour (5-6 days)
Day Rides from Viñales
    Viñales to La Resbalosa
    Viñales to Gran Caverna SanTomás
    Viñales to Valle Ancón
    Viñales to Puerto Esperanza

Section 3: Central Cuba
Cienfuegos - Pasacabello Loop (1 day)
Central Cuba Tour (5 days)
Santa Clara - Remedios Loop (1 day)

Trinidad via the Sierra del Escambray (2 days)
Trinidad - Ancón Loop (1 day)
Cienfuegos - Play Girón (1 day)

Section 4: Oriente
Starting from Santiago de Cuba
   Santiago de Cuba to Siboney and Baconao (1 day)
   Other Day-Rides from Santiago de Cuba
   South Coast Loop (5 days)
Holguín and the Far East of Cuba
   Holguín Miradores (1 day)
   Holguín to Gibara (1 day round trip)
   Holguín to Guardalavaca (1 day each way)
   Far East Tour (7 days)
   Baracoa to Yumurí (1 day)

Section 5: Connections
Cycling Cuba's Great Plains
Playa Girón to Matanzas Appendices

Spanish for Cyclists
Reading List
Internet Resources
Airline Policies on Carrying Bikes
Packing List


Excerpts From the Introduction to Bicycling Cuba

     * * * *

     If you have never visited Cuba, you will be astonished by its sheer size, diversity, and beauty. The distance by road from one end of Cuba to the other is about the same as that between Vancouver and Calgary in Canada or between Chicago and New York City in the USA - 1000 kilometers! There are hundreds of kilometers of flat or gently rolling lowlands, lofty mountain chains, and countless tropical beaches. During most of the year, the climate is ideal for cycling, and the scenery is stunning.

     There are more reasons to tour in Cuba than scenery, beaches, and climate. Cycling is the ideal way to learn about a country and its people, and there are few places more worthy of knowing than Cuba. The people are renowned for their warmth, hospitality, and sense of fun. Just as the colors of the Cuban people range across a spectrum from the fairest blonde of northern Europe to the darkest hue of Africa, so their music, art, and dance are a unique harmony of European and African cultures.

     The last 100 years of Cuban history have been a continuous, often inspiring struggle for independence, and since the 1950's Cuba has been the site of a revolutionary social and political experiment. There is a great deal to learn from Cuba's history, from the revolution's admirable achievements, and from its problems as well.

     Cuba is uniquely friendly to cyclists because of the role that bicycles played during a decade of difficulties. For about 30 years, from the early 1960's to the early 1990's, Cuba escaped the worst effects of a punishing U.S. embargo through preferential trade agreements with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations. Then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, aid and trade ended, oil shipments ceased, lights dimmed, transport ground to a halt, and the economy went into free fall. In the 1990's, Cubans endured the so-called special period, a time of genuine hardship from which the country is still emerging. When gasoline was unavailable during the special period, Cubans turned to bicycles. Hundreds of thousands of clunky but nearly indestructible bikes, the ubiquitous Flying Pigeons, were imported from China, and Cuba soon had its own bike factory. Within a few years, millions of Cubans were traveling on two wheels. Driven by necessity, it was perhaps the fastest, most thoroughgoing transformation in the transportation system of any country in the world.

     In the new millennium, the economy is improving, and more cars and trucks are on the road. Still, millions of Cubans continue to ride bicycles, and even the small minority who drive today depended on bikes yesterday. As a result, motorists accept the right of cyclists to share the road, and they are remarkably courteous. In 8,000 kilometers of cycling in Cuba, we never felt threatened by a hostile motorist; on the contrary we were impressed by the patience of Cuban drivers who typically stayed well behind until they could pass us safely.

     There are thousands of kilometers of lightly-traveled, paved roads in Cuba, and while the condition of pavement in rural areas is not always perfect, it is good enough for enjoyable cycle touring. Because bicycling is important for so many average Cubans, there are conveniences for cyclists including designated bike lanes on major roads, parqueos where bicycles can be left safely for pennies, and poncheras, small businesses that fix flats and do minor repairs. If you travel by automobile or tour bus, you are cut off from the people by glass walls of wealth, but when you ride a bike, just as Cubans do, human contacts are natural and easy. Cycling is without a doubt the best way to see Cuba.

     We hope this book will make it easier for you to experience Cuba on your bike. When we began riding in Cuba, there were no cycling guides at all, and the available maps were often inaccurate. On many a day's ride we did not know how soon we would find food and water or where we would spend the night. We were often lost, or worried that we might be lost.

     Today a reasonably good, complete set of maps is available in Cuba, but it still omits much information essential to cyclists about road conditions, grades, and availability of food, water, and accommodation. Plenty of general-purpose guidebooks are on the market, but any route directions they contain are designed for motorists. They are not detailed and precise enough for cyclists ...

* * * *

     We give detailed descriptions of routes and landmarks that will help you ride in Cuba with confidence. We provide specifics on the availability of food and bottled water, and we often recommend accommodation. Also, we try hard to let you know what the experience of cycling Cuba is really like ...

* * * *

Freedom, Personal Safety, and Security

     Many North Americans are under the misapprehension that travel in Cuba is heavily restricted, that tourists are only allowed to visit places the government wants them to see. This is entirely mistaken. In fact, you can get on your bike (or rent a car for that matter) and go anywhere at all. The only exceptions, obviously, are military bases, and this kind of restriction applies in any country in the world.

     Cuba does not have a free press, and there are limits on freedom of expression. This does not mean that you cannot have frank discussions with Cuban people. The key is to show respect for their government and political system even though its principles may be different from those to which you are accustomed. If you arrive already confident that you understand Cuba's problems, you will not learn much while you are there...

* * * *

Are Americans Welcome in Cuba?

     The U.S. has enforced a punishing embargo against Cuba for more than 40 years and has attempted to prevent other nations from trading with Cuba as well. The U.S. supported the invasion at the Bay of Pigs, and since then it has turned a blind eye to the terrorist operations of fanatical Cuban exile groups based in Florida. Under such circumstances, you might think Cubans would be hostile to American visitors.

     In fact the opposite is true. Americans are not only allowed to visit Cuba, they are welcomed with special warmth. This may be due to the "ties of singular intimacy," to borrow a phrase from historian Louis Pérez, that have long existed between these two estranged nations. Before the revolution, many middle class Cubans sent their children to the U.S. for their education, and it is still common to meet older Cubans who studied in the States. In the 1940s and 1950s, Cuba and the southern U.S. were so closely connected that sales in Miami and New Orleans department stores were regularly advertised in Habana newspapers. Today, millions of Cubans have relatives in the United States. Cubans watch videos of U.S movies and television shows, listen to U.S. radio stations, and Cuban youth are fans of U.S. musical groups. Baseball is Cuba's favorite sport, by far.

     Perhaps even more important, it seems natural for Cubans to distinguish between the policies of the U.S. government and the feelings of the American people themselves. Fidel Castro himself frequently says, correctly, that the majority of U.S. citizens do not support their own government's harsh treatment of Cuba or are ignorant of it...

* * * *

Travel Restrictions

     At press time, the U.S. restricted travel to Cuba by most American citizens, but not all American citizens. Cuban-born Americans could travel to Cuba legally under certain conditions. Many other individuals - journalists, aid workers, and people involved in professional meetings or educational programs, for example - were licensed to travel there routinely or were eligible for special licenses to go.

     For other Americans, the situation was more complicated. (Summary of restrictions at press time follows, together with reliable internet resources for up-to-the-minute reports on the legal situation.) ...

* * * *

The Question

     The question people ask us most often about cycling in Cuba is, "What is it like?" They aren't asking about the road conditions or the tap water. They are asking a harder question, about people, living conditions, politics.

     It is almost a cliché to say how friendly and welcoming Cuban people are, but it is less often said how well educated and informed they are. We read a comment somewhere that Cuba is a Third World country inhabited by first world people. There may have been a touch of condescension in the comment, but the intent was correct. The literacy rate equals or surpasses developed countries, and Cuba's system of free education churns out huge numbers of doctors, teachers, engineers, and other professionals. The problem is that the stunted economy does not provide enough rewarding work to match the capabilities of the people.

     Cuba's public health system is also excellent. Despite chronic shortages of medicine and equipment, key health statistics — infant mortality rates and life expectancy — match or surpass those of developed nations.

     There is much poverty in Cuba. You will see homes and public buildings that are unpainted or poorly maintained, shortages of some ordinary foods and consumer goods, people forced to mend old clothes and struggle in many ways to get by on meager salaries. However, in the real Third World, poverty often means that people do not have homes at all; they watch helplessly as babies die of malnutrition and curable diseases; children have no opportunity for education and a better life; people live without basic sanitation and medical care; they have no hope. This degree of poverty does not exist in Cuba.

     Compared with nearby Caribbean nations Cuba is doing fairly well, but Cubans compare themselves with North Americans. Someone who can't find a good job or even a tire for his bicycle is not comforted by the fact that Jamaicans or Haitians are worse off. Young people, especially, ache for greater opportunities and for the consumer goods enjoyed by North Americans. But widespread dissatisfaction does not imply widespread opposition to the government. The objective situation and the feelings of individual people are too complex for most generalizations.

     We got to know a family in which both the parents and their two sons were exceptionally talented, well-educated professionals. The mother said to us, "We know that our sons, with their education and ability, could live better in another country, but this is our revolution. We know there are problems, but we want to make it work." Just down the street lived another family of professionals in similar economic circumstances. The father said one day, "I'm too old to leave here now, but my greatest hope for my son is that he will get out of this terrible country."

     If there is a fair generalization about the conditions and the politics of Cuba, it is this: As a visitor, you can see what you expect or want to see. If you come to Cuba looking for evidence of a police state, inefficient bureaucracy, and dissatisfied people, you can find it. If you look for evidence of a uniquely idealistic society in which people have a strong sense of community, respect their government, and are trying to solve problems without sacrificing the achievements of their revolution, you can find that too.

Let's ride.