Cuba: Cycling Journey to the Land of Socialism and Endless Coconuts

Often most of the traffic was horses and oxen

When you think of Cuba, what do you think of? Perhaps Fidel Castro, Cuban cigars, cheap rum, old American cars, communism and the US embargo come to mind. But the experiences we had, such as riding alongside more horse carts than cars, gulping coconut after coconut given to us for free and watching kids ride to school on a tractor, never failed to surprise us, and gave us a glimpse of another Cuba. A Cuba that keeps marching on to its own special drum, despite huge obstacles that have been put in front of it (thanks in large part to Uncle Sam). Not all Cubans are happy, naturally, but Cuba, despite being a very “poor country” (whatever that means) can teach us a few things about social solidarity, education, health care and materialism. If only we would listen.

Viva Cuba! We are loving it already

We had been rolling around the idea of traveling to Cuba for a while. There was some urgency: when Obama was elected he announced he would allow Americans to travel to Cuba and lift the embargo (or something along those lines). Surely, everything would change? Fidel Castro’s illness and imminent departure, with no young successor in sight was also worrying. When we heard Cuba was an excellent cycle touring destination, the stage was set: three weeks in Cuba, and make it in November, before the snow flies for real, the best time of year to get away from rainy and dark Vancouver.

A dramatic spot

We flew in to Varadero. It was only on the flight that we realized that the airport wasn’t actually in the world famous resort, but rather some distance from it, and we sighed in relief. We had resolved to stay away from the resort scene, and try to see a piece of the “real” Cuba. The week or two before we had left went by in a flurry, and we stepped off the plane in Varadero at 6am with lots of photocopies of routes and information, but no clear idea where we were going and in urgent need of some sleep. Maya promptly rolled out one of our sleeping mats, located her ear plugs, put on an eye mask and collapsed into an undoubtedly peaceful slumber on the airport floor. Gili, in the meantime, spent two hours putting our boxed bikes back in to ride-able shape. It’s too bad Maya was using the camera as a cushion.

Early in the morning at the Varadero airport

Due to Canadian bureaucracy we knew we had to make a visit to the Canadian embassy in Havana, so at least we had a plan for the next two days. We cycled the 6km from the airport to the nearest village, Carboneras, where we chatted with Alexi, who offered to lend us a snorkel and mask for free, trusting us that we would return it to him in three weeks. Cuba is all about sharing and helping each other. From there we cycled on a combination of old deserted roads and the Via Blanca, the main road heading to Havana, and made a few stops at beautiful beaches and imposing sea cliffs along the way. Several times Gili thought he might fall asleep while riding. Perhaps he even nodded off once or twice.

Alamar, apparently the largest public housing project in the world

Riding through Alamar, supposedly the largest public housing complex in the world, reminded us of older buildings in Israel: simple, dense, rough, but do the job. We kept on seeing baseball fields and concluded that it is a national obsession.

Cubans are really into baseball. Every village has a field

In Havana we stayed with Cindy and her son Simon (and their cat Pippen), friends of a friend of Maya’s. We spent a day roaming the streets of Havana. Some highlights were: the “hot corner” where locals debate baseball for hours, the side streets with gracefully peeling colonial houses, the archetypal old American cars from the 40’s or 50’s and creamy coconut ice cream in a coconut shell.

Classic Havana scene

On the next day we started cycling west, towards Viñales, which we would reach in three days.  As we left the outskirts of Havana, the roads became narrower, the traffic thinner, and we started seeing rural scenes: farmers tilling their fields with oxen, tiny rural schools in every village, always sporting a Cuban flag and the bust of Jose Marti, huge Ceiba trees, a bucket of tomatoes by the side of the road (for sale), rice grains drying on the road and large metal milk jugs being delivered every morning. In the tiny village of Palma Rubia (7 families) we spent time with Gregorio, who took us on a tour of the village, pointing out banana, papaya, guava, and soursop trees, followed by a deeper conversation on socialism, communism, the embargo, and the meaning of life. We often stopped to drink freshly squeezed sugar cane juice (guarapo) and to eat the ubiquitous soft serve ice cream (8 cents each).

A sugar cane juice ("guarapo") stand

When we reached Viñales we started seeing many tourists. Since leaving Havana we had enjoyed the luxury of being in a tourist-less world, as most tourists who don’t cycle don’t spend time in the smaller places. In Viñales it seemed that almost every single house was a casa particular (like a B&B) – a house with a license to host foreigners. You get to stay in people’s homes, eat whatever they cook for you, chat with them, and see how they live. In Viñales, we also thought we’d take the opportunity to send a short email, a mission that proved to be a bit more complicated than we had expected. This whole town had only two computers connected to the internet via a slow modem connection, operated by a governmental office and very expensive. It turned out that the subject of internet is quite touchy in Cuba, as most people are not allowed to have internet in their homes. When Gili tried to ask a local about it, the guy switched from Spanish to English and said: “you understand that I can’t talk about it”. Big brother is not only watching, he’s also listening.

Starting to see mogotes (limestone bumps) on the way to Viñales

Around Viñales we enjoyed riding by the picturesque mogotes: steep sided limestone hulks jutting out of the flat plains. They formed when the ocean receded, and many of the underwater limestone caves collapsed, leaving only the pockets of stronger rock (which were subsequently shaped by erosion and weather). We visited a cave that has seven levels, only two of them open to tourists. From there we continued to Cayo Jutias, a beach where we planned to camp for the night. On the way Maya got a flat tire and we had to stop to fix it. Fixing one’s bike on the side of the road never fails to get the locals’ attention and we were soon joined by a shirtless guy with a huge belly and two barefoot kids that turned out to be twins.

Fixing a flat tire always gets the attention of the locals

Before reaching Cayo Jutias the weather became stormy and windy. This place is in fact a small island, but it is connected to the mainland by a road that passes through the ocean, which gives the ride a very dramatic feel of being surrounded by the raging ocean. The wind was strong, and we were getting wet and we didn’t know if it was from the waves or from rain, most likely both. When we reached the beach they were just closing down the restaurant for the day, but they were still happy to cook dinner for us. We were left with the two nice guards, and we camped on the beach. In the morning, we enjoyed the private beach for a few hours, swimming and snorkeling. When the tourists and a few locals arrived, that was our cue to pack up and leave.

On the causeway on the way back from Cayo Jutias

We took some very rural roads in which our only companions were carriage horses and oxen, and barely saw any cars that day. In the late afternoon we reached the fishing village of Puerto Esperanza, where we slept at the home of a lovely elderly couple, Florencio and Olga, who really tried to make us feel at home.

With our hosts in Puerto Esperanza, a lovely elderly couple

We arrived back to Viñales on Sunday and were surprised to discover that almost everything in town was closed. Even the most popular street food stalls: pizza (often baked in a tin drum) and soft serve ice cream were closed. It took some time, but eventually we figured that this is not for religious reasons. It’s socialism, and in socialism, everyone deserves at least one day off. The only place we found open was the bakery, so as we were sitting outside the bakery looking at our map and enjoying some freshly baked rolls, two familiar people found us: Cindy and Simon, who we stayed with in Havana. They came to Viñales for the weekend, and were on their way to visit a local farm. We weren’t in a rush that day, so we joined them for a bit.

Views on the way to Pinar del Rio city

Over the next two days we cycled to Playa Maria La Gorda (Fat Maria Beach), on the western tip of Cuba. We had heard that there is great scuba diving there, and it was time to refresh our diving skills. On the way we came across a grapefruit peeling factory, with very impressive piles of the yellow-green peel. The reason for the peeling still remains unclear to us, as they claimed it was not for juice. After a somewhat boring section, which was at least flat and fast, we finally reached the beautiful coastline again, and were ready for a swim.

The ocean again, almost at Playa Maria La Gorda, at the SW corner of Cuba

We camped on the beach, as we chose not to stay at the small resort, and spent the next day diving. The three dives were incredible, with plenty of colorful fish and underwater canyons. As we finished the third dive, we caught a ride back to Viñales with a minivan that brought three Italian tourists there, just for the day. The driver also had a casa particular in Viñales, which he offered us for cheap, and he called his wife ahead so she would have dinner ready for us. Everything works out in Cuba.

Diving in Maria La Gorda

We decided to spend the remainder of our trip in Central Cuba, so we caught a bus to the town of Cienfuegos. Back on our bikes, we were surprised by how busy the road was. After riding mostly with horses around us, it was a bit overwhelming to face cars and trucks. It was definitely sugar cane country, with sugar cane on both sides of the road, and sugar cane juice stands whenever we needed them.

Sugar cane country

In Cuba there are no advertisements on the side of the roads. What you see, however, are many political signs, most of them quotes by Che Guevara, no doubt the national hero. The signs were mostly against imperialism and in praise of the revolution. Deciphering the signs was great way to practice our Spanish. We cycled to Santa Clara, which is one of the biggest cities in Cuba. As we entered the city, a huge monument to Che welcomed us.

Che Guevara is a local hero

It was Friday night in Santa Clara and it was time to go out. In the “cultural house” locals played and sang music. It was a very low key atmosphere, and some very talented people preformed, all for free, just off the main plaza in the centre of town. In the morning we went to the market, where we drank a few “coco de agua”, a small yellow coconut that is mostly for drinking purposes – turns out there are a few types of coconuts. We also bought the usual bananas, pink guavas and papayas, but we were also offered, very discreetly, to buy a potato. We were curious what all the whispering was about, and discovered that it is illegal to sell potatoes in Cuba, since they are reserved for export.

Another memorial for Che. Holding a baby on the one hand, and a cigar in the other...

We had a short distance to ride that day, but it felt longer, because we had to stop all the time. The reason for that was – rain! It was typical tropical rain that came down hard for 15-30 minutes and then stopped for a bit. Some locals invited us to hide in their home and to watch a Cuban musical talent show with them. Our next hiding place was an abandoned house on the side of the road. We were joined by another guy on his bike, a local on his way back to his village. This guy wasn’t too happy about life in Cuba and kept on asking us how much money people make in Canada and how much various objects cost. It was hard to explain that everything is relative, because of course he thought the minimum wage in Canada is a fortune, but you can barely pay the rent with it in Vancouver. We spent the night in the small town of Remedios, where our hosts cooked us a real feast. In the town plaza there was a small “amusement park”: one train that went in a circle, and a boat that swings. It was all very basic, but the children were so happy. You don’t need much to get a child excited, which highlights how ridiculous Disney World really is.

Meal for kings at the casa in Remedios

As we left Remedios we came across the “milk cowboys”. A bunch of guys were on the side of the road with a dozen metal jugs full of milk. Straight from the cow and not pasteurized, they were waiting for their customers to come and buy the milk (one liter for 12 cents). We were getting a bit tired of eating “Cuban pizza” for lunch every day, so we were happy to randomly find ourselves in the middle of a Sunday fair on the main boulevard of a small town, where we had a fish sandwich and pina colada. We reflected on how busy the streets were compared with most north American towns: insted of spending time indoors, most Cubans appear to spend much of their time outside, working, socializing, and relaxing.

Milk selling corner, 12c a liter for "crudo" (crude milk - straight from the cow)

On our way to Trinidad the scenery changed. The sugar cane fields were replaced by mountain views all around of the Sierra Escambray. We hadn’t seen any other western cyclists in days, so we were quite surprised when a German cyclist by the name of Soonka caught up with us, dressed in a red cycle jersey, which perfectly matched his gloves and four red Ortlieb panniers. He joined us for two days, after riding mainly in Eastern Cuba, an area which we were not able to cover this time, so it was good to hear his experiences.

On the way to Trinidad

Trinidad has a well preserved old section with cobbled streets. It was one of the most touristy places we had passed through, with the advantage being the many live music venues. Cuban music and dancing has a way to touch your heart and lift your spirit. We stayed an extra day in Trinidad in which we did a day trip to Playa Ancon, where we enjoyed relaxing on the white sanded beach and swimming in the clear turquoise water.

Playa Ancon

Shrimp statue

Then it was time to move on along the coast and also to say goodbye to Soonka who decided to ride through the mountains. The road outside of Trinidad was surprisingly quiet and passed through some very nice beaches where we stopped to swim. We spent the night in Rancho Luna where we had mollusks for dinner, a snail like animal that lives in large polished looking shells (which tourists often buy to take home). Our host dove with snorkeling gear and picked them up from the ocean floor, making up a significant part of his family’s diet, together with the rabbits in their garden.

The next day we took a dirt road that led to Playa Giron. We were not sure about the condition of the road, and this whole day felt quite exploratory. In the beginning we also had to ride through a few herds of cows, Maya was a bit nervous about it, but the cows couldn’t care less about us. Every now and then there were small trails that led to the ocean. The sea  was quite rough and the beaches were rocky, but luckily we found a picturesque tide pool which was deep enough for a refreshing swim.

Interesting vegetation along the dirt road to Playa Giron

We met some interesting people on this road, a hunter who was looking for deer, and two men with a big Russian truck. They told us they are on vacation there, and that their families are about 9 km away, camping. One of the guys gave us a note to his wife, asking her to feed us. Indeed, after about 9 km we reached the camp and the very friendly group. They offered us pork, from a pig which had been butchered the same day. The goat, they said, was for lunch tomorrow, and the chicken would also be eaten over the next few days. Organic, free range and local, we couldn’t ask for more. Then from the ocean appeared two divers in wetsuits who had gone fishing with a spear gun and came back with a bunch of fish and lobster. We bought three fish from them, one of the women cooked one for us, and we gave the other two to the family as a courtesy for their kindness.

Some fishermen and their catch (all caught by harpoon gun)

We reached Playa Giron at dusk where a sign welcomed us: “Playa Giron: The First Defeat of Yankee Imperialism in Latin America”, referring to the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion. We stopped at a submerged cave which was 70m deep, with lots of colourful fish and a long narrow canyon to swim through.

This submerged cave is 70m deep! We arrived early and had it to ourselves. Using our snorkeling gear, we spotted many colourful fish

Alexi loaned us a snorkel and mask for three weeks for free and then barbecued us two lobsters that he had caught that morning

Playa Larga was at the end of the bay and this is where we had our last swim. From there we caught a bus to Varadero and really started to feel that this was the end of the trip. Luckily we still had to cycle to Carboneras, the village we had passed on the first day, since we had to return the snorkel to Alexi. One last ice cream, one last pineapple, one last lobster dinner. We really didn’t want it to end, but at least we were left with a taste of more. Alexi remembered us, and as a courtesy we gave him some spare tubes we had, it is almost impossible to get bike parts in Cuba. He barbecued us two lobsters that he had caught the same morning, served with lettuce and fried plantains from their garden, and also organized a place for us to stay for the night.

We cycled in the dark to the airport to make it to our early morning flight. During the flight there were three medical emergencies and the flight seemed to last forever. When we reached Vancouver we happily cycled back home from the airport. It felt very natural to be back, and to cycle home, like we usually do.

After flying back to Vancouver, we cycled back home. It felt right to arrive home on our bikes.

It was very interesting to travel in Cuba, especially while in many places around the world protestors are calling for social justice. People decry capitalism, but it made us think how far people would be willing to go. It seemed to us that most people want only the good things from socialism: affordable housing, free child care and education and free medical care. Well, Cuba has all that. It’s true that Cuba also has governmental power over everything, and life is not simple there. But maybe we all should take a trip to Cuba, an experiment in socialism, a land where materialism is refreshingly absent (almost), a country that in spite of many obstacles is doing really well, with warm hearted people that will reach out for you wherever and whoever you are.

We spent a while at the camp chatting and eating a big meal of breaded pork with ham and cheese, fried fish just caught and spaghetti

More photos

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36 Responses to Cuba: Cycling Journey to the Land of Socialism and Endless Coconuts

  1. Ben says:

    Fantastic trip report! FINALLY you guys launch your blog. That’s about time! We so enjoyed reading your TR, having sadly just left Cuba a few days ago. Love to read the complementary and different perspective, due of course to your being on bikes, and also to our starting point, i.e. Israel/Canada versus Nicaragua. Lucky you at the water hole near Playa Largo (were you saw all the colorful fish), when we got there it was packed with tourists and we quickly moved on. Seems that we reached the same conclusions about the pedagogical value of a trip to Cuba in terms of seeing in person what Socialism looks like and feels like. Thanks for the TR. Loved your photos. Ben & Peta

  2. Niki says:

    Congrats on the new blog. Stunning photos, a well written, absorbing and exciting account of an amazingly adventurous trip. Keep it up!

  3. Ann B says:

    Gili & Maya- Fabulous trip. Too bad Cuban socialism includes political repression and political prisoners (including gays) along with the benefits of socialism. Yes, we Americans are way too materialistic, but the Cubans who risk their lives to come here must know something about living under the Castro regime. Still, fabulous trip. Keep sending your adventures, especially to those of us who will never go to most of the places you and Maya travel to. Ann

  4. Kudos for the advice, and the web site honestly looks really good. Just what wp design are you using?

    • Gili says:

      I’m using the TwentyTen theme, but I’ve made many changes which I rolled into a child theme (specific to this site only).

  5. Pingback: San Juan Islands: Island Hopping & Cycle Touring - Life in MAGIc Land

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  7. Pingback: Planning For A Bike Tour Of Cuba | TravellingTwo: Bicycle Touring Around The World

  8. Michael Bordan says:

    Is it possible to do a similar trip in Cuba travelling around by bus, or car, or…? Regarding casa particulars, is there any advantage to reserving using their association web site, or just show up?

  9. Gili says:

    Yes, I believe you could use buses to go to the places where we stayed overnight. You’d miss out on the in between, but presumably you’d have more time in those places than we had. Renting a car might be possible, but you might be forced into renting a car and driver, I’m not sure how it works.

    Making a reservation is possible, and might be important during peak season – around Christmas. I’ve heard tourists sometimes grumble about making reservations which were not granted, but the hosts always found them an alternative casa particular. We never had trouble with just showing up, which allowed us more flexibility on where we would spend the night.

  10. Louis Berube says:


    Planning a 3 week cycling trip to westerm cuba in March
    Will be donating the bicycle I use there to needy person. ( an old steel framed mountain bike with new parts)
    Any ideas or comments on doing this?
    I have previous experience in cycle touring north, central and south america but have never contemplated donating the bike.


  11. Gili says:

    I’ve heard of people doing this, and two people we met in Cuba got their bikes in this way. The bikes did end up with bald tires and no brakes eventually, due to much use combined with a lack of parts. It should be easy to find an appropriate recipient, even just by riding through town and picking someone out. You might consider also donating spare parts, even if they are used, such as tires, brake pads and pedals. Even our extra tubes, each of which we had patched several times, were snapped up.

  12. Shana says:

    “Cuba: Cycling Journey to the Land of Socialism and Endless Coconuts – Life in MAGIc Land”
    was indeed a good article and therefore I was in fact pretty joyful to discover it.
    I appreciate it-Shana

  13. Kathleen says:

    Your trip looks amazing. A friend and I are heading out on a month-long tour in Cuba in a couple weeks, and had been hoping to camp some of the time, but heard it was prohibited in Cuba. Did you have a hard time finding places to camp?

  14. Gili says:

    Hi Kathleen: we only camped twice on our trip (once on a beach, and once by the entrance to a hotel), so I don’t think we have the full scoop on this. It might depend on where you are going and where you plan to spend the night – in the cities it would of course be harder to find a place to camp. Outside of the cities, in other parts of the world, an easy and safe solution is to ask a local if you can camp in their yard. Especially in small places people will rarely say no, and might even offer you a meal or a room if you get lucky. We don’t know if this would work in Cuba, but it is worth a try. You might also be able to camp at Campismos, probably for a small fee. A while ago I spoke to someone who had camped extensively in East Cuba over a several month cycling trip, and I think he mostly wild camped, but I don’t have his contact info or exact details. Keep in mind, that at least for us, staying at casas particulares was a highlight of the trip. Anyway, have an excellent trip, Cuba is an amazing place to cycle!

  15. Milena says:

    We are doing this is February and are very excited! Quick question: where did you leave your cardboard boxes for your bikes? I can see that you started biking immediately from the airport (and cycled back to the airport as well) – was there a place to store them there?

  16. Gili says:

    Hi Milena – we actually got rid of our cardboard boxes at the airport. When we returned, we simply put the bikes in plastic bags provided by the company, Air Transat, and probably removed the pedals and handlebars (but I don’t remember), and checked them through like that. They arrived fine. Most airlines won’t let you do this though, so best to check with your airline.

    If you want to leave your boxes somewhere, hopefully you speak Spanish… You could ask at the airport, they might be willing to keep them there (ask the guard at the entrance, maybe?). Failing that, there’s a small village nearby the airport called Carboneras, about 6km’s down the access road (from the Varadero airport), located where it meets with the main road. If you cross the main road and continue in the direction you were going (from the airport) into the village and go almost to the end, there is a blue house (I think) on the right, ask for Alexi, I’m pretty sure he would keep them for you, maybe for a small fee. If you continue to the end of that road (the one crossing the village), it connects with a small road that goes along the water, which you could use if going towards Havana (this road is visible on Google Maps). It’s a pretty good bet that anyone in Cuba would do that for you, either for a small fee or maybe even free. This would probably be much easier than finding other boxes at the end of your trip

    Anyway, enjoy your trip, can’t wait to return to Cuba on our bikes!

  17. Milena says:

    Thanks for responding so quickly! I didn’t know that checking bikes in a clear plastic bag was a possibility (and now I’ve discovered a huge internet debate over which is better, anonymous boxes or transparent bags) but I’ll see what Westjet says. It would make our itinerary much easier if we could just leave from the airport.

    We’re debating between riding to Havana, or just taking the bus straight from the airport to Havana, leaving more time for Pinar del Rio province. Any thoughts on whether the Varadero-Havana road is worth doing?

  18. Gili says:

    Since it was our first time sending our bikes through like that (in a plastic bag) we were somewhat skeptical. We chose to go with the cardboard boxes on the way, reasoning that damage on the way there could be difficult to repair, but damage on the way back would not be catastrophic.

    We think the road from the airport to Havana is definitely worth riding. If you look at the first 19 or so photos in our photo album, they are from that section. From those two days, I remember a quiet road, some beautiful beaches, dramatic sea cliffs (just off the road, look out for them), an interesting social housing complex and a fort in Cojimar. Try to stay off the highway when you can, not that it’s bad or anything, but the backroads are nicer – I think the Lonely Planet for cycling in Cuba has a description for this section which we used. To get into the city one has to cross a canal that cannot be ridden across (I think). The options were a “cyclo-bus” or a ferry, but the first option wasn’t running since it was a Sunday, so we took the ferry. Feel free to post here (or by email) if you have any other questions.

  19. Gili says:

    Since we’ve received a few emails asking about the dirt road between Cienfuegos and Playa Giron (which we highly recommend), so here are a few more details:

    We had a description from the Lonely Planet cycling guide to Cuba which had a small map. In reality, not much information is required, but the small map was helpful in figuring out where the road starts, but we still ended up asking someone. Basically, we rode from Jagua (where the fort is) to Jaragua along the paved road, which took us away from the ocean (which seems confusing at first), and then took the first left to a dirt road before a multistory complex which marks the beginning of the village of Jaragua. Don’t expect any signs or anything like that, it’s just a small dirt road – it’s easily seen on Google Earth, if you are interested. The first section leads back towards the water, and after that the road follows along the water but a bit away from it.

    Every now and then there was a track leading off left towards the ocean – we explored several of these, leading to views of the ocean and rocky beaches (not so good for swimming). The nicest of them had a large tidepool which was perfect for swimming (see photo). We figure many of these turn offs would provide good options for camping – try and find the tidepool if you can. The road is in general fine for touring bikes. There were two very short sections which were a bit bumpy and I think we walked them – just 5-10m each, perhaps. One section (at least) was a bit sandy, and we might have pushed our bikes a short distance (see photo).

    We passed by Guasasa and stopped to ask for some coconuts. It’s a small village, but I’m sure you can get water there, perhaps even bottled water (we purified/filtered tap water). Some fishermen came to shore at one of our stops and a local from Guasasa offered to cook us a meal (but we already had other plans), so I’m sure you could ask around and get a good meal. Sometime after Guasasa the road became bigger and had a harder surface, which allowed for some faster riding.

  20. Milena says:

    Further to the discussion about storing bike boxes, I thought I’d share what we ended up doing. The good news is that you can leave boxes at the airport, but only if you meet the right airport employee!

    We decided to use cardboard boxes for the trip down, get rid of the boxes at the airport, and use plastic bags to pack the bikes back up at the end. (We got two twin-sized mattress bags from the Sleep Country near us, as WestJest doesn’t supply them.) While we were putting the bikes together outside the airport, an employee named Noel came up to us and asked if we needed a place to store the boxes. He said that he could keep them for us as long as he was working on the day of our departure flight – which happily he was – and dragged them away to a shed beside the parking lot.

    We kept out plastic bags for the whole two weeks just in case the boxes had disappeared when we got back. But they were unnecessary in the end – as we rolled into the airport, Noel recognized us and waved, and our boxes promptly reappeared! We gave him 5 CUC (or maybe 10? I can’t remember for sure) and a new bike chain that we didn’t end up needing.

    Anyway, thanks for the advice! Our trip was wonderful.

  21. Gili says:

    Thanks, Milena, glad to hear you had a great trip! Cuba is funny and flexible like that….

    A somewhat related thought – we gave our cardboard boxes to two employees at the airport when we arrived, and I kind of wondered if they were a prized treasure or whether they were thrown out. I think that people in Cuba tend to think a lot more about how to reuse stuff before throwing it out (at least compared to most people in Canada), likely mostly out of necessity.

  22. gen says:

    What a great site! Thank you for sharing your tips and experiences. We are planning a bike trip soon, and your photos and comments have inspired me!

  23. Warren says:

    Hi there. I am hoping to cycle from Santiago to Pinar del Rio (pretty much across all of Cuba) over a three week period starting in mid December 2015. I will fly to Varadero from Halifax but then need to quickly/efficiently get to Santiago with my bike in tow to start my trek. Wondering if I would attempt to catch a domestic flight from Varadero to Santiago (if this is even an option and if i can have my bike on that domestic flight as well but no idea if any of this is possible). Do you have any idea if:
    – there are daily domestic flights from Varadero to Santiago?
    – if yes, would they allow me to travel with my bike?
    – whether perhaps the best option would actually be to bus from Varadero to Santiago if Viazul does this trip and in less than 24 hours? If yes, do you know if Viazul picks up at Varadero airport?
    Sorry for all the questions!! Any thoughts on any of this that you might have would be very much appreciated! Thank you very much!! Warren

  24. Gili says:

    Hi Warren. Regarding getting to Santiago: according to this website there is a train from Havana to Santiago which stops in Matanzas, which is close to Varadero. There is also a Viazul bus from Havana to Santiago, but the first stop listed is Santa Clara and I don’t know if it makes any other stops (might be possible?). Both of them seem to take about 16 hours, but I wouldn’t necessarily trust any online schedules for the exact times, they might be out of date. Viazul apparently will take bikes, and I’m guessing the train will as well – things tend to be more flexible than what we are used to in North America.

    Regarding domestic flights, this website lists flights from Havana to Santiago, but I don’t know if they will take bikes.

    Although the route you are suggesting is totally feasible (1060km in three weeks), you might consider slowing down a bit, spending a few days in Santiago, Havana and other places of interest and doing some side trips. I have also heard that the central part of Cuba is not very interesting to cycle through, which might or might not fit your experience. Another option would be to simply spend three weeks in eastern Cuba or western Cuba, making a loop and flying in and out of the same airport. This would also save you the hassle of a long train or bus ride on either side of your trip. Just something to think about…

    Anyway, have fun and the best of luck!

    • Warren says:

      Thank you very much Gili for all of the thoughtful insight you have provided me. Very helpful and most appreciated!

  25. Christian says:

    First, Thank you for this amazing Blog

    I’m also planning a 2 weeks cycling trip in CUBA in November 2015
    I will fly from Moncton NB to Holguin.
    I will bike 700-750 KM from Holguin to Havana (I will take the Bus between Camaguey and Sancti Spiritus). And then take the Bus or a domestic flight to get back to Holguin. It is a 13h bus ride with the Viazul Bus. So if someone have information on flight from Havana or Varadero to Holguin, please share it with me. It would be appreciate.

    My question is: How many KM did you bike each day ? I have plan most days in the 60-80 KM range with one 110 KM . Is it too much ? How big of a factor is the Heat ?


    • Gili says:

      Hi Christian. On most days we cycled 50-60km with some longer and shorter days. However, we were taking it easy on purpose, preferring to have time to explore on foot, chat with locals, stop frequently along the way, and so on. If you prefer to focus more on the cycling (or cycling faster), then 60-80 km’s is definitely manageable – I know we have cycled an average of 100 km a day on some trips in the past. This would also depend on the the terrain (how much uphill is on your route?) and the quality of the road (which is variable, across Cuba). The heat wasn’t a problem for us at all – the normal high and low averages for Holguin in November are 28C and 20C. In fact, the locals were mostly wearing long clothes and some complained that it was cold… There appear to be daily flights from Havana to Holguin, at least according to this website. Enjoy your trip!

  26. Christian says:

    Thank you for the reply.

    Do you know if it is possible to send a bike case from Holguin to Havana ? This way I would not have to travel back to Holguin.

    • Gili says:

      Hi Christian – first, it might be worthwhile to check with your airline if you can fly your bike without a bike box / bike case. With our airline (Air Transat) that was possible, so we flew in with cardboard boxes and flew out with the bikes in plastic bags, just taking off the pedals and turning the handlebars, and they arrived fine. Failing that, there is a very good chance that you could send the bike case, either by using the bus companies (Viazul/Astro), the train company, an airline or the post office. Searching online reveals that people claim it is possible with the bus companies and Air Cubana. We did this in Mexico using a bus company, and it was very easy (but not cheap) and the bike boxes waited for us at the bus terminal at our destination.

  27. Sofia says:

    Hi there !
    Thanks so much for such a lovely article. My partner and I will be doing a 3 week bike tour starting at the end of may. We’ve been wondering how we would get around walking around towns or going for hikes having to carry around panniers. Would you recommend just leaving panniers unattended on your bike while you walked around or did other things away from your bike? We’ve been considering maybe even taking a hiking backpack to switch between panniers and backpack by just transferring our stuff whenever we need to, but this seems like it would be tedious to be carrying the extra baggage. If you have any suggestions, we would really apreciate it. 🙂
    Thanks, Sofia

  28. Gili says:

    Hi Sofia. Glad you enjoyed our article. In general, Cuba is a very safe country, much safer than most. However, basic travel safety precautions are always a good idea. What I describe below is what we would do on a cycle tour, almost anywhere in the world. If we want to explore a town where we are staying for the night on foot, we will find a place to stay, leave our panniers and bikes there and walk around with just what we need. If we want to explore a town that we are just passing through, we will take our bikes (and the rest of the gear) with us, by either riding through town or rolling our bikes with us.

    We would not recommend leaving your panniers on the bikes, while you are not next to them, since they could disappear in a moment. Even locking your bike up and leaving it on the street could be sketchy, since even without breaking a lock (or cutting a cable, which is easy and fast) other parts could be stolen off the bike, such as the wheels, the seat, etc. Note that North American cities too suffer from this, for example San Francisco, Vancouver and Amsterdam are known to be rife with bike thieves (I once got my brake calipers stolen!).

    Anyway, have a great time, Cuba is an awesome place to travel to and especially by bicycle!

  29. Lance says:

    A group of 4 of us will arrive in Varadero airport at 6:30pm, so it will be dark and maybe 9pm by the time we get bikes assembled and ready to go.

    I love to be able to start riding right from the airport, so was thinking we should just try to get to Carboneras (and maybe Alexi) that first night. My question is, did you see any Casas in that village as you passed through? Or maybe somewhere else near the airport? Or do you think that since we arrive late we should arrange a taxi/van to somewhere?

    Thanks for your awesome info post!

    • Lance says:

      I’ve actually found a place in Carboneras and booked it so I’m set! 🙂

      • Gili says:

        Thanks, Lance! Sorry for the delay, we are on a cycling trip (naturally…). Glad you found a solution – thought we did see one at least one casa in Carboneras. The access road to the airport is short but very dark at night – be careful and consider using lights (probably very low traffic unless other flights leaving or arriving). Enjoy your trip!

  30. Pingback: Viajando de bicicleta em Cuba – Eu e a Magrela

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