Cuba is mostly flat, right? How long is the entire country? I could bike the whole thing in 10 days – wait no that’s something like 1,200 km. Okay backtrack, should we bring our own bikes or can we rent bikes there?
These are just a few of the hundreds of questions one might ask before a self-propelled bikepacking trip in Cuba. Truthfully, many of these questions go unanswered until arriving on the ground but that’s part of the adventure.
With a rich history, welcoming locals and lush landscape, there’s no better way to see Cuba than by bike. All that’s needed is a little bit of Spanish, a lot of patience and a bike (the third being the hardest to finagle). An open mind, however, is the most valuable tool. The need to constantly adjust plans and roll with the flow of “island time” is imperative when cycling through Cuba.
Cuba’s fusion of colorful cities, classic cars, awe-inspiring limestone, quaint homes, and delicious cuisine make the added flexibility worth it. Getting a taste of local culture begins with Casa Particulares (similar to a bed and breakfast) where visitors can experience Cuban culture firsthand. While hotels are an option, casas are the best way to experience Cuba from a local’s perspective.
Breakfast at a Havana casa
Airlines will charge up to $400/€377 round-trip to bring a bike along so why not rent? There are several reasons, actually, one being that quality bikes are nearly impossible to find upon arriving. CanbiCuba is one of few companies offering quality, affordable bikes and excellent advice. Arranging a bike before heading overseas will ensure a smooth trip.
Most cyclists opt for exploring the western side of the country, marked by Viñales Valley National Park. Riders will fall in love with the quiet country roads sprinkled with quad-burning hills (yes, there are mountains in Cuba!). To get there, start by riding from bustling Havana to rural Soroa where highrise buildings give way to lush forests and tropical flora and fauna. An offline map for navigating from town to town is essential. One great option is a COBI connected biking system, providing both offline map navigation and a smartphone handlebar mount. Handsfree, readily accessible navigation will make life much easier on the road, plus it integrates music!
A trip to Cuba would be incomplete without a visit to one of the country's white sand beaches. Pedal out of the mountains to Palma Rubia and spend a rest day ferrying out to Cayo Levisa for beach mojitos and an ocean dip.
Next stop, Viñales, a limestone oasis known for it’s cycling and rock climbing. A mountain town with a by-the-beach vibe, Viñales can capture even the most hyperactive bikers. Swap the bike saddle for something burlier and take a guided horseback ride through the tobacco fields Cuba is known for. Here visitors can purchase cigars, hand-rolled right at the farm.
There are countless other cities to visit steeped in history from natives who first set foot on the island to the Cuban Revolution. A guidebook to Cuba may encourage going from city to city, visiting the destinations deemed most historic and beautiful, but what the book won’t explain, are the kids playing in their backyards waving to cyclists, the peso pizza (that’s $.29/€.27 per pizza!) ready to devour in a rural town, and the honest reality experienced by bike in Cuba. So let the bike guide your trip, get off the beaten path and see the real Cuba from your bike!
Tips for Planning
- Organize bike rental or bike tour company before going
- Pre-download an offline map of Cuba in the COBI app
- Pre-download Spanish translator app
- Use Airbnb or TripAdvisor to find and contact first night of accommodation and arrange for an airport pickup
- Consider pre-booking in high season from December through March for heavily traveled locations like Havana and Viñales
- Viazul bus system will accommodate bikes
- Internet is accessible by purchasing internet cards for use at wi-fi parks found in town centers. Ask a local where to buy them.
- Hurricane season is in low season from June - November when prices are also cheapest
What to Bring
- Bars, chews, and gels (they are nowhere to be found in Cuba!)
- Spare bike tubes, patches, tools, bike maintenance basics (also nowhere to be found!)
- There are two forms of currency in Cuba, learn more about both before you go
- Bring enough cash to spend a minimum of ~$50/€47 a day as ATM’s are not yet accessible.
- Convert all US dollars to Euros to avoid 10% surcharge when exchanging upon arrival
- Check to see about visa requirements for your home country. Americans should purchase visas ahead of time
- Bring extra copies of your passport just in case
All photos by Laura Friedland