Locale: Caribbean, Cuba
Keywords: Cuba, tips, recommendations
Copyright © 2009-2014 By
Last update: Friday April 10, 2009 13:05 (US/Pacific) (edited Tue 14 Apr 2009 10:24 (US/Pacific))
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some general advice which may be useful
In late March we went touring in Cuba on our bikes. We took two solo bikes (mtb's with road tyres), For the plane we we put foam pipe lagging on the frame and packaged each bike in a large heavy duty plastic bag obtained from the CTC in England.
We used the Bicycling Cuba book by Wally and Barbara Smith (ISBN 0-88150-553-6) as our main guide on where to go. We found it to be a good reference - although it was published in 2002 we found it still relevant and helpful, however, the number of vehicles on the road has probably increased since they wrote their guide.
We had read that Cuba was a challenging place for the independent traveller. We had no major problems. I would say the biggest challenge we faced was getting food while riding on the road. A basic knowledge of Spanish helped a lot in searching out what was locally available. If food is available buy it - it may be some time until the next opportunity. On the road it is essential to have some pesos as well as CUC's as street food is often all that is available and it is sold in peso's. With 24 peso to 1 CUC they go a long way - change a few CUC's in the bank. We found it difficult to get food in most places- most days we resorted to cheese pizza - these can be bought from vendors in all towns for 5 pesos. We were surprised at how little fresh fruit was for sale - we later learned that the recent hurricanes have devastated fruit production in Cuba. Even the $ stores had a limited selection of products. In several areas you could not get bread.
We stayed in casa particulars - we tried several restaurants but they were disappointing and relatively expensive for what you got. The best food (and biggest portions) were always in the casa's. Casa's are good value, cost between CUC15 and 30 for a room per night with dinner between CUC7 and 8. You get a better feel of Cuban life staying in the casa's - highly recommended and easy to find in most towns. We thought that the hotels in Havana are very expensive.
We found Cuban people are generally friendly, knowledgeable and helpful and many are keen to chat with you. We met some very interesting people. In our time in Cuba we felt completely safe although were were repeatedly advised not to leave anything unattended especially our bikes. On the street we did not see any aggressive or drunken behaviour unlike many UK town centres in the UK. Many people asked us for soap - difficult to get in Cuba. We had packed various medicines and first aid kit to give to people but not soap.
On arrival in Havana airport bikes are delivered to an area next to the luggage belts - I advised the baggage handler we had bikes and he personally delivered them to me - in good condition!
We cleared customs, changed some money and found a taxi to take us to our casa particular (in a tropical rainstorm). The airport is about 20km SW of Havana linked by mainly dual carriageway roads - not the best ride after a long flight. The standard taxi fare from the airport to Havana is CUC25.
We used our bikes to ride around Havana but were warned not to leave them - use a Parqueo - the official secure bike parks. Traffic levels in Havana were lighter than most British cities and we found drivers were OK to cyclists. The biggest hazard we found were the belching vehicles that left a huge trail of black smoke as they went past. We found the most inconsiderate drivers tended to be the new car owners who were determined to be the fastest on the road. The roads are generally in good condition although you will often encounter glass - having said that we did not have any punctures. We had the strange experience of cycling on the auto pista into Santa Clara.
Cuba is a large island - we had 16 days and wanted to explore the west and central areas, so we used the Viazul bus and shared a taxi to travel between areas. We had booked our bus tickets online for our first trip from Havana to Vinales. Arrive at the bus terminal an hour before departure - it was chaotic when we arrived but somehow the bikes were loaded and the bus departed on time. In Trinidad it was much easier. On one occasion we shared a taxi from Vinales to Cienfuegos - four people and the bikes on a roof rack - similar price to the bus.
Cuba is a cash society - it was easy changing money - we used a mix of cash and Visa debit card - banks are common and even open on Sunday morning.
Do not underestimate the wind (and the heat). On several days we had a very strong headwind which combined with the heat made it tough riding. We rested from 12-3pm due to the heat. With hindsight we would go in January or February for cooler temperatures.
We found everywhere we stayed was noisy at night (dogs, pigs, music (don't want to hear the Buena Vista Social Club ever again!), engines, cockerals) - I found ear plugs useful.
On departure you have to pay CUC25 departure tax to get out of the country.
We would recommend cycling in Cuba - we found it an interesting country to visit although in many areas we visited the scenery was not the greatest we have ever seen but the colonial towns were impressive. Our favourite area for scenery was around Vinales and the Valle de los Ingenios, our favourite towns were Trinidad, Havana, Cienfuegos and Sancti Spiritus. Bikes are the way to see the country and meet the people.
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