Cycling Cuba, Havana to Trinidad
Cultural, rhythmic and evocative, Cuba promises to be like nowhere else you’ve cycled. This vibrant Caribbean island has many steep contrasts. It boasts beautiful beaches and tropical sun, crumbling but opulent architecture, cigar-smoking Cubans who groove to salsa beats in the streets, and a revolutionary history of both triumph and oppression. Cycling through Cuba is one of the best ways to experience this fascinating country. Most Cubans travel by bike, rendering the roads relatively car free. On this adventure we spend eight days biking through Central Cuba’s most cultural and historically rich cities, including Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and the Bay of Pigs. We stay far from the all-inclusive beach resorts and experience the authentic Cuba.
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Watch our Cuba Hotels & Travel Update (recorded March 2016)
|2||Havana to Matanzas||35 km/22 mi||171 m / 561 ft||Hotel||B,L,D|
|3||Matanzas to Playa Larga||90 km/56 mi||335 m / 1076 ft||Hotel||B,L,D|
|4||Bay of Pigs - Cienfuegos||45 km/28 mi||119 m / 390 ft||Hotel||B,L,D|
|5||Trinidad||80 km/50 mi||551 m / 1807 ft||Hotel||B,L,D|
|7||Manicaragua to Santa Clara||20 km/12 mi||539 m / 1768 ft||Hotel||B,L|
Day 1: Arrival Havana
Upon arrival into the Havana International Airport, a BikeHike Adventures representative will greet you and transfer you to a comfortable hotel in Havana. The remainder of the day is spent at leisure exploring this fascinating city. You’ll find crumbling palaces, vintage American cars, and meet the local people who are frequently huddled together in the streets, smoking Cuban cigars.
Day 2: Havana (Biking)
We’ll start with a group orientation before fitting everyone with bikes. Then we’re off for a morning cycling tour of Havana, exploring the Presidential Palace, the most important Colonial Squares, the Revolution Square, and the Prado promenade. This is the ideal way to see Havana, as we can get into the nooks and crannies of this eclectic city and really experience the pulsing rhythm of Cuba. It is important to drop any preconceptions at the door and enter Cuba with an open mind, being ready to be shocked and surprised by everything and everyone you encounter. Havana is a fascinating city, economically poor, but architecturally opulent, culturally rich but at the same time difficult to understand. We’ll break for lunch in a restaurant and then have a bit more time to explore on your own before transferring to Matanzas, a beautiful colonial city on the coast. Here we’ll check into a comfortable hotel and have dinner. Biking 35 km / 22 mi. Total ascent: 171 m / 561 ft (B,L,D)
Day 3: Playa Larga (Biking)
Today we set off from our hotel, cycling through Matanzas to the Peninsula of Zapata. We ride from north to south crossing many citrus orchards and what used to be prime sugarcane land. We’ll have a few kilometres on the Carretera Central. This single lane road is now used for local traffic, so expect to share the road with ancient Soviet tractors, inner town buses, trucks, 50’s American Cars, horses, and other cyclists. Cuba once became extremely rich farming sugarcane. We’ll cycle through villages where entire families were once employed in the crops. About 20 km / 12 mi into the ride we’ll reach Triumvirato where a monument commemorates a slave uprising and reminds us that Cuba was one of the last countries to relinquish slavery. At the 65 km / 38 mi mark we stop in the small agricultural town of Pedro Betancourt. From there we continue another 25 km / 16 mi to Jaguey Grande where we’ll stop cycling and transfer to Pio Cua for a late lunch. After lunch we transfer by vehicle to Hotel Playa Larga, a basic hotel right on the beach where the CIA invasion of Cuba happened in April 1961 during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Those who are still keen to cycle can cycle this last leg. Dinner will be in one of the seafood paladars (family run restaurant) in Playa Larga. Total ascent: 335 m / 1076 ft (B,L,D)
Day 4: Zapata Peninsula (Biking)
We start with a dawn walk through a nature reserve, birdwatching with our guide. We’ll return to our hotel for breakfast then spend the rest of the morning on our bikes. We’ll ride around the biggest swamps in Cuba (Zapata’s Peninsula). The road clings to the Bay of Pigs, giving us views of the emerald Caribbean Sea. We’ll stop at Playa Giron to learn how the CIA backed the invasion of Cuba in the early 60’s. From here we have a short ride to lunch in Caleta Buena, a natural sea pool teeming with tropical fish. There will be the opportunity to have a dip in the Caribbean after lunch. From here we’ll continue by vehicle to Cienfuegos or carry on cycling for a further 20 km / 12 mi or so. Tonight we’ll dine in a paladar on the waterfront of Cienfuegos. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. Biking 45 km / 28 mi. Total ascent: 119 m / 390 ft (B,L,D)
Day 5: Trinidad (Biking)
We’re back on our bikes this morning, riding along an undulating coastal road with a few short steep hills that lead us through beautiful pasture lands. Around the 20 km / 12 mi mark we’ll be rewarded with the spectacular view of the Escambray Mountain range across a valley of sugarcane fields. The road then sweeps up and climbs over gentle hills until we meet the coast just beyond Guajimico. We stop for lunch after 50 km / 31 mi. The final 30 km / 19 mi is on a flat road that clings to the glistening Caribbean coastline all the way to Trinidad. There are some hilly sections just before Trinidad, but once we enter Trinidad it’s downhill all the way to our accommodation for the night. Tonight we’ll be enjoying Cuban hospitality, staying in a Cuban style bed and breakfast (casa particular). The accommodation is simple but the rooms are air-conditioned and have en-suite bathrooms. We’ll enjoy a home cooked dinner prepared by our hosts this evening before heading out into Trinidad to explore this charming World Heritage Site. Overnight in a casa particular. Total ascent: 551 m / 1807 ft (B,L,D)
Day 6: Trinidad
Today we have a full free day in Trinidad. Trinidad is probably Cuba’s most famous provincial town and rightly so. It’s a picture-perfect colonial town with cobbled streets, pastel painted colonial homes and very little traffic in the centre – other than horses and the occasional vintage car. Walking around Trinidad is like stepping back in time. In the evenings, Trinidad welcomes visitors with live music and local bars where you can kick back and enjoy a rum cocktail or practice your salsa steps. Optional activities can be arranged locally including horseback riding, catamaran trips, and salsa classes. Overnight in the same casa particular. (B)
Day 7: Manicaragua to Santa Clara (Biking)
For those who want the ultimate cycle challenge, set off from Trinidad by bike and climb the steep route up to Topes de Collante. Although only 20 km /12 mi in total, the route is part of Cuba’s pro cycling race, the “Vuelta de Cuba,” so expect some steep hills! We start with a tough 10 km / 6 mi uphill grind of switchbacks that winds through a pine and eucalyptus forest. Once we reach the summit, we descend to Santa Clara. Today is the most spectacular scenery day as we cycle through the national park. Palm trees and other tropical plants slowly replace pine forests. We cycle along the valley floor between impressive mountains before reaching the market town of Manicaragua where we’ll stop for a picnic lunch. From here we either continue by bike or transfer to Santa Clara by bus, arriving in time to visit Che’s Mausoleum before checking into our hotel for the night. Tonight you’re free to wander through the centre of Santa Clara and pick up dinner in a restaurant or paladar of your choice. Total ascent: 539 m / 1768 ft (B,L)
Day 8: Havana
We’ll transfer back to Havana this morning, arriving in time for lunch. After lunch we’ll have a two-hour tour of Havana in a vintage American Car, finishing in El Floridita Restaurant for a famous daiquiri. El Floridita is where the daiquiri was originally developed and was famously frequented by Ernest Hemingway back in the 1930’s. They even designed a daiquiri in his honour. This evening we’ll head into Old Havana for our final dinner in a central located paladar. We’ll then return to our hotel for our last evening in Cuba. (B,L,D)
Day 9: Departure
You’ll be transferred to the Havana Airport for your flight back home. (B)
Important Note: BikeHike Adventures is a Canadian based company and does not hold a license that allows U.S. citizens to legally visit Cuba yet. Therefore, any U.S. citizens that participate in this tour are solely responsible for any possible legal implications thereof.
Meals as indicated (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), all accommodation (twin shared), all internal transportation, mountain bikes (Specialized Hard Rock Sport Disc.), support vehicle, airport transfers and veteran guides.
Trip Does Not Include:
Gratuities, airport departure taxes, meals not indicated and items of a personal nature.
8 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches, 5 Dinners
Hotel: 8 Nights
Cuba is a country shrouded in mystery. Its notorious struggle with internal and external political conflict has greatly overshadowed its cultural soul. First time travellers are surprised to find an intriguing and romantic setting, and not the drab communist-warn state they were expecting. Instead, Cuba is a colourful world of gritty architecture, vintage cars, offbeat markets, and passionate locals. Its unique blend of classic culture and raw spirit is a rarity in a quickly globalizing world. The time is now.
It’s very important to understand that Cuba is a destination in transition.
While Cuba is certainly a bit rough around the edges, that is also much of its charm. The value in going there now is in seeing its roughness, the real Cuba. While it lasts.
Can I use my credit or debit card in Cuba?
US credit cards and debit cards are officially now accepted in Cuba. However, we still do not recommend relying on debit or credit as a means of payment. Most establishments in Cuba do not have payment systems/devices set up to accept these cards, especially in the smaller towns we will be visiting. As well, many of the ATMs in Cuba do not work or are out of cash and unable to dispense you any money. Thus, it is best to have sufficient cash on hand. US dollars cannot be spent in Cuba. US dollars must be exchanged for Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) locally. This is a closed currency, meaning it cannot be purchased or exchanged outside of Cuba. However, a 10% tax is levied on exchanging US currency for CUC. Thus, Americans are advised to bring another foreign currency to exchange for the CUC and use this to make all purchases for the duration of their trip. Canadian Dollars or Euros are recommended as they are highly recognized in Cuba and readily accepted for exchange.
Can I fly from the US directly to Cuba?
Americans cannot yet travel directly/legally to Cuba if their goal is simply to vacation at a beach resort. However, individual cultural travel has become a new option since March 2016. The US Treasury has information about this new travel category posted on its website. Alongside these loosening restrictions, multiple airlines have announced that they have been approved for hundreds of direct flights between the mainland US and Cuba. A definite timeline has not been announced but industry whispers suggest they will begin by late 2016.
Is the Cuba Cycling trip cultural enough for Americans?
We believe the BikeHike Cuba Cycling tour is highly cultural. However, if you do decide to travel to Cuba, ultimately entering and exiting Cuba as an American remains your sole individual decision and responsibility. It is up to you to decide if you are comfortable with the level of cultural focus offered by our trips. It is also your decision to enter Cuba as well as your decision to adopt to follow our itinerary for the duration of your stay in Cuba.
For information on how to keep your own records of any culturally focused trip, we advise you consult the US Treasury's website updates about travel to Cuba.
What level of hotels can I expect in Cuba?
International tourists have few accommodation choices in Cuba. At the moment, there are only 63,000 hotel rooms nationwide, the majority of which are in large, beachside resorts. If restricting one’s Cuba visit to a beach vacation, one can stay a large, all-inclusive resort (most of these are near the established beach resort town of Varadero). Outside of the resort areas, the only options are staying in a small hotel or a “casa particular” (private rooms, Bed ‘n Breakfast style). A casa particular is much like staying in a local Cuban’s home. BikeHike travellers stay at small hotels and casas.
It is also important to note that because of the complications with resources and infrastructure in Cuba, hotels outside of the big resorts lack modern, updated furnishings. Compared to hotels you may have experienced in other poor countries, Cuba’s hotels will seem rundown and completely outdated for the price paid. As well, even using
TripAdvisor as a metric for grading hotels in Cuba needs to done with caution and the understanding that Cuba as a whole is on such a different level. It just doesn’t measure up to any of our common standards and grading systems because of its struggle to just get by.
More than simply being a poor country, the embargo has complicated Cuba’s ability to get anything into the country, even the most basic resources. Simple things such as updating floors, replacing broken door handles or fixing a leaky shower faucet become not only expensive but also impractical and overly complicated in Cuba. It is not as easy as a hotel manager (usually state employed) simply ordering a repair or new supplies. These supplies are simply unavailable in Cuba. The decades under the embargo have been very hard on Cuba and nowhere is this more obvious to visitors than in its hotels. Cuba’s struggle isn’t in keeping up with the outside world; its struggle is in simply maintaining the very basics.
What is the food like in Cuba?
Outside of Havana, chefs have to work with a substantially limited range of ingredients and the cuisine has very little foreign influence. The staples of all Cuban meals are rice and beans – sometimes combined together to make congri and sometimes cooked separately and served as white rice and black bean soup (potaje). Cubans eat these staples every single day.
The most common meat in Cuba is cerdo (pork). However, some places offer pollo (chicken) or pescado (fish).
Vegetarians beware... Fresh vegetables are limited in Cuba and in Cuban cuisine. However, fresh cabbage, tomatoes or cucumbers usually accompany your meal.
Gluten-free and dairy-free products are also very limited.
The food is so basic in Cuba that we highly suggest you bring along comfort items (teas, peanut butter, chocolates, etc.) as you will not be able to find any of these items in Cuba’s rationed shops (bodegas). As well, if you desire any specialty foods such as protein or granola bars, you should bring these with you to enhance your time in Cuba. Bringing these extras along with you is important, especially if you generally rely on them for energy throughout the day. Specialty foods and snacks are luxury items for Cubans and generally do not exist there.
If Cuba is poor, why is traveling to Cuba outside the resorts so expensive?
Cuba is certainly more expensive than you would expect and, in the last year, Cuba has become even more expensive in light of the heightened demand. For example, expect to pay around $20 USD for a decent meal in local currency (CUC, Cuban Convertible Currency). In fact, in answer to the new tourism demand, entrepreneurial Cubans have begun charging large sums for standard taxi rides and meals in prime locations.
Without understanding Cuba’s unique economy and currencies, you might feel that you are being treated unfairly or being given “tourist prices” that do not represent the real price. However, you are simply experiencing Cuba’s unique and divided economic system. The only pricing structure ALL foreigners have access to is the CUC (Cuban Convertible Currency). Meanwhile, Cubans are paid Cuban Pesos that has far less value. And the entire country is set up such that it is virtually impossible for a foreign visitor to access the local economy, with the rare exception of somewhere such as a farmer’s markets where you might buy something like fruit. However, beyond that, there is now way to access local prices.