Hundreds of kilometers of Cuban roads – most of them paved – can be traversed by car or bus. If you’re after speed, comfort, and ease, this is the way to go. But if you want to mix and mingle with Cubans, be part of the landscape rather than just whizz by it, and experience a more authentic slice of daily life, a bicycle is the perfect solution.
Cycling was once a way of life in Cuba: the withdrawal of Soviet aid in the 1990s, combined with fuel shortages and the effects of the US embargo, led the country to take to two wheels out of necessity. Thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of durable Flying Pigeon bicycles were imported from China and began appearing on the streets the length and breadth of Cuba.
Cubans – ever practical and flashy – started transforming the sturdy Chinese steeds, mounting crates on the back for hauling goods, installing crafty wooden seats on the front for toting children, and even adding small engines, creating a motorized bike known locally as the “Rikimbili”.
The natural landscapes; the lively and engaging population; the absent road traffic; the climate; and access to handy bicycle mechanics make Cuba a cycling paradise. You can plan your own route or opt for a guided tour with a well-balanced daily itinerary combining bus/bike legs.
Independent cyclists often prefer staying in a ‘casa particular,’ the Cuban version of a bed & breakfast. The advantages to this type of accommodation are that guests have the opportunity for a personal socio-cultural encounter with their hosts and bikes can always be parked safely somewhere.
Havana is a wonderful cycling city. If you want to give it a try, there’s a highly recommended starter package – a sort of Havana appetizer – including a guided walking tour in the morning and a cycling tour in the afternoon; bikes are provided for participants, so you don’t have to bring yours with you.
Cuba’s roads vary from very good – especially near major resorts – to absurdly potholed in some urban neighborhoods. In rural areas, dirt roads may also be encountered. Nevertheless, cyclists consider Cuba an excellent destination for the lack of traffic and the experience Cuban drivers have sharing the road with bikes.
On the whole, Cuba is fairly flat, so easy to traverse on bike. The exception is in some areas in the western, south-central and eastern parts of the island, where a mountain bike is preferable.
Western and central Cuba have extraordinary cycling terrain. You can start with a relaxed pedal from Havana to Las Terrazas before continuing to Viñales, where although the area is mountainous, the valley itself has a nice, flat trajectory.
The "overpass" to central Cuba – with treasures like Cienfuegos and Trinidad – is admittedly long and less attractive in terms of landscape. Cuba has no official transportation system for cyclists, but often an agreement with a taxi driver can be made or put your bike on a bus in order to avoid pedaling the more monotonous legs of the journey.
Though cycling is good all year round, climate can be a factor. Hurricane season is from June to November, for example and the months of July, August and September are characterized by high temperatures and even higher humidity. In May and June, refreshing (afternoon) showers are common. Temperatures from November to March/April are ideal, although occasional cold fronts can enter the country, sometimes with precipitation. Mainly, your trip requires good day-planning with early morning departures and realistic daily distances.