Cycle the length of Cuba
Original post: Another World Adventures
Cuba – synonymous with music, beaches, old cars, colonial architecture and a revolutionary history. A time-warn but magnificent place of contradictions, still reeling from an embargo that lasted for over 50 years but now on the precipice of change.
The beautiful and lively island is the Caribbean’s largest but still a perfect size for exploring on 2 wheels. January to April is generally the best time to cycle the length of Cuba being the coolest and driest time of the year. Get away from the package tours and all-inclusive resorts and explore its diverse landscapes and the traditional way of life that continues for much of the island’s population.
Fly into the capital Havana and start your cycling adventure in a city that is still relatively light on traffic. Ride along the waterfront at Malecon, cycle through Miramar and Vedado districts and see the dominating Plaza de la Revolucion. Park your bike for a sight-seeing tour in the heart of Old Havana and leave it behind for a night of hoping between salsa bars and sampling rum cocktails.
From the capital cycle through Matanzas province, full of sugar cane ad citrus plantations where you’ll come across the occasional sleepy village. You’ll most likely want to make a stop at the Bay of Pigs, not only because it its historical significance as the site of the failed invasion by CIA-backed Cuban Americans but also because it has some fantastic beaches perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
Continuing south to cross the island you could ride through Cuba’s largest swamp at Zapata’s Peninsula and into the heartland of rural Cuba where small communities are dedicated to agriculture and charcoal production. Further along the coast road you’ll hit the beautiful city of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988. Explore its meticulously preserved and colourful cobbled streets which feel almost unchanged since the 1850’s with horse drawn carts, illustrious colonial-style mansions and melodic, guitar-wielding troubadours.
If you’re feeling fit (and haven’t had too many rums) you could pit yourself against Cuba’s highest mountain range, the 300km-long Sierra Maestra. Little visited by tourists, its an area of stunning natural beauty, tropical forest and coffee plantations and well-worth parking the bike to explore of foot as well. From here you can ride to Santiago de Cuba. A hotbed of rebellion, the city’s cultural influences have long come from the east and owe as much to French-Haitian culture as they do to Spanish traditions. Santiago hosts a fantastic West Indian–style carnival and is home to numerous folk dance groups so well worth taking a break from the saddle to enjoy it for a night or two.
After all that cycling you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a nice place to kip at night and a good meal in your belly. Raúl Castro’s easing of restrictions on private business in 2011 has been particularly beneficial for the tourism industry and many homes now operate as ‘Casas Particulares’ offering a bed and breakfast-type accommodation thats a world away from the large hotels. Other Cuban families have opened small restaurants in their homes known as ‘Paladares’ which offer a wonderful opportunity to try authentic, Cuban food.
With diplomatic relations reestablished between Cuba and the USA last year, speculation is rife about how wider foreign influences will affect this country long accustomed to socialism. But whatever happens over the next 10 years or so its a fascinating time to be visiting a fascinating place.