When my boyfriend Adam & I claim we are a couple of amateur cyclists, we’re really not kidding! We were completely unprepared for our cycle tour in Cuba but WE DID IT! We pushed through the kilometres (almost 400 of them) & the pain (mainly of the saddle sore variety) from Havana all the way down to Trinidad.
We experienced Cuba in way that just would not have been possible by bus, we passed through some really remote places & as people kept telling us “saw the real Cuba”.
As a couple we developed a different aspect of our relationship, I suppose in a sense the “teamwork” aspect. There were points where we really had to keep each other motivated & points where we probably just wanted to throttle one another but we achieved what we set out to do & we did it, together, which as a result has brought us even closer today.
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How The Idea Evolved
When I visited Cuba in June of 2015 I thought to myself what a fantastic idea it would be to cycle around the Caribbean Island. As well as the beautiful scenery, it is relatively flat, there’s hardly any traffic & it’s very safe to travel. All of this, I thought, would make for an amazing solo cycle tour!
Once Adam & I had decided we wanted to go travelling, I mentioned Cuba to him & my cycling idea. He was well up for the adventure! So that was that, we were going to go on a cycle tour in Cuba!
Pre – Planning
As our cycle tour in Cuba was one small part of a big trip we were getting ready for I suppose in hindsight we didn’t give it as much thought as we should have.
It was a busy month before we set off from the UK, with me leaving my job, packing up the house & along with this saying goodbye to our family & friends. Considering everything that was going on we decided it would be best to purchase our bikes & everything we needed to go with them on our 5 day stop off in Toronto, on the way to Cuba.
We really could have done with a bit more time planning but we what we did have was a list of everything we thought we needed & left the UK armed only with that!
We had both cycled in the past but nothing on the scale we had planned! We had just over 2 weeks & wanted to get from Havana to Trinidad as well as stop & see places on the way.
After 4 weeks in Havana before we were dues to set off we had plenty of time to figure out our route. To put our plan together we mainly used maps.me as well as various maps that we had picked up at the tourist information centres in Havana.
We ended up with a rough plan & that was that, we were off!
Below details the whole route we took & everything we saw in Cuba
Each day on the road was so different, we found that each had its challenges & each had its rewards.
Something else we learnt was not only to take one day at a time but take each kilometre at a time & having to adapt to this mindset really was amazing. When you are cycling you tend to take more in any way, than say you would in a car or on a bus, your senses are totally open & taking everything as it happened brought with such a sense of freedom we absolutely loved it!
Day by Day
We were on the road for 15 days in total with our total full cycling days being 7, below is a breakdown & a little more info on how each of them went:
Havana (Miramar) to El Fraile | Terrain: Moderate inclines
Distance cycled: 77km | Time: 6 hours 54 mins | Average speed: 11.1 km/h | Max speed 35.2 km/h
When we set off from Havana with our bikes fully loaded we were feeling great, we were about to start our big adventure & what an adventure day 1 turned out to be – it certainly had it ups but it definitely had it’s downs too!
In hindsight we had tried to carry far too much on a pair of mountain bikes, a lot of which was reviewed & ditched over the next couple of days. Carrying too much stuff meant that we had 4 punctures between us that 1st day, the first few we just took as something we would need to do if cycling long distances but the last one was just a little too much. It was around 5:15 pm & would soon be getting dark when Adam’s tyre went again. We were about 12 km from where we were aiming to stop so we tried to put some air in the tyre to see if it would last out. Adam started to pump the tyre when it suddenly exploded right in his ear! By this point we were both exhausted & now had a completely blown tyre & one of us with ringing in our ear! I remember thinking at that point that maybe the whole thing wasn’t a great idea & actually started to feel really sad! Adam however was determined that we got the tyre quickly fixed & got back on the road, so we did just that & just as it was turning dark arrived in the small town of El Fraile.
When we arrived people were just looking at us as if we were lost, I’m sure that people pass through the place all of the time but stopping there was another story. We stopped at a local restaurant & asked where we could find a casa particular, they pointed us in the direction of the beach & we found somewhere right on the seafront in a nice family home, or so we thought. On first impression everything seemed fine with the room which was right at the back of the house, we unpacked the bikes & pretty much collapsed in a heap after such a long & trying day! It was only when we started to adjust a little more to our surroundings that we took a little more notice of where we actually were. There was a sign on the fridge offering food & drinks but also detailing the prices for the room, which included rates per hour! Looking around the room it also had a very odd choice of decor & posters for a guest house but to be honest by this point we were far too tired to care & quickly fell asleep!
Havana El Fraile to Mantanzas | Terrain: Moderate inclines
Distance cycled: 39.6km | Time: 3 hours 39 mins | Average speed: 10.8 km/h | Max speed 34.8 km/h
After such a big first day we thought it would be sensible & more enjoyable to cover less distance on our 2nd & take some time to stop & enjoy the scenery a little more. This was probably our favourite day of all that we had on the road in Cuba.
We came off of the autopista (motorway) & into the Valle de Yumuri & it was incredible. We passed through tiny villages with pretty much nothing in them other than homes, a shop & a school. When we stopped for lunch in true Cuban style one of the locals offered us a mojito at his home!
When it was time to get back on the road after lunch we figured out a route that we could take which meant that we wouldn’t have to tackle a big hill. This seemed like the most sensible option with all of the stuff we were still carrying & the very strong mojito we had just consumed!
The route was much flatter as it took us around the mountain but the road was, well not really a road & was full of rocks & stones. We were in full spirits after a morning of incredible scenery & mojitos so we just carried on cycling, then suddenly another puncture happened! By this point we were only 2 km from Mantanzas so I decided rather than take the time to fix it I would just push my bike the rest of the way.
We were quite happy walking along & pushing our bikes when a local on his horse & cart stopped to ask us what was wrong. We explained that we had a puncture & were happy walking but he was having none of it, he insisting on helping us fix the puncture & if that didn’t work he was going to put us into the cart along with the bikes & take us to Mantanzas. We had learnt by this point there was no point in arguing with a Cuban so the puncture was fixed & off we cycled, arriving shortly after in Mantanzas.
Mantanzas to Varadero | Terrain: Flat
Distance cycled: 39.5km | Time: 3 hours 40 mins | Average speed: 10.7 km/h | Max speed 28.7 km/h
We had a little chat with each other in Mantanzas & decided to decrease the load we were carrying considerably by leaving a load of stuff at the guest house that we stayed at.
We set off from Mantanzas feeling lighter & full of energy to take on the completely flat cycle that we had ahead of us, we’d be there in no time, or so we thought!
The first half on the cycle was great, we took the road that ran just beside the autopista & sped through it in no time. Then we got back onto the autopista & the wind came! It was horrible!
We were cycling & felt as though we were not moving at all, it was relentless. Adam’s mood dropped massively & we were stopping every km or so to try to pick him back up again, I tried everything to try to cheer him up including singing songs to him but nothing would work! Eventually he started to feel a little better, then, it was my turn to dip, he did the same with me, trying to motivate me to keep going!
I think the worst thing about cycling against the wind is that it really feels like you are going nowhere, it’s not like a big hill where you come back down the other side again it is just constant effort & energy for what it seemed like not much back at all.
We did however push on through with the first beer that we had in Varadero tasting like the best of our lives!
Enjoyed some beach time & stayed overnight in Varadero
Varadero to Cárdenas | Terrain: Flat
Distance cycled: 20.9 km | Time: 1 hour 51 mins | Average speed: 11.3 km/h | Max speed 22.4 km/h
As I really wanted to visit Cardenas & it was such a short distance after our terrible day with the wind we decided we to go for it! After all for us our cycling tour was as much about stopping off & seeing the country as the cycling itself.
The roads were deadly silent, which only amplified the very loud squeak that Adam’s bike had now developed!
We passed through small villages & watched the locals going about their daily lives, we passed through kilometres of farmland & at one point were joined by a very happy farmer & his very cute jack russell.
It was a nice cycle & even nicer to arrive in Cárdenas, which is a proper Cuban town where time really has stood still. We enjoyed a few days there wandering around its crumbling streets, taking a horse & cart around town & admiring it’s pretty squares. Here was where, out of anywhere we visited in Cuba, we really felt like we had taken a step back in time!
Day 6 & 7
Took some time to relax & stayed in Cárdenas
Cárdenas to Playa Larga | Terrain: Flat
Distance cycled: 92.2 km | Time: 6 hours 36 mins | Average speed: 13.4 km/h | Max speed 28.4 km/h
We had only planned on cycling 60 km on this day as after our previous mishaps we had agreed that 60 km should probably be our maximum target!
Plus with us both being so unprepared we had cycled this far with no cycle gloves, which by this point meant that pretty much half of each of my hands was completely tingling! The saddle soreness was also an issue as we both, surprise, surprise did not have proper cycle shorts with us either. In most countries these problems would have easily been fixed by simply going to the store & buying what you needed, but this was Cuba & these things were just not available.
We said goodbye to Cárdenas & set off with our ailments & seemed to make amazing progress within the first couple of hours. Between us we seemed to get a big momentum going & the kilometres seemed to zoom by!
After 60 km & reaching the town of Jaguey Grande which we didn’t much like the look of at all we decided to push on through the extra 30 km or so all the way to Playa Larga.
We got there in plenty of time before it got dark & managed to get through the last 20 km or so in no time. I am sure this was partly to do with the fact that we were cycling across a swamp & the prospect of crocodiles jumping out at us was enough to make our legs move a little faster.
By the time we got to Playa Larga we were sweaty, dirty & pretty exhausted – We were definitely ready for a few beach days!
Day 9, 10 & 11
Beach time, chilling & snorkeling at Playa Larga
Playa Larga to Playa Giron | Terrain: Flat
Distance cycled: 35.5 km | Time: 2 hours 20 mins | Average speed: 15.1 km/h | Max speed 22 km/h
After quite a few days chilling out we were well up for getting back on the road again.
With us covering such a short distance here compared to our last day’s cycling we decided we’d also use the opportunity to stop off for a spot of snorkelling, of which there are plenty to choose from on the way.
After snorkelling we continued down the quiet coastal road. Pretty much the only noise we could hear was Adam’s squeaky bike, the occasional road worker greeting us & the sound of the waves. It was a lovely day of cycling.
Playa Giron to Cienfuegos | Cheated & travelled by bus
Ok, so we cheated! but we really didn’t mean to! We were planning on staying in Playa Larga an extra night but there was really not an awful lot going on there & there was also not very much of a vibe so we decided rather than stay somewhere we were not enjoying we would leave!
By the time we decided it was afternoon & too late to start cycling over 60 km so we took the next available (this being a very rare thing) bus to the beautiful city of Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos was lovely, it had a different feel to it than anywhere else we had been in Cuba. We spent a couple of days there enjoying it’s relatively chilled vibe.
Soaking up Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos to Trinidad | Terrain: Lots of inclines, some very steep
Distance cycled: 82.3 km | Time: 7 hours 32 mins | Average speed: 11.2 km/h | Max speed 32.7 km/h
This was our last day of cycling & probably the most challenging! Mainly because of the hills, loads of them! Never the less we enjoyed it & as we kept telling each other to keep the motivation going “what goes up, must come down!”
The hills however, rewarded us with spectacular scenery & we also had the feeling of having cycled almost 400km together. A pair of complete novice cyclists & as most of the Cuban people we met along the way told us, a pair of “loca touristas!”
To be honest maybe we were but we really did have the adventure of a lifetime!
What We Did Afterwards
We had a flight booked out of Havana shortly after we arrived in Trinidad so our only option was to get the bus back to the capital and finish our cycle tour in Cuba.
We said goodbye to our bikes, which we sold to a bike hire company in Havana & flew to Mexico, where we are right now, to continue our adventure in a slightly different way than we had actually gotten quite used to.
Our Cycling Facts
- Total kilometres cycled: 387
- Total hours cycled: 30.72
- Average speed: 11.9 km/h
- Punctures incurred: 5
- Litres of water drank: 53
- Pan con jamon y queso (ham & cheese sanwiches) consumed: 38
- Number of fly/mosquitoes swallowed between us: aprx 5 plus one that got stuck in Adam’s eye!
- Number of dog friends made: 6
- Amount of time we were asked if we would like a taxi, even though we were on our bikes: 2
- Favourite places we cycled to: Cárdenas & Cienfuegos
- Least favourite: Playa Giron
- Worst day cycling: Day 1
- Best day: Day 2