Cuba by Bike

Biking around Cuba is a great way to get to know the Island and it’s people and culture. Why not getting to know the place this way? You are slower and less isolated than in a rented car or in a Víazul bus. In that way you have more contact to the people and might even need their help from time to time. By bike you have the opportunity to see small villages and secret beaches.
As the roads are not that busy in Cuba you could even bike on the “carretera nacional”, national highway.
There are several routes that are interesting to do by bike or by bike combined with other transports. There are also some things you should plan and bring if you plan to travel around by bike.
Great and interesting tours can be done all over the island. One really nice one is biking around the west of Cuba, along to tobacco plantations and beaches with white sand. Generally it’s possible to do all the routes also by bike, or combined by bike and bus.
Some ideas you could get from the routes section in the blog.

There are some things you should think about before you start your bike trip around Cuba.
First of all: Should you bring your own bike or rent one when you get here?
That depends on you. There are services like Cuba Ruta Bikes, that organize bike vacations in Cuba and also rent bikes and offer guides tours. That’s a great opportunity by the way, because you don’t have to plan your trip yourself and always have someday who knows the best ways and can explain you a lot.

If that’s no option for you and you love your bike, bring it! It’s not complicated to bring bikes to Cuba. Check with your Airline first, most of them, like Air Berlin or Air Canada offer to transport bikes for an additional cost, (usually about 100-150 $). Some Airlines, like Virgin Airlines already include the bike transport in the ticket price.

You also should bring the necessary tools, in case you’ll need them. You could also get help in a local “poncheria”, shops for repairing cars and tires, but it’s helpful to have special tools and tires, because they might not have it here. You also should bring a helmet, a light and a great lock.
Cuba is not a criminal place, but there are just a few good bikes, so they are a popular thing to be stolen. Make sure to lock them up!

Most of the Casas Particulares, have space to store the bikes inside over night.

If you decide to make your trip by bike, you start early in the morning because of the sun and the heat. Make also sure you bring something against mosquitos and that you drink enough water!
For more tipps and infos about biking in Cuba:
http://www.cubarutabikes.com

 

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Cuba on a Budget Part 1 

Visiting Cuba on a budget might not be the easiest but could be a lot of fun. First of all there are some things you should know about Cuba and tourism here.

Cuba’s main income is tourism, for the government and for private people. Besides that there are laws and rules that make backpacking or traveling on a really low budget harder sometimes. 

The easiest way to get around cheap in Cuba is to be a resident and/or student. In that way you pay less for entrances to museums and you can use the transportations for cubans (Astro Buses, cheaper shared cars and Camiones) 

To get a residency is not worth it if you just go on trip for a few weeks, but if you want to stay longer you should consider it. The easiest way is to do a language course at the university or the ISA (Instituto superior de Arte) and after some time you will get your own Cuban ID and are officially considered a local. 

Accommodation: 

First of all there are nearly no hostels in Cuba. There are two in Havana but almost none in other cities. That’s because for the people that rent rooms to foreigners it’s less convenient to rent to many persons as they have to report any single one to the migration and sometimes they earn more renting to less people. 

Also they have high fees to pay for the license and taxes. 

But everywhere you can find bnbs that charge around 20 – 25 CUC per room, per night. 

So here’s the tipp: do not travel alone. You will safe a lot of money. 

Food: 

On food you can safe a lot of your budget. You will hear from a lot people that just ate pizza to safe money but don’t worry you can actually eat a real meal for not so much more money. 

It’s true that you can get a lot of pizza for 10-15 CUP (50-60 cents). But you can also get a real dish for 35-60 CUP in a cafeteria. 

Cafeterías are run by private people and it’s common to find them serving food out of their garage or living room. Most cheap you will by just ordering rice and beans with eggs. But you could also get Ropa vieja or Bistec for around 35 CUP plus juice for 3-5 CUP. There are a lot of street food to eat during the day like Tamales that cost 8- 10 CUP, taste good and will help you to not get hungry in a while. 

If you stick to those kinds of Cafeterías you will have to calculate with around 10 CUC per day for food and drinks. 

Cuba’s size could be irritating 

Cuba is bigger than most people think! Ok, yes it’s a Caribbean island but it’s bigger than most of them. Cuba has a surface of 110.861km2 and the distance from North to South is around 150km and from East to West about 1250 km. Might look small compared to big countries but those distances in reality seem longer.

Why? The streets in Cuba a not really good, even the highways. That’s because trips from one place to another are longer than you expect them to be. With wholes in the streets and a speed limit of 110 km/h traveling in Cuba takes time. That’s the reason why I recommend not to plan too much for the time you are here because you will have to spend a lot of time on bumpy streets passing by bikes and carriages on the road.

If you travel by the Viazul bus trips usually take longer than by car because it also stops more and is a little slower. So that’s why sometimes trips from one city to another seem really long but really short when you just see the number of the distance.

It’s not too bad though but you should think about the size of the country and roads when you plan your trip.

Trinidad

Trinidad is a town in central south coast of Cuba. It’s quite small, over 500 years old and quite colorful. Trinidad is like a big open air museum and if you walk through the center of it you feel that. Over the years Trinidad turned into one of the biggest tourist attractions in Cuba.
The colonial town offers a lot of museums, places to eat and drink (each place with it’s own band), places to dance and to shop.
Trinidad was founded around 1514 and is the third oldest town in Cuba and pretty well preserved.
There you  can get a great idea of what a colonial town looked like back in the days. Trinidad got rich because of sugar and trading of slaves.
The history of the town can be discovered in various museums. One of them the “Museo de Historia Municipal”, also called “Palacio Cantero” wich was built in 1830 and is very well preserved. There you can get an idea of what houses of the upper class looked like and get an nice view on the city from a tower that belongs to the house.
The entrance costs 2 CUC and 2 CUP for Cubans and residents.
From Trinidad you also have many options to do excursions around in the Escambray mountains or to the beaches.
As Trinidad has many tourists there is also a lot nightlife and salsa dancing. Two of the most famous locations are the “casa de la musica”, open air on one of the main squares, and the “Disco Ayala” wich is a little outside of the city inside a cave.
Make sure you try the cocktail Chanchánchara, wich is typical for the town.
I also recommend to take a bike and visit La Boca and the beaches around Trinidad.
As Trinidad turned into a really touristic hotspot, there are a lot of scams and prices are quite expensive compared to other places in Cuba.
Trinidad can be also visited on a day trip from Cienfuegos.
I usually don’t recommend to stay to long in Trinidad as it can be exhausting and as I mentioned the city turned into a museum and sadly there are just a few natural things left about it. But it is beautiful.

Three Weeks, getting a better picture

Three weeks is a great time to discover a little more of Cuba  and to relax, well to just enjoy your time off.
There are several routes, that are recommendable for a period of three weeks. One, for example, could be flying to a city in the east and travel through the island until Havana,or the other way round.
I will recommend one that starts and ends in Havana, because most travelers fly to and from here. There will be another post of different routes from different starting points. This plan is one with a lot of moving an a lot of destinations.
For three weeks you could also amplify the two weeks post a little and include stops in Varadero and other locations.
Some of the things you can do in the different locations are in other posts, so just follow the links.
 

Day One – Day Three  

Arriving and spending some time in Havana. On this route I recommend to spend more days in Havana in the end than in the beginning. After seeing different parts of Cuba before the city will seem more attractive, without jet lag and so on.
So spend some days in Havana at the beginning and than come back.
As always I recommend to stay in the Vedado neighborhood.

Day Three – Day Five 

Go to Viñales and discover the nature and the tobacco fields. On your way there I recommend to visit Soroa. In Viñales you can think about staying one more day and make an excursion to one of the keys, like Cayo Levisa or Cayo Jutías.

Day Five – Day Nine 

Go to Cienfuegos. If the trip is to long from Viñales to Cienfuegos you can think about spending a Day in Playa Girón (The Bay of Pigs) and catch a day on the beach before leaving to Cienfuegos.

Day Nine- Day Eleven 

From Cienfuegos it’s just a short ride to colonial town Trinidad. In Trinidad you can learn a lot about colonial buildings and scams, so be aware. For the nights I recommend the Casa de La Musica, wich is open air and offers traditional music shows, or the nightclub in the Cave close to Trinidad. Every taxi driver will know where it is.

Day Eleven- Day Twelve

Make a stop in Camagüey and rest a little. After spending one night there most people have enough so take off to real east of Cuba.

Day Twelve – Day Fourteen

Visit Holguín and the beach Guardalavaca. Around Holguín there are some of nicest beaches in Cuba with white sand and clean water. The town is the cultural centre of eastern Cuba.

Day Fourteen- Day Sixteen

After Holguín make your way to Santiago the Cuba to visit the second biggest city in Cuba. Santiago is the home of Afro Cuban culture and a lot of music and completely different to cities in Western Cuban.
There you visit “El Cobre”, home of the Virgin and national Saint and a place for many pilgrims.
After your stay take the night bus back to Havana. Of course you can vary the duration of your stays in the different cities.

Day Seventeen- Day Twenty-one

Back in Havana you can enjoy the city a few days before you leave Cuba. In the Category Havana in this blog you can find some tips for the Capital.
Also if you fancy a tour or need help with Casas in Cuba or transport. Just “get in touch”.

Two Weeks: A General Overview

Two Weeks is good time for getting to know Cuba a little better. As in other posts I recommend don’t put to much places and things in your agenda. Of course this is just an idea of what you could visit in two weeks, there are a lot of different options.
This route contains some of the main sights and beaches in Western Cuba. Of course you can change the route in a different way or stay a different amount of days, this is just a suggestion.

Day One – Day Four 

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Discover Havana. Of course if land in Varadero or some of the other airports the route changes a little.
I think to enjoy Havana the most you should stay there some days at the beginning and some days at the end of the trip. Havana is a loud, hot and sometimes a little bit crazy city, so if you come back after a a trip to other places in Cuba you will see it differently.

Day Four – Day Six

Go on and go to Viñales, as I recommended in this post: One Week: Havana and some nature, I suggest to visit Soroa on your way.
Take a walk in the valley of Viñales, go climbing or horseback riding.
You also could think about staying a day longer and taking a trip to Cayo Jutías or Cayo Levisa

Day Six – Day Ten

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Boulevard in Cienfuegos
Go to Cienfuegos. Take the bus or a Taxi at the Busstation in Viñales and go down south. The trip takes a while (about 7 hours) but it’s the longest distance to travel in this route suggestion. If you don’t want to sit in a car or bus that long, make a stop in Havana and travel to Cienfuegos from there.
In Cienfuegos there are a lot of excursions you can do for example to the Nicho waterfalls or to Rancho Luna. I also to visit recommend Guanaroca to see flamingos in nature.
I Usually suggest to do Trinidad in one day as an excursion from Cienfuegos. You can go there by Taxi and for 40$ the driver takes you there, waits for you and take you back to Cienfuegos.
Of course you could also go to Trinidad for one or two nights and enjoy sights like the Casa de la Música or the Playa Ancón close by.
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Plaza Mayor Trinidad

Day Ten –  Day Fourteen

You could split the last days up and go to Trinidad for one night and than head back to Havana, or simply go back to Havana and enjoy more of the cities cultural life.
You also can think about making stops at Paya Giron or Santa Clara on this route.

Ten Days: Culture and Beach

Snip20160623_3You have ten days for your holidays and you want to relax but also see something, but trouble too much with driving around the island and spend a lot of time in buses or cars. If you have just ten days and want to go to beach and relax but as well get a little culture and learn about Cuba, you should split the time and spend some days in Havana and the rest on a Cayo, or in Varadero. In this way you have both culture and beach.
Depending on your preferences I recommend: six days in Havana and 4 days in Varadero, or if you are more into lying on the beach the other way round.
For tips what to in Havana check the other posts or ask me directly.
The Viazul bus to Varadero just takes about 2-3 hours and costs about 12$.
If you want to take a taxi on your own it’s about 90$.
In Varadero there are a few BnBs, but they are booked out pretty fast, so if you want stay in a Casa Particular and not in an All inclusive Hotel, you should consider reserving in advance.
Or you could consider a few days in one of the hotels to relax completely.
Varadero is quite touristic and because of that more expensive than other places in Cuba.

One Week: Havana and some Nature

If you just have one week to discover Cuba I recommend not to overload it with activity and traveling all around wanting to see everything. Usually there are so many impressions you will need a little to process them, also you are on holiday, so relax a little!
Let me tell you: Cuba is bigger than most people think! Traveling around takes time and is not so fast and easy as it looks on a map.
If you just have a Week take time stay in Havana, go to beaches close by and maybe take a little trip to Viñales and discover some unique nature!
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This what a possible trip like this could look like:

Day one:

 
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Arriving and orientating. Whatever you feel like. I suggest to visit or the neighborhood you stay in or the old town at the first day. On my tours I usually take people the first day to neighborhood their BnB is in, so they know how to get around.
Or take them to Habana Vieja (Old Havana) to visit the touristic sights and take them to part of old Havana where people actually life.

Day two: 

 
Time to discover another neigborhood of Havana. Like Centro Habana or the Vedado. There will an article about what to do in the different neighborhoods!

Day three: 

 
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Take a break go to beach! Best way to go to the beaches around Havana is the Bus that leaves from the Parque Central in Old Havana, near the Capitol.
It charges 5CUC (there and back) leaves every 40 Minutes and has air condition. The last one back to city leaves the Beach Santa María at 6 p.m..
The Playas del Este are beautiful beaches with white sand and blue water. I recommend to go to Santa María and get off at the first stop of Santa María, there you can rent an umbrella for 2 CUC the whole day and don’t have to worry so much about loosing stuff.
Also very nice is Tarará, it is not that long and big as Santa María, but very well maintained.
You can also take a Taxi to the beaches. They charge about 15- 20 CUC. 

Day Four:

 
 
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Leaving for Viñales. Take some kind of Transportation and go to Viñales. If you have the possibility to stop on your way, you should also visit Soroa and/or Las Terrazas. Those are beautiful places with nature and interesting things to visit like the Orquidario in Soroa where you can see about 300  different types of orchids.
The trip tp Viñales takes about 2,5 hours.
In Viñales you can take a trip around the Vally and one visit different spots like Caves and other sights. I recommend the second one for the first day.
There is a bus taking tourist around wich costs 6 CUC. But taxis take you around for the same price and they are usually more willing to wait. You can also rent a bike.
There will be a separate post about Viñales soon. Also with recommendations of BnBs and places to eat.

Day five: 

Take trip around the valley. You can do that by hiking or by horse. Ask the owner of the BnB you stay in, they usually know somebody that can guide you around and explain plants and anything about the valley to you.
Prices for the basic tours are about 15 CUC – 25CUC per person and take about 2-4 Hours. You can also ask for longer hiking trips.
Head back to Havana in late afternoon/ evening.

Day Six:

Back in Havana I suggest take that day for visiting museums like Bellas Artes and The Revolution Museum.
If you are not into that cross the bay and visit the Christ Statue, Che Guevara’s House and the fortress.

Day Seven:

 
If you have time left visit the Arts and Crafts Market in the port of Havana. It is amazing even if you don’t want to buy souvenirs.
Of course this is just a suggestion. You can structure your trip however you want. But if do not really know what to do in that time, this plan worked out for many of my clients.

If you are interested in doing a tour in Havana to learn more about it: http://www.indie-tours.de. Private tours are about 40 CUC per day (not per person).