November 2000 (via Mexico) to Havana
We rode East and then returned to Havana
Airport to Old City 25Ks
The best way is to ask directions since it’s not always obvious which way to go. Out of the airport, cross over Independencia Avenue on the first road right (north) toward the city. Basically we followed the train tracks in. It’s busy and a little hilly but wide. More and more congested as you go but okay for an urban bike ride. We took different ways four different times. In Havana, riding along the Malecon is recommended. Many minor streets are bumpy, broken, but quiet.
Havana to Matanzas 102Ks
Via the Via Blanca (for better way, see later route Matanzas to Havana and go backwards.) Not a great trip. Winds always out of the east. Bikes can’t go to the other side of the bay via the tunnel so take the “cyclobus” which you get behind the Capitolio near Dragones street. Off on the east side of the bay. Via Blanca, four lanes with a bike lane. Light traffic, dull scenery even along the sea. It’s possible to ride on some side roads near the resorts. After resorts, through limestone rocks, mangrove swamps and oil wells. There’s a climb as the road turns south. Views of Varadero beach. More traffic into Matanzas.
Matanzas to Australia 115Ks
Across the river then right toward Union de Reyes on a minor road (41Ks). Two lanes quiet. Climb up to a plateau through sugar cane and agriculture. Then to Pedro Betancourt 31Ks. Right on a gradual descent to Australia just past the junction with the National Autopista. Not a pretty ride.
Australia to Playa Giron 65Ks
Flat with swamp on both sides. 30Ks to Playa Larga. Nothing special. Light traffic. Then 35Ks to Playa Giron. Boring.
Playa Giron to Cienfuegos 95Ks
Flat and not very interesting at first. Then through sugar cane and crops. 47Ks to Yaguaramas. Then 48Ks to Cienfuegos. A broad boulevard into town. It’s an interesting town. Be sure to ride out on the narrow peninsula to Punta Gorda
Cienfuegas to Trinidad 83Ks
Some minor hills with mountains in the background. Ranch country with real cowboys. Finally it’s interesting and scenic. It flattens out along the coast. Many long beaches. Cobblestone streets in Trinidad. Nice city..
Trinidad to Sancti Spiritus 73Ks
(Initially we were going to go straight to Santa Clara but other bikers said the road was narrow, steep, and terrible. The route from Manicaragua to Santa Clara is reputed to be “one of the most scenic drives in Cuba”. So to Sancti Spiritus. Into the strong wind, away from the coast up a pretty valley with sugar cane fields. Going north, the wind is from the side but when heading east, the wind is tough. Rolling hills, quiet on a good road. Sancti Spiritus was confusing but we finally found the Centro. Inland, it’s hotter at night.
Sancti Spiritus to Remedios
Traffic out of town and some hills. 22Ks to Cabaigan then another 5Ks to the junction with the Autopista. After this, there is much less traffic on the Carretera Central to Placetas 25Ks. North (right) to Remedios 34Ks on a quiet road.
Remedios to Santa Clara 64Ks
(There is a direct route to Santa Clara (45Ks) which we wanted to take but we had to go back to Sancti Spiritus). Back to Placetas 34Ks then west on the Carretera Central to Santa Clara 30Ks. Nothing special.
Santa Clara to Matanzas 183Ks
Tail winds help on a long ride. No traffic. Long stretches of sugar cane fields, flat. Small towns along the way. We took a taxi (a 1947 Oldsmobile which is big enough for our two bikes and us) for 20Ks between two towns so that we could make the distance to Matanzas. Hot and sunny but an enjoyable short rainfall refreshed us. Dull but fast.
Maranzas to Havana 105Ks
A better way back to Havana. Out of town on Calzada de Esteban not on the Via Blanca. Climb out of town. Then toward Madruga (32Ks). Then 21Ks to Autopista junction. 12Ks to San Jose. 24Ks to the Havana outskirts. The early ride is beautiful, then you finish through all of Havana so it’s a lot of urban riding. It is a tradeoff.
Our 2nd trip through Canada to Havana and back in November 2001. We rode to the west of Havana.
Havana to Hemingway Marina 17Ks
Great ride out on the Malecon. Wide, light traffic and often a bike lane (or a wide sidewalk) along the sea. A rainy day so we were cut short. In Miramar you can ride on 1st or 3rd Avenues. They are quieter.
Hemingway Marina to Bahia Hondo 90Ks
Continue on coast road. Four lanes and flat. Very light traffic. In Muriel, there’s a huge cement factory. Poor scenery even along the coast. The two lane coast road has small hills and ridges with views of small mountains and palm trees in the distance. Also through sugarcane fields. Into Bahia Hondo.
Bahia Hondo to Vinales 85Ks
The coast road is called Circuito Norte. The land turns deep rust red. The scenery improves. Through La Palma (there’s food here). 10Ks west of La Palma is the junction for Vinales. Beautiful limestone formations looming over tobacco fields. Mostly flat and quiet. Great riding. The sleepy town of Vinales is one of the most charming in all Cuba.
Vinales to Pinar del Rio 62Ks (through Pons)
Great ride. Red earth and limestone cliffs. 32Ks to Pons, then 9Ks to Cabeza. Long steady 7K climb out of Cabeza. The direct way from Vinales to Pinar del Rio is only 25Ks.
Pinar del Rio to San Cristoble 90Ks
The roads are busy around Pinar which is a big city. There are a few side streets to take but once on the central highway in town it’s busy. Out of town it’s quieter. We had to detour into San Diego de la Banos because the bridge was flooded. Into the wind. Actually into San Diego de la Banos was a better, quieter, more interesting way and only 10Ks further. The Carretera Central is rather dull. No “real” hotel or casa particular in San Diego de la Banos but we stayed in a “love motel” (illegal, uncomfortable and weird.)
San Cristoble to Havana 90Ks
Good road. The central highway, mostly flat, boring, more and more traffic but manageable. A long way through outskirts of Havana.
Havana to Pinar del Rio (2nd time. We repeated the trip with a few minor changes. See below)
A second time on the same route. To Bahia Hondo then to Vinales. From Vinales to Pinar del Rio through Pons. Returning we overnighted in San Diego de las Banos, then Soroa which is 8Ks off the Carretera Central.
Soroa to Havana 90Ks through Terrazas
Continue on to Terrazas (it’s 1K off road), then toward the Autopista but take the back road to left to Guanajay. Good ride on a ridge with views of palms, fields and ocean. Also cowboy country. No signs but people are helpful. After Guanajay, take the Carretera Central which runs along the railroad and then into Havana.
In Trinidad, we met two young Swiss guys in their late 20’s who were on their first bike tour and having the time of their lives. We shared bike stories standing in the central square for a long time.. “So let’s have dinner.” We took them to the “private” restaurant we had enjoyed so much the night before. We loved Julio, the large entrepreneurial and outspoken owner. The restaurant was in a beautiful old home and there were tables in the flowered central courtyard. Most of the private restaurants in Cuba are limited to a maximum of 10 people but Julio had at least 20 tables. We asked how he got by with this, “I serve excellent food and give the government officials a big discount.” Our Swiss friends asked Julio where they might buy some art. “Come to my house”. A little later, we asked, “Where can we buy the old currency for souvenirs?” Julio’s reply “Come to my house.”
We follow Julio to his home not far from his restaurant after dinner. He sells us old bank notes signed by Che Guevara who was the head of the Treasury at one time. We are mesmerized by all his art and small sculptures by local artists. Every inch of the walls are covered with art. Finally, he shares his dream of one day owning a Cuban Baseball Team, which would compete in the American League. His name for the Baseball Team will be, “The Sugar Kings”. He has figured the system out. We think he’ll be the richest man in Cuba once Fidel is gone.
The next morning the Swiss planned a Taxi back to Varadero to fly home. They were short of time. They had reserved a 1952 Oldsmobile Taxi (most of the old American cars are now taxies) and planned to luxuriate in the back seat with Cuban cigars. We arrived to see them off. The taxi was stuffed with passengers but the driver did give them preferential seating. They were on the passenger side, one blond head in the front seat window and the other directly behind with cigars aglow, elbows out the windows and wearing big smiles as they flicked ashes goodbye to us.
I would never walk out on to a stage with Ballet dancers and I would never get up and dance with the Cubans for the same reason. The tourists watch and the Cubans dance. However, one night, in Havana, with two brilliant Cuban couples dancing up a storm, a couple from Houston, Texas took the floor. He was slightly paunchy, she was svelte and dark. They blew the Cubans away. They had all the moves and rhythm. We were all curious and envious. It turned out that dancing was their reason for visiting Cuba and she had been born in Turkey and was an accomplished belly dancer. Score one for the tourists.