Long quiet roads, stirring scenery and welcoming locals make Cuba a near-perfect destination to explore on two wheels. Travelling by motorcycle or bicycle not only gives you a chance to get immersed in multiple places, but you can also experience authentic Cuban hospitality along the way. In fact, a slow-paced road trip through the country is probably the best way to see the real Cuba.
Tours by bike
The bucolic terraces and valleys of western Cuba are ideal to explore by bike. You can design some great self-guided cycling routes. But to make things easy, there are guided one and two-week bike tours of the region that meander between the humped "mogote" hills and rust-coloured tobacco fields of Pinar del Rio and the UNESCO-listed Vinales Valley, and the little eco-communities of Las Terrazas and Soroa.
Trails around the biosphere reserve of Las Terrazas take you through lush natural surrounds, while the tropical retreat of Soroa in the Sierra del Rosario mountains has winding forested paths ripe for two-wheeled exploration. Fortunately the two settlements are linked by a single quiet mountain road. The cycling route includes a pause at the tropical beach of Cayo Jutias, stops at cultural and historic hotspots including the grotto that was once Che Guevara’s rebel headquarters, plus a ride through Havana culminating in a visit to the fantastic rum museum.
Guided tours supply bicycles and transport for your luggage, plus there’s a support bus which you can hop on board if you want to give your legs a rest. Many tours provide a minibus to transport you between key locations, allowing you to see more of the country in a shorter time.
Though Cuba is the biggest island nation in the Caribbean, you can still traverse great chunks of the country by bike. In central Cuba, 70 kilometres of peaceful rural roads between Sancti Spiritus and the heritage town of Trinidad offer intrepid cyclists a chance to bask in sea and mountain panoramas and spot cowboys patrolling the plains on horseback. You can also catch the bus between certain places, making the route easier for less experienced cyclists.
Travellers seeking a longer route covering Central Cuba could consider the road between the revolutionary city of Santa Clara, renowned for its landmarks linked to the Cuban revolution, and the grand French-influenced city of Cienfuegos, known as the Pearl of the South. Around 220km of sealed lanes link the start and end points of the route, passing through Manicaragua and Topes de Collante, the colourful colonial streets of Trinidad, the white sand beaches of Playa Ancon, and the verdant settlement of Guajimico in the foothills of the mountains.
It’s also possible to explore the section of Cuba between Cienfuegos and the vibrant capital Havana via idyllic beaches and verdant valleys. Leaving Havana, the journey takes in the tropical sands of Playa Santa Maria, Playa Larga and Playa Giron as well as the legendary valley of Valle de Yumuri, before arriving in Cienfuegos. On a bike trek lasting around 10 days and covering more than 550km you can continue on to discover Guajimico, Playa Ancon, Trinidad and Santa Clara.
If you’re after a classic mix of cultural cities and paradise beaches, there are several cycling itineraries that offer both, some of which cover vast distances of up to 900km and would take several weeks to complete. From Vinales in western Cuba you can cycle to Artemisa, La Salud and Jaguey Grande and on to the beaches of Playa Larga and Playa Giron before visiting the central Cuban city of Cienfuegos, UNESCO-listed Trinidad and finally ending at Playas de la Boca.
Alternatively you can ride from the white sands of southern Ancon to Trinidad, and on to Santa Clara via Casilda and Hanabanilla. From Santa Clara head to the northern beach resort of Varadero, pretty Playa Jibacoa, Santa Maria del Mar and finish in the time-warp streets of Havana. If you have a limited amount of time in Cuba, you can choose a section of the routes to concentrate on and use local buses to reach the start and end points.
Eastern Cuba isn’t out of bounds for cyclists either. There’s an eastern loop along good roads that leads cyclists from the city of Holguin tMayari, beautiful Cayo Saetia, Sagua de Tanamo, Moa, and the colourful far eastern town of Baracoa. Then onwards through the south-east of the island to Guantanamo, Palma Soriano and the culturally-rich city of Santiago de Cuba, famed for its Afro-Cuban music and dancing. From Santiago de Cuba, the route continues to Bayamo and the coastal town of Manzanillo, completing a journey that covers more than 820 kilometres and encompasses all the main spots in the east of the country.
For a truly epic journey connecting the dots across the backbone of the country from the east all the way to Havana, you could consider taking an internal flight to Santiago de Cuba and then hitting the road back to the capital. Stopping over in Contramaestre, Las Tunas, Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Cayo Coco, Moron, Remedios, Santo Domingo, Coliseo and Guanabo, the road trip is roughly 964 kilometres long.
Motorbike riders are in for a real treat in Cuba, as there are some great bespoke tours where you can explore the country in style on a BMW or Harley Davidson motorcycle. Cuban national hero and motorcycle enthusiast Che Guevara, who charted his journey across South America on two wheels in his biopic "The Motorcycle Diaries", has blazed a trail across Cuba. And his son now leads a seven-day Harley Davidson tour that takes in some key sights connected to the famous revolutionary.
For female bikers, girls-only motorbike tours of Cuba are being offered by two US travel companies. There are also nine-day tours that cover the country between Havana and Santa Clara via sealed roads, or six-day itineraries looping around western Cuba to Vinales Valley and back to Old Havana.
Challenges and marathons
For those who relish a challenge and have a strong pair of legs, there are a few races and tours of Cuba designed just for you. Traversing the western portion of Cuba from Havana to Las Terrazas, Saroa, Vinales and finishing on the tropical beaches of Cayo Jutias, the Titan Tropic multi-stage mountain bike race, now in its third year, takes place in December. The 450-kilometre-long trail twists and turns along winding roads and narrow paths through the tropical valleys and forested hills between Havana and western Cuba.
Global Adventure Challenge has also scheduled some intrepid bicycle trips around Cuba ranging over 410-kilometres through Havana, Sancti Spiritus and Santa Clara and stopping off in little-known places.
Biking travel tips
Bicycle tours usually cover 30-60 kilometres per day depending on level of fitness and experience, but you’ll want to travel slow through Cuba’s beautiful landscapes, stopping to meet the friendly locals and take it all in, so don’t plan to cycle too far in a day. Unless you’ve been training or cycle all the time, you’ll be slower on your first day and gradually get faster over the tour. Guided tours usually include leisure time and cater for different levels of experience, plus bike and a backup vehicle for luggage is provided.
If you are doing a self-guided itinerary, plan to cover less distance at first and make sure you factor in at least one rest day in a week. Try to design your days so that you don’t arrive in towns at night, in case the local "casas particulares" are already booked. Use the mornings and start your journey as soon as possible to avoid high temperatures in the middle of the day.
If you have come to Cuba with your bike, save the box and the bubble wrap for packing it up upon leaving the country as they aren’t usually readily available in Cuba. Take water-purification tablets, tools and some spare parts for your bike, and be sure to pack sun blocker to protect your skin from the tropical sun. During your cycling tour, look out for "poncheras" – bicycle repair shops – to fix flat tyres en route, and take a Spanish phrase book if you don’t speak the language as little English is spoken outside Cuba’s main cities and resorts.