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near Jesús Nazareno, La Habana (Republic of Cuba)
-Flat, but mountains as well when you want
-Only 3 in 100 people have a car, so no busy roads. And besides the rented cars by tourists, they all drive pretty slow
-Stay with Casa Particulars, the Cuban ‘bed and breakfast’; you don’t need to bring your tent
-Pretty cheap since you will pay quite a lot with the cheaper currency of Cuba Peso’s. Night, breakfast and dinner will be around 25+2*5+2*10=55 dollar for 2 persons
-You will not be targeted a lot by annoying local people, ripping off tourists. These (mostly harmless) guys mainly target tourists traveling by bus (always stopping at the same locations), and to a lesser extend tourists with rented cars.
-Don’t come here for wildlife; since Cuba is an Island, the bigger animals, as you would find in Costa Rica for example, didn’t migrate to this place. If you like births or diving though, this is again a great place.
Some general tips, remarks:
1. Your Euro’s: information that you will come across while preparing for Cuba, will tell you to bring all your Euro’s (no dollars) in cash, since there are only a few ATM’s. These ATM’s are not always filled with money and you can only use a Visa, no Master Card. We found out that this is rapidly changing; we did come across quite some ATM’s, and Master Cards are accepted as well (but indeed, not always filled with money). So bring enough cash until there is more evidence that you can rely on ATM’s. You can change your Euro’s save and easily in many banks and ‘Cadecas’, which includes smaller villages. After changing e.g. 600 euro for Cuban dollars (ask for smaller notes, max 20 CUC), change straight away 30 Cuban dollars into Cuban pesos (see next bullet).
2. Local currency: Cuban dollars (also so called Cuban Peso Convertible (CUC)) and Cuban pesos (CUP) are both used by Cubans and tourists in the same way. The rate is fixed: 1 CUC = 24 CUP. Dollars are used at more luxurious shops/restaurants. Pesos are e.g. used at small shops that people started in front of their homes selling delicious fruit juices and small snacks. Many places accept both currencies; e.g. petrol stations (good for buying mineral water, soda’s), normal shops and the thousands of small snack-shops that call themselves ‘pizzería’, where you probably quite often will have lunch.
3. Internet/SIM: some tourists buy a local SIM in Havana, which is pretty expensive. I am not sure whether this will give you Internet as well. We relied for communication with people back home on text messages with our original (Dutch) SIM’s. This costed us around 50-70 eurocent each message with a max of 160 characters, depending on the provider (BEN versus KPN). Note that people back home sending you a text message, should not exceed the 160 characters, since then it arrives as a non-downloadable MMS message, was our experience. For Internet connection we now-and-then joined the Cuban population at squares in cities. This is easy, you need to buy a scratch card first at one of the many ETECSA shops (which are often quite busy). This scratch card costs 2 dollars and gives you one hour access. Sometimes you find people selling scratch cards at the square for one dollar extra. Our and others experience was that Samsung smart phones for some kind of reason had a problem with the connection. This guy went deep into the internet stuff in Cuba: http://first2board.com/pointssummary/2015/05/05/everything-you-need-to-know-about-internet-access-in-havana-cuba/
4. Drinking water: in many places as Havana, tap water in chlorinated and is therefore potable, although since about 10 years (we were told), Cubans have a tendency to believe it should be filtered as well. In other cities tap water is groundwater and therefore portable as well; Cuban’s ground is one big Swiss cheese of rocky formations, containing good quality water. Only closer to the sea is becomes salty and not drinkable anymore. So, in principle, you don’t need to buy always mineral water. For our own piece of mind, we often added some Chlorine drops ourselves to tap water.
6. Read this e-book about ‘the real Cuba’; English and Dutch: www.bestcubatravelguide.com. But remember that it represents situations often encountered by ‘normal mainstream tourists’, not you as a cyclist. Still we found (the Dutch version) informing/useful/interesting.
7. Bicycle box: we booked our first two and the last night at a hostal, 3,5 km’s from the airport: Hostal Dona Amalia: www.donaamaliacuba.com . The cardboard boxes that is required during a KLM flight we left there, to be used again when flying out. They picked up the boxes, we cycled to the hostel. We didn’t chance money at the airport, but conveniently the next day close to that hostel.
8. Spending the nights: we used mostly casa particulars (bed and breakfasts). Sometimes they are called hostels. Only twice we were not able to find accommodation, read the below daily description. There are as well ‘Campismos’, these are camping places but with wooden cabins. It’s not meant for pitching your tents, although some have done (Google around). Important to understand: only a few Campismos accept foreign tourists, and they are pretty strict with this (our experience). We were told it's because of the 'conditions of the Campismos'; they don't want to offer places to foreigners that don't meet the required standards of luxury etc. This website gives all 80 Campismos and gives you information to find the few (10?) that accept foreigners (still good to check beforehand): www.cuba-junky.com/cuba/campismos.htm. This side already has done so, but double check: www.cubacasas.net/campismos/index.html. To find the exact spot (way point), you could use www.campismopopular.cu/. Although you need to plan the next day in terms of ‘increasing the change to find accommodation’, which was a challenge now and then (long days to reach something), we still think bringing a tent is not needed (looking back at our journey). The few mountain routes we took are really, really, and I mean REALLY, steep; nice to avoid some kg’s here. All places where we have spend the night are mentioned as way points. Additional information is given below when useful.
9. Wind: during this month coming from northeast to southeast, often quite strong after noon.
Wikiloc shows the total route. Waypoints with the hotels / casa’s we took are shown as well (although some are missing; Wikiloc only uploads 25). I didn’t clean the route, so stuff as walking around in a city, searching for an hotel, taking the wrong way, etcetera, is still there. If you want, I can send you the daily tracks and all waypoints (send me a mail at email@example.com). See one of the uploaded pictures for a daily overview in terms of km’s. The mentioned altitude meters are taken from my GPS device, but consider this journey as pretty flat, except for the few days that we went into the mountains.
Some additional information:
2016-11-11 Cardenas to Corralillo: In Corrallilo we first tried 2 campismo’s, but they didn’t accept us, even not after offering additional dollars. We cycled a few km’s back where we had seen a hostel.
2016-11-14 Santa Clara to Mayajigua: Last few km's walked over rocky mountain path, if you want to avoid this, cross over earlier to the other side.
2016-11-18 Trinidad to Cienfuegos: you can take the coastal road. We took the mountain road, which turned out to be insane steep, up to 15%-20%, but obviously great views. You will receive eternal respect, since this is an important stage for the Tour de Cuba (Vuelta a Cuba) www.lahabana.com/content/tour-de-cuba-vuelta-a-cuba/.
2016-11-19 Cienfuegos to Playa Giron: We took the boat to cross this bay. Visit the Spanish ford where you get off; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castillo_de_Jagua. Our idea was to follow the coastal road until Playa Giron (Pigs Bay). Not a good idea; within 15 km’s we had 4 flat tyres. So, watch the GPS track beforehand and avoid this part. If you follow the remaining part of our track, you will find unpaved roads through sugar plantations for quite some km’s, but you will be fine.
2016-11-21 Playa Giron to Pedro Betancourt: This part of Cuba has less hotels and casa’s. In Pedro Betancourt we only found a casa particular for Cubans (red sign instead of blue). We had to drive a few km’s back, so check the track beforehand. Now, you need to know that a casa particular meant for Cubans, includes Cuban couples who want to stay there for only a few hours. You will see this a lot advertised in Havana (possible to rent by hour). This obviously serves the purpose of having sex. This is not only set up for prostitution, but as well for couples searching for more privacy then their own home can profide. Let’s say ‘love hotels’, as in Japan. Anyhow, this casa for sure included the first mentioned category. Still, a very nice family to stay with, so all ok. Make sure you think beforehand about the price you want to pay (check the room, shower, mattress, etc).
2016-11-22 Pedro Betancourt to Batabano: Some possible (national?) casa particulars we saw. In Batabano we stayed at this private house. Tita, the woman living here, a very nice person, allowed us to use her bedroom. We gave het 15 CUC, and that made her very happy.
24-11-2016: this day we stayed as Soroa, and visited Las Terazzas; a place very much recommended by guide books, but not really interesting we thought, and with us, many other tourists. A short visit is ok though, but there is really no need to spend the night here.
26-11-2016 Pinar del Rio to Sandino: in the morning, we visited a well-known and recommended Tabaco farm. In Sandina we stayed at the local hotel, since the casa we aimed for was occupied. But we went there for a dinner and asked the lady of the casa to book 2 nights in the hotel in Playa Maria Gorda, followed by one night at her own place, followed by 2 nights in Vinales. Vinales can be very busy we have heard.
27-11-2016 Sandino to Playa Maria Gorda: for sure, take a sea view bungalow, for a few dollar more. Great place for diving we have heard. Depending on the season, whale sharks, check it out.
30-11-2016 Sandino to Vinales: this can be combined with a visit to Cuba’s largest cave system and the second-largest on the American continent (Caverna de Santo Tom), see way point. In Vinales, we recommend to stay at the Campismo Popular de Cuba, the best in Cuba, foreigners are welcome. We didn’t stay here, but it looks a great place, with exactly what you need the next morning: sightseeing from a hill while the fog is still there. The town is very close, so no worries to collect your Cuba Libre in the evening.
1-12-2016: try my sight-seeing route around Vinales, put together with LP information.
2-12-2016 Vinales to Bahia Honda: we took the mountain road, but this one was really to heavy we thought. Of course, the next day it’s fun looking back at it, but really, be in perfect shape, start very early and don’t travel heavy before you consider this. There is no escape halfway. See our suggested road as an alternative in terms of way points.
3-12-2016 Bahia Honda to Playa Baracoa: cycle a few hundred meter further; you will find a bungalow park, with a restaurant that might be a better choice than our casa (but don’t expect much here). If you take our casa, don’t touch the shower head while showering!
4-12-2016 Playa Baracoa to Havana: only 46 km’s left! We ended heroically in Plaza de la revolution, before heading (a bit back) to our fantastic hostel with great views. Time enough to explore the city, this track includes the walking hours that followed.
More pictures still to come.
Cheers, Jeffrey and José