I'm a Bulgarian cyclist and I'm planning a trip in Cuba starting the beginning of March. For sure I'm not the first one to do that and I was wondering if someone can share his experience with the destination. Is there some law limitations, is it possible to find bike parts there or anything unusual? What about problems with wild camping? Currency exchange - I guess there is a way to use the local peso, not only the CUC?
Cycling in Cuba
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水, 2015-02-18 10:16#1
Cycling in Cuba
Yes, let's hear from some cyclists on this. I too am interested in biking the island. I understand from those that have gone before that pensions (rooms for rent in people's homes) are regulated and are about $20/night. Can someone verify this?
cycling in Cuba is an experience, I'll try to give some hints on what you will find there and how my trip was.
First thing, the bike. Finding a bike there in optimal status to make long trips (and to climb some hills sometimes, Viñales and around for example) is quite hard, so my recommendation is bringing your own bike and some pieces for mechanical repairs and punctures. You can even bring there a bike that is not top quality and leave it in the island, selling it in the end of your trip. I only saw few new bikes in a kind of commercial center under a hotel in Habana and never again. While traveling I met a couple riding nice robust bikes and they told me they rented them in a hotel at Varadero (that's another option, definitely less romantic).
Anything about maket in the island is like the cities that you probably are used to live in. So, bike-shops or bike-repair places doesn't exist, but Cubans make use of their inventiveness and chain of contacts to make you get things (and in the meantime earn some tip).
Where to sleep? In most medium size towns and in all touristic towns there are "divisa" houses, normal houses where the owners are allowed to rent a room or some room and most of the times also to prepare food and breakfast. They are easy to find because this symbol is its identification. My recommendation is finding this houses once you are in the place you want to sleep, quietly, avoiding all the "jineteros" that want to convince you sometimes rudely to go with them. This is a serious issue, the jineteros have to receive a comission from the house owners and most of the times they are not people with good reputation and this system mantains a kind of underground extortion. I find more honest going around the place, find the house and owner that your intuition consider and avoid jineteros. As a rule, people cannot let you stay in their house unless they are allowed by the country, so they won't offer you to do so as they are exposed to a fine... but money is money and probably in some places you will need to stay in a non-legal house and do business with local Cubans. It is difficult and unfair to calify all Cubans, if I would have to do it, they are kind, very very very keen to help, to please the foreigner, they like a lot to talk, they are not stressed, and they have very open eyes for small business where they can earn some coins. They will alert you about thieves and not-so-good people, for sure there will be, but I didn't find any, one of the reasons could be coincidence and other could be the fear that they have for law repression. I think free camping is forbidden, but I am not sure. I read some blogs from other travellers that went there with the tent and didn't find any problem, but that is not my experience. Prices for divisa-houses depend on the house, the hour (if you arrive late it is easy to get a cheap price as the owners had surely accepted they didn't have guests that night, the amount of people staying, your skills to negotiate, the comission if there is a jinetero involved... the range should be 10-25. They will enroll you in a book as host, due to government control, and alert that any person that enter the house with you should be also enrolled. Teasing or trying to get benefit from tourists is pursued by law as
Currency, next point. They use two coins: Peso convertible aprox 1$, Peso cubano aprox 0,05$. There were news like 1 year ago about unification of the two coins, I don't know if it has happened yet. In exchanges, you will get Peso convertible, it is the coin for foreigners and is the currency you are expected to pay with. Everything is much more expensive with this currency, it is inmediate to figure out that with that prices Cubans cannot access almost anything beyond the most basic things, that they pay in peso cubano. Try to get pesos cubanos as change when buying simple things, as fruit juices or so, then you can pay for things that only allow pesos cubanos, typically food, and you will live there more closely as Cubans do. That's your choice, anyway.
About language, it would be very useful if you can speak Spanish. Learn some basic things and try to use it there.
There are some other curious things: you can read in the Customs you cannot enter with a GPS receiver, although surely nobody will notice it and smartphones usually have it...
And more or less these are the basics. I hope this helps and doesn't confuse you nor spoiler your adventure. You still have infinite things to live and discover there. Enjoy your bike trip!!!
Thanks you so much for the I formation (and the time you took for such a though reply). Your input gives me much to consider.
I am just coming back from Cuba after 6 weeks visiting the island with my own bike. I confirm all Mario's remarks. If you have any other question, don't hesitate. Joël
Thanks to all of you guys :)
The answers confirm what I expected, but it is good to know the information from first hand. I will go with my own bike and I'm planning to sleep mostly in my tent. I know enough spanish and I hope it will not be a problem to exchange my money in local pesos as this is the way to buy cheap food as I understand (I like to cook by myself).
Hello, I want to inform you that camping seems not to be allowed. Each night, for 20€, I slept in casa particular. Otherwise, you don't need to cook yourself , you will find plenty of little cafetarias where you can eat for 2 euros. The problem is that it is often the same things. And to cook by yourself you need to find what you want in the shops. It is not obvious ! Joel