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Western Cuba on two wheels, cycling adventure from El Mariel to Las Terrazas

March 11, 2020 | by James Corporal

How do the people visiting Cuba normally travel around? Usually, the preferred mode of transport is either by the buses that shuttle people from place to place, by the famous classic cars, or in local lingo “almendrones” which are so indicative of Cuba, or lastly, simply by strolling around the cities.

There are, of course, other means too. Think of the amusing “bicitaxis” and “coco taxis”, the horse-drawn cars and, last but not least, bicycles. This last mode of transport is, interestingly, the least used by travellers simply seeking sun and solace in Havana, but we’re seeing that cycling the largest island in the Caribbean is an ever increasingly popular way of getting around.

However, the number of adventurers who do choose this two-wheeled option is increasing, and bicycles make for a fantastic way of genuinely being at one with the places you visit, whether that’s learning about Cuban cities and towns, or exploring the large rural areas that separate one settlement from another.

Although mainly found in the capital, Havana, you can find plenty of companies that provide bicycle rental services, with guides who even accompany adventurous travellers through these areas of diverse geographical beauty.

The best known cycling company in Cuba is Cubania Travel, established 20 years ago and the most experienced team in Cuba offering amazing, action packed cycling tours. It’s an open secret that travelling on a bike is the simplest way to access unexpected places, off the beaten track natural wonders and to get under the skin of Cuba in a sustainable and healthy way.

One of these tours guides you towards Western Cuba, specifically the province of Artemisa. It’s on this route that I discovered the genuine majestic beauty of the Cuban landscape and scenery up close and personal, an experience I’ll never forget.

From Mariel to Las Terrazas with Cubanía Travel

This route offers you the chance to get away from Havana with all its traffic and bustle and takes you to the west side of the island.

The tour begins in Mariel, a coastal municipality belonging to the province of Artemisa, west of the Cuban capital. It dates from 1768 and currently constitutes an important place for the economic development of the island by having the Mariel Development Zone, a space that promotes foreign investment.

As the nearest port to the United States, it was here between 15th April and 31st October, 1980 that some 125,000 Cubans fled Cuba on the ships of relatives and friends who came to look for them, and went to the USA in what is known as the “Mariel boatlift”.

The destination is Las Terrazas, a self-sustaining development area, located in the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve, 74 kilometres from Havana.

It is extremely popular with visitors because of its hotel facilities, hiking and trekking routes and sites for bird watching. There’s also a lake which offers boat rides and a fine restaurant providing traditional Cuban Creole food.

The distance to travel between one point and the next is around 45 kilometres, and shows you a more rural, lesser known Cuba. This route is a path not so well travelled by tourists and contains very little traffic, and there are many advantages about this.

One of the main joys of cycling in Cuba is the absence of traffic on most roads, something you’ll really notice once you leave the main cities. This gives you the opportunity to focus on enjoying, in safety, the wonderful landscape and breath-taking scenery while at the same time being able to engage with your fellow cyclists. You just couldn’t do this in places where you’re having to keep an eye out for cars and lorries.

Along your journey, you’ll encounter pleasant “guajiros” (local slang for farmers), you’ll enjoy cycling past beautiful Cuban countryside and you’ll have the unique opportunity to test your cycling skills along the narrow, serpentine roads.

A bus takes you to El Mariel, your starting point, and once there, your bikes will be waiting for you. After a bike fitting and safety check, our guides will brief you on the route and off you go!

Your guide will remind you to protect yourself from the sun, a likely companion throughout, and to ensure that you are well hydrated throughout the day. Cubania Travel is passionate about eliminating the use of single use plastics and recommends Water-to-go filter bottles for trips and tours around any country where water safety is an issue. You can ready more about their bottles here…

Then what? Just let the adventure begin!

The Cuban countryside by bicycle!

The tranquillity of rural Cuba greatly contributes to the pleasure of travelling by bike. The route that we take on this tour is mostly free of traffic, and together with the roadside vegetation we’re cycling through, the whole experience allows you to breathe pure air devoid of any contamination. It’s sometimes tempting to stop for a few moments, to take some photos or just to enjoy the aroma of wildflowers that decorate the route.

Genuinely though, it’s the impressive Cuban landscape more than the cycling that will take your breath away. You may be tempted to take some photographs as a souvenir of your adventure, because in Cuba the sun throws a magical light over normal colours, turning the countryside into a visual spectacle of hues you may not have ever seen.

There’s time for fun too. We tend to average 17kph (including time to stop for water, photos, or a well-earned rest) and there’s the opportunity to stretch your legs and go for a more challenging pace if you wish. Today’s ride includes some undulations: enough to make the route fun without becoming overly strenuous.

The sense of calm can occasionally be punctuated by a sporadic encounter with a tractor, a vehicle frequently found in Cuba’s more rural areas, and it’s also common to see carts pulled by horses or oxen too.

The route takes us past tiny ancient settlements Cubans call “caseríos” and where we stop to rest a while under the shade of a leafy tree, perhaps in a quiet village or where two lanes meet. The “El Rancho” and “El Jobo” communities are good examples.

La “Puerta las Delícias” lets us know that we’ve almost arrived in Las Terrazas. It’s here that the vegetation begins to change. It becomes bushier and we find ourselves more in shade as the air cools.

Before our last stint, we enjoy a refreshing drink whilst the guides brief us on the route, and the unique elements of the Las Terrazas community.

The pioneering ecovillage of Las Terrazas dates from 1968 and is a small community and nature reserve located in the Sierra del Rosario mountains which was designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1984.

The community consists of a population of about a thousand people as well as a couple of hotels and restaurants which cater for the visiting tourists.

It’s an area rich in flora and fauna and includes lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. There’s also a vibrant art community with open studios, woodwork and pottery workshops, but for us, it’s a relaxing stroll around the village which makes for the perfect end to the cycling tour.

We finish our ride with a short but sharp climb to the Spanish style Hotel Moka, built on the top of a hill overlooking the community and the forests of Las Terrazas.

Another, we think better, way to enjoy Cuba

Healthy, non-polluting, and entirely energising would be the words I’d use to sum up my experience of travelling around Cuba by bicycle. Let yourself be seduced by what Cuba has to offer and discover entirely new things whilst getting to know this fascinating island on two wheels with Cubanía Travel.

Get your equipment ready, get your mind ready and, of course, reserve your bike.

Written by

James Corporal

James Corporal - Avid cyclist and cubaphile.

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