Explore's Cathy Barton spent the end of 2013 on her very first cycling holiday. She joined Cycle Cuba, a two-week, moderate-grade adventure taking in the highlights of Cuba. Before she left for her adventure she had a few worries, including what the group would be like and whether she'd be able to keep up with the cycling. She addresses her top five concerns below and shares her experiences of discovering Cuba by bike.
What equipment would I need to take with me?
I looked at the Explore trip notes online and realised the bicycle was already provided. A 24-gear hybrid bike would be perfect for the terrain I was expecting so I decided to see if I could borrow rather than buy some of the other equipment, just in case I decided cycling wasn't for me after this holiday! I borrowed a couple of pairs of cycling shorts, a cycle helmet which fitted perfectly and a padded seat cover. The only extras I bought were a variety of lightweight cycle shirts, a lightweight rain jacket, cycling gloves, and a drink bottle.
Water was provided throughout the whole holiday by the coach driver and the coach followed us most of the time in case any of the group members wanted to hop on. One half of the coach was for the group and guides; the other half for the bicycles. Panniers (bicycle bags) were provided throughout the trip to hold our waterproof jackets and other belongings. I must admit I used all my cycling gear and was relieved I took it along! I would also recommend taking a high factor sun cream and mosquito spray.
How would the pace of the cycling work? Would I be able to keep up?
Before heading out to Cuba I was slightly concerned that the rest of the group might be expert cyclists who take part in races and cycle all the time. Would I be able to keep up with them or would I slow the group right down? Luckily I needn’t have worried! The group were mixed ages, mixed abilities, some first timers and some Explore loyalists and all absolutely lovely people.
We had friendly and informative Cuban guides and a Tour Leader who looked after the whole group. There was a cycle guide leading from the front and another acting as back marker in case of any difficulties along the way but we all cycled at our own pace and thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and cycling through villages interacting with local Cuban life. The terrain varied massively from cycling on dirt tracks with pot holes to cycling on the virtually traffic-free motorway, from flat tarmac roads to steep mountainous ranges. The bicycles provided were slightly heavier than I had expected, but were ideal for the variety of terrain we crossed. Cycling was definitely the best way to experience Cuba.
What would the weather be like in Cuba? Too hot to cycle in?
The weather was approximately 30 degrees centigrade, therefore hot and fairly humid even though it was winter in Cuba. The group perspired as much as each other on a daily basis; we drank water continually and no problems occurred with the heat. We did enjoy the odd cloud and the downhills were fantastic - amazingly cooling - feeling the wind in our hair and being free of a vehicle and enjoying the sunshine.
What would the food be like in Cuba and would I need extra energy boosts to cope with the cycling?
The food in Cuba is fantastic. Explore are amazing at including the group in interacting with locals and seeing their way of life. I absolutely loved cycling in the mountains, losing myself in the moment and stopping off for some well-earned lunch. We had the pleasure, most days, of stopping off in what felt like the middle of nowhere at one of the locals houses and lunch would be served by the family. The food was amazing, delicious varieties of fresh fruits (mango, papaya, pineapple), salads, vegetables, fish, chicken, pork, rice and beans, soups, fresh fruit juices, gorgeous Cuban coffee, and as much as you liked of all of it! The group always left the family totally bursting and satisfied. What a fabulous way to meet Cuban people.
Would we be cycling all day long? What else would we do whilst in Cuba?
We had the most amazing time in Cuba, we cycled but we also:
- Visited Havana
- Learnt about the history of Cuba and visited Che Guevara’s hiding place and mausoleum
- Learnt about the sugar plantations
- Visited the Bay of Pigs and swam in the Caribbean Sea
- Stayed in Casas with local families
- Visited Trinidad with its cobbled streets and character galore
- Learnt to Salsa dance
- Listened to locals playing Cuban music daily
- Watched the locals making cigars and smoked with them
- We were driven around in the old vintage cars
- Visited Vinales - challenging cycling but a piece of paradise
- Viewed the most glorious scenery
- Took a boat ride through beautiful caves
- Took a train journey through Valle de los Ingenious with the locals
- Consumed delicious fresh foods and drank the most amazing cocktails