Exposure

The Only Way to See the Real Cuba Is from the Saddle of a Bike

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Photo: Logan Watts
On January 1, my wife, Virginia, and I joined our riding buddy Joe Cruz and set out to cycle across Cuba using mainly rugged dirt tracks, horse paths, and mountain roads. As with all of our bikepacking trips, the objective was to dig ourselves into the backwaters of our new surroundings and find out what the country is really like. We began on the eastern coast, in the city of Santiago de Cuba, and rode through three mountain ranges, countless fishing and farming villages, and finally into Viñales, on the opposite coast. Ultimately, we discovered a country full of warm people, quirky eccentricities, and natural beauty.

Here, Logan Watts, the editor at Bikepacking.com, shares a selection of images from their 860-mile, 20-day trip.

Photo: Many times, folks insisted on stopping us to hear where we were from and where we were going. Other times, they just reached out their hand for a friendly shake.
Photo: Logan Watts
After flying into Havana, we waited for our Santiago shuttle at a bike taxi stand. This gentleman had a co-pilot.
Photo: Logan Watts
For this trip, we rode the Salsa Cutthroat, a drop-bar 29er specifically built for bikepacking the Tour Divide, which runs from Canada to Mexico. We carried clothing in waterproof seat packs from Revelate Designs and Porcelain Rocket, cooking gear and food in our Salsa EXP frame bags, and Big Agnes tents and Enlightened Equipment ultralight sleeping bags in our handlebar packs.
Photo: Logan Watts
On day one of the expedition, we pedaled about 40 miles from Santiago de Cuba into the Sierra Maestra. After a long and tedious dirt-road climb, we were invited to camp on a flat spot at this finca, or small working farm. The next morning, Natalia was waiting for us to emerge from our tents.
Photo: Logan Watts
Cuban farmers typically survive on less than one dollar per day—yet they insisted on feeding us. The farmer’s daughter, Natalia, sat and watched us eat a hearty breakfast of eggs, salad, bread, and yucca.
Photo: Logan Watts
In the high hills in central Cuba, caballero, or cowboy, culture is alive and well. These gentlemen were selling their goods at a local feed and seed.
Photo: Logan Watts
A classic roadside scene in Cuba. We happened on this water tower in the small farming village of San Antonio, where this young man was filling his water jugs on an ox-drawn cart.
Photo: Logan Watts
Virginia was nearly swept away by a pair of local sugarcane farmers on the flat, 125-mile trek from Camagüey toward Sancti Spíritus.
Photo: Logan Watts
Cuban horses, often used for transportation and just about anything else, were a regular sight on our ride.
Photo: Logan Watts
Cruz studied our old-school analog map to find the best route to Sancti Spiritus, which turned out to be a beautiful colonial city, thick with cobbled streets and colorful architecture.
Photo: Logan Watts
We crossed the three largest mountain ranges in Cuba: the Sierra Maestra, which is the highest; Sierra del Escambray, in the southcentral part of the island; and the Cordillera de Guaniguanico, in the west. The dirt tracks threading each range’s jungles are some of the steepest and rockiest we’ve ever ridden.
Photo: Logan Watts
Memorials to the Cuban revolution (1953 to 1959) are peppered throughout the countryside. The mountains are rich with these relics, as the rebels hid within their crags and folds for years.
Photo: Logan Watts
During the journey, our campsites included porches, farms, community centers, and, somewhat appropriately, the visitor’s dugout of this baseball field.
Photo: Logan Watts
Cuba boasts several amazing national parks and natural areas. On the southern coast, in the Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, the mountains were steep, the jungles were thick, and the roads were rough.
Photo: Logan Watts
Cubans are known to be industrious, and supporting evidence was plentiful. This 1950s-era car has seen better days, but its owner keeps it chugging along.
Photo: Logan Watts
On a dirt road between Cienfuegos and Playa Larga on the southern coastline, we found this beautiful campsite by the sea. Phosphorescent jellyfish put on a show in a small inlet just before we fell asleep.
Photo: Logan Watts
Cuban cigars. Yep, they’re really as good as you’ve heard.

For those inspired, a detailed route and outline of their trip can be found on bikepacking.com.

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