Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bike Tours Bloom Despite OFAC

Bicycle tours in Cuba hit top gear

CUBA_0424 Foreign bicyclists near Holguin, Cuba; copyright Christopher P Baker.JPG
In recent months I’ve consulted with several U.S.-based tour companies that wish to offer group bicycle tours of Cuba. To do so requires a special license for “people-to-people educational exchange” from OFAC (the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control), which oversees travel to and financial transactions with Cuba.
So far, OFAC has proven unwilling to contemplate bicycle travel as a viable means of cultural interaction, and to that end has denied applications that focus on cycling.
Nonetheless, you frequently come across U.S. citizens cycling in Cuba, alongside scores of Europeans doing the same.
More noticeably, this past year I’ve witnessed an explosion of cycling groups touring the island.
Here are the most prominent players:
This U.K.-based company offers two week-long cycling itineraries: The Central Cuba Bike Ride and the Western Cuba Bike Ride. It uses its own fleet of more than 120 imported bikes and has its own Havana office.
This family-run Canadian company is a branch of MacQueen’s Island Tours, based in British Columbia. It has specialized incycle tours to Cuba since 1994. It, too, has an office in Havana, staffed by Kristen MacQueen. It offers one-week bicycle tours December through March, plus an annual “Vuelta Cuba”—a two-week trip from Santiago de Cuba to Havana—in January.
Another Canadian company, CanBiCuba, also offers group bicycle tours.
U.K.-based Exodus also has a 15-day circuit of the island, end to end.
As easy as it may be for U.S. citizens to fly to Cuba via Canada, Mexico, or another third country, and then to participate in such tours, it’s important to note that it is not legal for U.S. citizens to participate in any tours of Cuba (or otherwise travel there) unless they are licensed to do so by OFAC.
WowCuba has an information page called “U.S. Tour Participants” that provides illuminating information. The text includes this: “For those interested in pursuing licensed travel to Cuba, restrictions have been relaxed to include a General License category as well as specific licenses for educational, professional and religious travel.”
However, this is misleading. Any such licensed travel requires that travelers issued such a license adhere to the activities for which they specifically were granted a license, and are not free to saddle up on a bicycle!
I provide complete information about bicycling and travel in Cuba (including licensing for U.S. citizens) in my Moon Cuba.
For further information on Havana, buy Moon Spotlight Havana.
Buy an autographed hardback copy of Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro's Cuba direct from the author.
Looking for the perfect coffee-table book gift item? Buy an autographed hardback copy of Cuba Classics: A Celebration of Vintage American Automobiles direct from the author.
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale.
The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Learn more about Christopher P. Baker.
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker


OFAC's arrogance

Posted by jmcauliff on April 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Very useful information about totally people to people bike trips and a reminder that the Office of Foreign Assets Control is following an absurd policy that has little to do with US interests, the intention of the President, or the human rights of Americans.
The Obama administration has left in place a Bush appointee as head of OFAC, Adam Szubin.
Not surprisingly, his tenure is characterized by lack of transparency as well as arbitrary, inconsistent and politicized judgments.
US citizens who choose to travel without a license are morally as legitimate as African Americans who chose to disregard Jim Crow laws and regulations in the southern states. Cuban Americans can not legitimately be the only people entitled to general licenses for non-tourist travel.
Independent travelers seem reasonably safe legally. Appeals of OFAC rulings froze the system and led to non-enforcement against individual visitors since the last year of the Bush Administration.
Should Mitt Romney win the Presidency, the situation could change but widescale ongoing non-cooperation poses practical problems for retroactive punishment, regardless of promises made to Miami extremists.
During the campaign, the President must be under pressure from those who favor freedom of travel as he certainly will be from those who don't.
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development


  1. This tour is an approved People to People cycle tour in Cuba offered by Cuba Unbound - http://www.cubaunbound.com/package/cuba-cycling-tour - so the info is a bit outdated, although the other operators listed in the article provide excellent tours as well.