April 19, 2012, 11:22 am
Bicycle tours in Cuba hit top gear
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.
• Wow Cuba
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