Cuba Activities

There’s good hiking and trekking in the Cuban countryside, especially around Vinales to the west, in the lush countryside in the east of the country and in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra near Santiago de Cuba in the far east. You’ll probably need to hire a local guide and marked trails and maps are rare, which may be considered an advantage. Hiking is relatively organised in the Sierra Maestra National park in Granma Province, but can be carried out on a more DIY basis from the coast coming from Santiago de Cuba where the scenery is spectacular, though, again, a local guide is highly recommended. You should be able to get help at the few hotels along the coast or at the Campismo La Mula, a camping/cabana hotel mainly used by Cubans about 100 km west of Santiago de Cuba on the coast.

Cuba’s unspoilt countryside and equine tradition makes it ideal for horseback riding. Cubans have a special relationship with their horses. Campesinos wearing cowboy-style straw hats are in every village and trot on upright steeds into all but the biggest Cuban towns. Che tells in a letter how deep ran the Cuban peasants’ affection for their horses.

In May 1957 Che, Castro and the rebels were no more than a small band harassing army patrols and outposts in the Sierra Maestre mountains in the far south east of Cuba. Food was always a problem. Che writes how he got around the difficulty. On the banks of the La Plata river in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra an elderly peasant named Popa woke to find three sinister looking rebels banging on the door of his hut. They took from him a tired old horse with large harness sores on his back.

“The horse was more than a luxury meal,” Che wrote. “It was also a kind of trial by fire. The peasants in our group were indignant. They refused to eat their ration of horsemeat. Some of them considered the man chosen to slaughter the animal a virtual murderer. They believed we were committing an act of cannibalism as we chewed up man’s old friend.”

In recent years the Cuban relationship with horses has been compromised by a law that old horses cannot be slaughtered for meat, a side effect of the policy of banning Cubans from eating red meat – primarily beef – to conserve it for dollar-earning export or tourist hotels. The result is a great many old horses, some in poor condition, many of which are now used to pull carriages for local transport due to the lack of cars and buses.

Most hotels and resorts will organise riding, but even if you are staying privately the locals will usually be able to help out. Often this is a better bet than using horses linked to hotels which are not always in as good condition as those of the campesinos, Cuba’s small farmers for whom the horse is still the prime mode of transport. Again, Vinales to the west and the Sierra Maestra to the east offer fantastic scenery for serious riders. There are also special tourist riding ranches at Casa del Campesino (Trinidad) and Hacienda Los Molinos, a cattle ranch between Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus. Both have the advantage of being close to interesting towns – see Cuba’s must-sees.

The winds are up from December to April which makes this the best time for surfing and windsurfing, though it is also peak tourist season. North or east facing Atlantic shores are best. Varadero, Marea del Portillo in the south-east and Caya Largo offer reasonable surf. Boards can be difficult to rent and Cuba is not recommended for a primarily surfing holiday.

Yachting is developing fast in Cuba and conditions are ideal – good winds and anchorages without being too crowded. Yachts can be chartered from Europe or Canada via charterers or locally in the resorts, especially the big ones like Varadero. Most people do their yachting in the peak December to April season when winds are reliable and it is not too hot. Hurricanes are quite common in the autumn. There are fine anchorages at Santa Lucia in Pinar del Rio province, Caya Paraiso, the Marina Hemmingway in Havana, Varadero, Caya Libertad in the Bahia de Cardenas, Caya Coco, Baracoa, Santiago de Cuba, Chivorico, Marea del Portillo, Manzanillo, Cienfuegos, Ancon, Caya Largo, Isla de Juventud and Maria la Gorda.

Cuba is famous for Deep-sea fishing. Ernest Hemmingway used to catch swordfish, tuna, barracuda and shark. The best fishing is along the north-west coast in the Gulf Stream. There are good facilities at Havana, Playas del Este, Varadero, Cayo Guillermo, Isla de la Juventad and Caya Largo, though most resorts offer fishing. There is also fresh-water fishing around Pinar del Rio and in central Cuba in the lakes at Hanabanilla and Zaza. The Ernest Hemmingway International Marlin Fishing Tournament is held in Havana in May.

Cuba is great Cycling country, with limited traffic and beautiful towns and countryside. You can hire bikes of varying quality in Cuba or take your own – but check with the airline. There are also some specialist bike tour companies – check the net. However, DIY tours are easy and usually far cheaper – see Getting around in Cuba. Charity-linked tours are also very popular and widely advertised – you pay for the tour and get sponsorship, with the profits going to the charity.

Cuban golf is limited to two courses at the Havana Golf Club (9 holes) and at Varadero (18 holes). It can also get very hot!

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