Cuba´s Bicycle Touring Boom
By: Roberto F. Campos Photos by José (Tito) Meriño and Archives
Diversification of opportunities is considered the most significant attribute of a recreational industry on the rise, as Cuba's is, where touring its territory on a bike is not only an institutional strategy, but a fast-growing tourist activity of great appeal.
One good example is that of club Gran Caribe, founded at the University of Havana on January 28, 1993. To date, the club has led thousands of trips with cyclists from Canada, the United States and Europe.
According to its president and founder, Ignacio Valladares, also a specialist on sports themes, Gran Caribe has one of the most active vacation offers on the Caribbean island.
Valladares added that Gran Caribe was created at a time when there was a need for leisure activities for university students from other provinces who were staying at the University of Havana living facilities. Some students became interested in the rise of cycling in the country, and began an adventure that allowed them to learn more about national history by visiting several important locations.
The leaders of the club presented "Cycles, an option for the 21st Century" at the first international event of the specialty, held in Havana's Convention Palace. The project took off at once, with many foreign cyclists joining in as a way to learn more about Cuba.
After several participations in world events, the club solidified its image and reached definitive fame. Valladares became a professional in the National Institute of Sports, Recreation and Physical Education, which in Cuba is the Ministry of Sports.
Since :1998, the Club Gran Caribe assists similar groups and welcomes foreigners, organizing routes and participating with them in bicycle touring plans. With the collaboration of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples and the NGO Global Exchange, it has created solidarity tours for visitors from the US.
Itreceives special support from the Belgian Transnico International, with offices in Germany, France, Canada and Benelux. And, since 2007 has prepared trips for the Havana City Historian's San Cristobal tour operator, focused on local history and traditions with tours of the capital and other places on the island.
History, nature, interesting spots, hotels and recreational centers, plus healthful athletic activity are some of the elements offered by Gran Caribe and Cuban bicycle tourism, another addition to the diverse recreational industry on an upward spiral.