On my most recent visit to Havana, I was dealing with a conundrum. I was going to be taking photos at a long list of locations and needed to get around the city easily without having to pay for lots of cabs. So, I went over to the snazzy Ruta Bikes website and shot them an inquiry.
Taxis are fine if you want to go to Old Havana in the morning and Vedado in the afternoon, but having a bike really gives a visitor the ability to explore independently and take in the city at a different pace — it was something I had never really done before in previous visits to Cuba. And given the level of safety in Havana and that the Maps.me app lets you see where you are even when you’re offline, you don’t ever have to worry about safety or getting lost.
A few years ago, private bike rentals for foreign visitors didn’t exist. It was not really legal, so anyone who did it was just trying to make a few bucks in an unorganized way. That (like a lot of things) all changed a few years ago. Now, there are a couple rental places in Havana scattered around the city. One day when I was Googling around, I found the well designed website of Ruta Bikes and I decided I had to give it a try.
The bike shop is in the back garage of a private residence, centrally located in Vedado — it’s a taxi ride away from Old Havana but a great place to start and end a day of biking given the ease of navigating the gridded streets and the easy access to the Malecón. The website is easy to navigate and clearly describes their offerings. In addition to hourly rentals, they offer a variety of tours that are led by expert guides. They currently offer a City Tour, Sunset Tour, and a Bay Tour of the neighborhoods around Havana’s harbor area, which really gets you off the beaten path to place that few tourists go (and includes a ferry ride!).
When I showed up at the shop, the staff was extremely helpful — they fit me with a bike based on my height and adjusted everything until it was just as I liked it. Orlando, the manager who spoke great English, went over the contract with me and took a small deposit — there were no hassles and no questions about what was and wasn’t included. Before sending me off, he outfitted me with a lock, a spare tube, and a patch kit, should I hit some bad bumps as I explored the city. This was a relief — pot holes are everywhere in Havana — though I didn’t have any issues, I certainly could have. The lock came in handy many times when I wanted to stop and walk around or get something to eat and didn’t want to have to worry about the bike.
My three days riding around the city were fantastic. I hit almost every location on my list and had no issues the entire time. The bike was a sturdy hybrid with great breaks and smooth pedaling. The only tricky moments were securing the bike in Old Havana where there are fewer sign posts and other places to lock up and where city officials are picky about where bikes are left, given the picturesque aesthetics of the area.
I couldn’t be happier about my Ruta Bikes experience — I was able to move through the city in a totally new way, got some great exercise in, and took some great shots — check them out below!
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