Why do a cycling tour in The Americas? Because where else are you going to ride around an active Costa Rican volcano, or cool off beneath a waterfall on the San Juan river? Where else can you wake up to piping hot gallo pinto rice or haggle with Cuban cigar merchants? Where else will you dance the night away in some country Merengue bar then wake up for a mist-shrouded rainforest safari? Cycling in The Americas isn’t just about the road. More than anywhere else, it’s about the colour and the chaos and the culture. It’s about kicking back in the Caribbean village of Puerto Vijao, taking a dip in the pools of the Maderas Volcano or staying with the remote farmers of San Juan Ilama. If you’re after a play-by-the-rules cycling tour, look elsewhere.
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Our Americas cycling Top 5
If you were a Nicaraguan postcard manufacturer, Granada would probably be your bread and butter. It’s a photogenic city, and you could spend a couple of happy days church-hopping through the cobbled lanes of the city centre, dodging horse carts and snacking on fresh mangos from the market. But for us, Granada’s real magic happens outside the city walls. There’s rural villages dotting the countryside, a great loop track around the nearby Apoyo lagoon, not to mention a fantastic climb through the mountains to the lookout of Santa Catarina (you can hop on the support vehicle if your legs get tired). It’s the best spot to take in the flanks of the distant Mombacho Volcano.
Las Terrazas, Cuba
Havana might be the city that dominates Cuban travel brochures (those Cadillacs are pretty cool) but trust us, Las Terrazas is the place you’ll want to live out the rest of your natural days. A little eco-village dating back to the late 60s, today it’s an official UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. After a quick dip in the waterfalls of the San Juan River, we’ll ride into Las Terrazas and meet up with some local artists who have set up shop in a white-washed settlement overlooking the lake. There are open artists’ studios, woodwork and pottery workshops and some funky boutique galleries to check out. A nice break from your first big day in the saddle
Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve, Costa Rica
Home to monkeys, sloths, bats, turtles and the famous Jesus Christ Lizard (he can run on water), Cano Negro is the perfect intro to Costa Rican wildlife. We’ll start slow with a cruise down the murky Cano Negro River before stopping for a picnic lunch at a little riverside spot we know. After that we’ll hit the bikes and take a cycling tour back through the Reserve itself, keeping an eye out for jaguars in the trees and caiman cruising the dark waters. Your destination is a homestay at the village of San Juan Ilama, where the locals are waiting to challenge you to a soccer game. Hope you saved some energy.
The Panama Canal, Panama
Definitely one for the cycling Bucket List: a leisurely ride along the famous Panama Canal, a man-made 48-mile stretch of water that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There are three sets of double locks on the Canal: Miraflores and Pedro Miguel on the Pacific side, and Gatun on the Atlantic. We’ll stop at Miraflores for a buffet lunch (cycling tours are all about refuelling) and wander through the interactive museum before tackling Soberania National Park, a massive nature reserve that sits on the east side of the canal. Follow the old Plantation Trail through the jungle to the overgrown town of Gamboa, a settlement that was abandoned after the Canal was built.
After tackling the hills of Cueva de los Portales, Che Guevara’s old training ground, there’s a gentle descent into the Viñales Valley, one of our favourite spots in all of Cuba. It’s easy to tell when you’ve made it: it’ll be the moment you overtake a cigar-chewing guajiro driver willing his oxen through a patchwork of tobacco fields. Viñales is the quiet counterpoint to Havana’s sultry swagger: it’s a little agricultural town that occupies one of the prettiest corners of the country, and the cycling in the nearby hills is world class. We’ll ride our way to a tobacco plantation and meet some local farmers, learn a bit about hand rolling cigars, then watch the sun set over an organic dinner at a little hillside property. Pure Cuban perfection.