Running in Cuba, what you need to know

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Running in Cuba is something most Americans don’t think about when deciding to travel there, but after spending six days in the country I can say it appears to be something locals and tourists do often. Running in a foreign country is a great way to get to know the area you’re visiting, and doing it in Havana is no different.

In March of 2016 the U.S. government under President Obama made it legal for individual Americans to travel to Cuba for “people to people” educational visits. Americans can now travel to Cuba by meeting a criteria and paying $50 for a visa, and they going. Upon being in Havana for two days, I wondered where people tend to run.

I later discovered most people run in Malecón, an area in Havana where there’s an eight kilometer (five miles) long physical buffer [with a six lane boulevard and a long sidewalk] between the city and the crashing waves of Havana Bay, which extends out to the point where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Along Malecón you’ll pass many iconic buildings and attractions.

Most of the people you’ll see are probably tourists, but one local told me, since Americans have been coming to Cuba more frequently there has been more and more locals adopting the infectious habit of running. There’s the Havana 10K, Half, and full Marathon, known to the locals as the Marabana, that’s been going on since the 1980s. Locals and practically everyone in the world has participated in the run, but now Americans have joined in.  And some organizations add running as part of it’s package.  InsightCuba offers travel packages for Americans who want to go to Cuba, and even participate in the marathon. Last year InsightCuba had a group of American runners who did this. Some locals say they get running gear from friends and family who come to visit and bring new running shoes, headphones, and other items. There is an Adidas store and a couple of fitness stores scattered throughout Havana, but the items are a bit pricey for most locals.

The sidewalk is concrete, and almost all regular runners know concrete can be harsh on a runner’s feet, so bring a good pair of shoes. These shoes will come in handy when running on the sidewalk, because its in need of repair; it’s one of the few areas in Havana where you don’t see any trash or debris. One end of Malecón is where cruise ships like Carnival Corportation dock during the day in touristy Havana Vieja, and the other goes into the upscale Miramar, where the embassies are largely located.

Cuba’s famed pre-embargo 1950s American cars, Soviet-era automobiles and big tour buses whiz by as runners brave the crowds, the cars, and sometimes the heat to get their run in. The bruising waves hitting the wall protecting the city offers relief with a cooling spray. An important thing to know about running in Cuba is to pray for wind.  The air pollution in the city can be a problem, and on non-windy days you can smell and see the pollution from old cars somehow still on the roads.

If the Malecón is too much for your senses, then consider Estadio José Martí; but be warned it’s a dirt track. The stadium is deteriorating as it sits on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. It was once a great symbol of hope for the future in Havana. Active Fitness points at Marianao as another place to run.

Wherever you run in Havana, be sure to keep in mind of the heat. In April, May, and June, the heat can be brutal and sticky. Running in the mornings give you chance to have less traffic, less pedestrians, and less heat. Be careful where you tread and always pack your running gear, like me.



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