Long restricted, hiking and trekking in Cuba are seeing a sort of Renaissance. Cuba’s landscape is dramatic. From well managed biosphere reserves and steep misty hillsides towering over valley jungles to flower-filled forests, waterfalls and remote beaches, exploring Cuba’s spectacular landscape on foot is easier now that at any time since the 1950s. Espiritu Travel’s wilderness guides offer a number of options for you to get into the more wild areas of this island nation.
1. Topes de Collantes
North of Trinidad the Sierra del Escambray winds its way across the landscape for about 90 kilometers. The mountain range is Cuba’s second largest and looks somewhat like the battlements along a castle wall. The mountains are not particularly high but they are steep. The valleys remote. Within the sierra lies the 200 square kilometer Topes de Collantes. While often mistakenly called a national park, the Topes de Collantes is nonetheless a heavily protected area. The main hike through the Topes de Collantes is a relatively easy hike along a forest river that leads to a clear blue swimming hole and a surprisingly cold waterfall. For nature lovers this route is a must. Cuba’s national bird, the tocororo is everywhere as is El Pedorrera, a member of the kingfisher family that the Cubans call the “little farter”. There are woodpeckers, butterflies, lizards and over forty species of orchid along this mellow forest route.
2. Un Reto a Loma Atahalaya
Also in the Sierra Escambray is the 12 kilometer Reto a Loma Atahalya Trail. Passing through an extremely diverse landscape the trail climbs to the summit of 700 meter high Atahalya where a break in the forest allows for a 360 degree panorama. The cities of Cienfuegos and Manicaragua lay in the distance as do the Santa Clara plains and the impressive Hanabanilla reservoir. Along the way the trekker passes through terraced farmland and to the Brollo cave, a cool spacious cavern. This is another route for the birders out there. The tocororo is common here too as is the Cuban Tody, Fieldfare and the Great Lizard Cuckoo.
3. El Yunque
You can’t make a trip to the eastern tip of Cuba without climbing El Yunque. From Baracoa, the flat top mountain towers to the northwest, playing hide and seek among the frequent clouds of rain. The approximately four-hour hike is a challenging one, especially if the trail is wet. After crossing a thigh-deep river the shaded trail climbs through a mix of tropical forest and cocoa plantations shaded by royal palms. Wildlife is abundant along the trail and the view of Baracoa and the Rio Yumuri from the top is stunning. On the way down, soak your sweaty and muddy self in one of the waterfalls or natural pools along the Rio Duaba.
4. Altura de Banao
Northeast of Trinidad and well off the beaten path lies the ecological reserve of Altura de Banao. This hidden paradise of waterfalls, mogotes (limestone mountains), deep forests, craggy valleys and unique flora and fauna offers several opportunities for adventuring. In the 19th Century several intrepid or desperate farmers made a stab at a better life in this area. It didn’t go so well and ruins of the old farmhouses dot the area. During the revolution Che set up a command post in the rugged mountains. Your home base in Altura de Banao will be at Planta Cantú where you can either set a tent or rent a cabin or at Jarico where you can rent a room in a chalet near the visitor’s center. From here make your way to Cascada Bella for a swim in the pool below the waterfall. The six kilometer La Sabina Trail takes you to a biostation where scientists study the more than 900 species of plants, 150 of which are found only in Cuba. If you’re up to it, make the climb to the 842 meter peak, the highest in the reserve.
5. Pico Turquino
At 1972 meters above sea level, Pico Turquino is the highest point in Cuba. Located in the Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra, the trek to the peak is a challenging two to three day endeavor. Typically, the hike starts from Las Cuevas on the coastal road west of Santiago de Cuba. Another trailhead leaves from Santo Domingo but the Las Cuevas route is the best option for a relatively quick summit. Nights are spent in spare but comfortable mountain cabins with food packed in on a mule. The route can be challenging. The path is steep, humidity is high and the weather can change quickly but the view of the verdant jungle and mist-shrouded mountains in the distance makes the whole trip worth the effort.
Expand your trek by linking the climb up Turquino with a shorter hike to the Comandancia de la Plata, one of Castro’s many mountain hideouts during the
revolution (Custom trips available to do this hike as part of a trip).
In Cuba the trails are plentiful. Guides are required and Espiritu Travel will set you up with the a friendly and knowledgeable guide to lead you through the unique wilds of Cuba.