by John Ahrens
Cuba offers some great day walks and overnight treks through its network of national parks and protected natural areas. Based purely on my own personal experiences, I’ve listed here my 3 favourite hikes in Cuba.
1. Pico Turquino
The #1 hike in Cuba goes all the way to the top of Cuba’s highest mountain - Pico Turquino 1974m (6,476 ft) above sea level. The trek gets my top rating for Cuba not just because of the novelty and physical challenge of summiting this impressively steep mountain, but for quite a few other reasons.
First and foremost among these, is the beauty of the terrain and the lush cloud forest you pass through on the way. The mountain slopes are decorated with an infinity of trees and ferns, in all shades of green, and the gradual change in vegetation type is noticeable as you climb the mountain. There are also animals and birds. It’s thought that the critically endangered Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis bairdii) may still inhabit the area. Have your camera ready and be on the lookout for that if you want to go down in bird watching folklore.
Another highlight of this trek is the option to lengthen the walk by a few hours to be able to take in some intriguing history with a visit to the Comandancia de la Plata. This was the mountain hideaway that Fidel Castro and his revolutionary army used as their headquarters in 1958 before their successful military victory over the Batista regime in 1959.
Being in such an inaccessible location and hidden beneath the dense forest canopy, it is easy to imagine how the Batista army never found this place, despite up to 200 revolutionaries being camped out here at any one time.
|Pico Turquino - Comandancia de la Plata combination
|2 to 3 days
|Oct to May
2. El Yunque
Located in what, to me, is the most beautiful corner of Cuba – Baracoa, the short hike to the top of El Yunque mountain (560m – 1837ft above sea level) provides an exhilarating experience of a sweaty, heart-throbbing immersion into nature. From the top of this anvil shaped mountain, you can witness the extreme natural beauty of the surrounding mountains, forests, and Cuba’s spectacular northern coastline (once you catch your breath that is!).
The trek starts with an invigorating wade across the wide, but usually shallow enough, Duaba river, but quickly turns into a steep climb. Being only 5km return in length, the hike is not demanding due to its total distance. The steepness of the ascent however, along with the often-slippery conditions underfoot, the lack of hand rails or ropes, and the intense humidity, make it an extremely fun, albeit muddy, challenge.
When you gloriously conquer the summit you quickly realize you weren’t the first. There is a bust of Alexander Humbolt - the German scientist and environmentalist who spent 5 years of his professional life exploring large parts of the Americas.
The prize at the end of the trek is a heavenly swim in the clean waters of the Duaba river.
|Only possible when river level is low
#3 on my list is this beautiful short trek in the Sierra del Esacambray near the city of Trinidad in central Cuba. The walk takes you along a beautiful valley alongside a wild river, and eventually leads you to a couple of delightful waterfalls. The first of these has a terrific natural pool, ideal for a refreshing swim to reward for your efforts.
The walk takes you through the heart of the Sierra del Escambray mountains, a beautiful mountainous area that abuts the Caribbean coast on the south side of Cuba. This is where some of best coffee grows in Cuba, and also the home of some of Cuba’s endemic fauna. If you go quietly you may get lucky and spot some birds such as the enchanting Cuban Tody (Todus multicolor).
The Guanayara hike is included in our 10 day Multi-sport Cuba Tour