Sierra Maestra Treks
The Sierra Maestra mountains in the South Eastern part of Cuba, present some of the best hiking trails in the Caribbean including a hike to Cuba's highest mountain, Pico Turquino. The lush mountain forests are dense and beautiful and there is some fascinating history as well, with these mountains having played a critical role as the headquarters and hideaway for Fidel's rebel army in the early part of their military struggle against the Batista regime.
At the moment we are offering 2 different Sierra Maestra treks starting and finishing in Santiago de Cuba.
|Pico Turquino||Option #1|
|Price||$225 USD per person|
|Total trekking time||16.5 hours|
|Duration||2 days / 1 night|
|Total trekking distance||26km|
|Maximum altitude reached||1974m / 6,476 ft|
|Terrain||undulating, steep in parts, with lots of steps|
|Trail condition||well maintained with steps and handrails where needed, some rocky and muddy sections|
|Guide||local trekking guide|
|Items to take||see below|
The trek to Pico Turquino is a physically demanding hike. This trek is suited to those who enjoy some prolonged physical exertion in challenging conditions. The trail is well maintained with rudimentary steps and handrails made from wood installed along sections of the trail where this is helpful. Nevertheless, the trail can be slippery and steep in some parts. However the element that makes this trek the most challenging is the number of hours per day required to complete it. We estimate about 16.5 hours over the 2 days. The round trip distance is only 26km in total, however the steepness of the trail makes the going slow. When not raining, the conditions are hot and humid, and being mostly cloud forest, rain showers are frequent. The altitude of the peak (1974 m or 6,476 ft) doesn't present a risk of altitude sickness, however it may make you feel more short of breath than normal.
Apart from the achievement of reaching the peak of the highest mountain in Cuba, the rewards on this trek are great. At clear moments, the views of Sierra Maestra mountain range are nothing short of spectacular, and walking through the upper reaches of the cloud forest, with its entanglement of vines, abundance of colourful epiphytes such as orchids and bromeliads, and strange looking mosses and fungi, can be a magical experience. The cloud forest seems to only get denser and more humid the higher you go.
The 1 night of accommodation during the trek is at the campsite La Aguada. When the clouds clear, the views from here are stunning, and you can get a good sight of the mountain peak that is your goal. Click here to read more about the accommodation conditions while on the trek.
Comandancia de la Plata
|Comandancia de la Plata||Option #2|
|Price||$140 USD per person|
|Total trekking time||6 hours|
|Total trekking distance||11km|
|Maximum altitude reached||1500m / 4,920 ft|
|Trail condition||well maintained, some rocky and muddy sections|
|Guide||local trekking guide|
|Items to take||rain jacket/poncho, snacks, sun protection|
The second of the 2 trekking options is the hike to the Comandancia de la Plata. Now a museum, this was the head-quarters of the revolutionary army for nearly 2 years during the early days of the war against the Batista government. The trek includes visiting some of the several buildings at the Comandancia, including the medical hut where Che Guevara treated farmers and injured revolutionary fighters, as well as the building that was Fidel's private quarters.
This trekking option is less difficult than the trek to Pico Turquino, however the mountain views and scenery are just as breathtaking. With the visit to the Comandancia and the explanations and stories provided by the local guide, this trekking option is more interesting from an educational and historical perspective. While not as extreme as the Pico Turquino option, this trek is by no means an easy walk and still presents a substantial physical challenge, especially for those who do not lead a particularly active physical lifestyle. Despite tree cover for much of the hike, the humidity levels make for very sweaty conditions, and being in a sub-tropical cloud forest, rain showers are frequent.
Where the trek involves an overnight stay, this is provided in one of the national park's campsites in trekking huts. These huts are simple multi-share wooden buildings, with up to 6 bunk beds per room. The capacity at each campsite is strictly controlled by the national park, and is 20 tourists per campsite. Each campsite has a team of staff including a cook and other park employees who work on trail and hut maintenance. These park employees stay in a separate hut. We share the huts with other hikers of both sexes and from different countries.
Each of the bunk beds has a simple matress. No pillows or sheets are provided, and only a few blankets are available. Considering the cool night time temperatures, which can reach as low as 5 degrees Celcius (40 degrees Fahrenheit), it is advisable to bring your own sleeping bag that is adequate for these temperatures, otherwise a sleeping sheet and a good blanket. There are no double/matrimonial beds - only single bunk beds.
There are basic toilet and washroom facilities at the campsites. These are in separate mini wooden shacks with cement floors. There is no running water, however there are fresh rainwater tanks from which you can fill buckets of water to bathe with. The toilets are long-drop design.
Meals at the Campsites
The meals provided by the campsite chef, are served in a dining room with tables and chairs. The food is basic but fresh, fulfilling, natural, and made from local ingredients. Typically the meals consist of soups, pasta, rice and beans, fried plantains, and stewed meat. Jars of herb tea are also provided. The trekking organisation provides a 600mL bottle of mineral water per person per day during the trek.
What you will need to bring on the multi-day treks
As always, it's best to take as little as possible since you will have to carry everything you bring along.
- Sleeping bag, or sleeping sheet plus a blanket. The campsites do not have enough blankets for the capacity number of trekkers. Due to the cold night-time temperatures (down to as low as 5 degrees Celcuis (40 degrees Fahrenheit), it is advisable to bring your own adequate sleeping bag, or an extra blanket. The campsites do not provide pillows, sheets, towels, soap, nor toilet paper.
- Rain-jacket, rain-poncho, umbrella, or plastic sheet - to use while trekking during the day to protect yourself from the occasional but inevitable rain-shower. It is possible to use an umbrella, however this will make it more complicated for you to balance, support yourself, and negotiate the more difficult sections of the trek, since you need to use one hand to hold the umbrella. You will find that you use your hands quite a bit on the tricky sections to support yourself on the tree trunks and handrails, and even to grab exposed tree roots to help you get up and down the steep parts.
- Warm clothes - to use during the afternoon and evening after you have finished trekking. Especially important is a thick dry pair of socks. You need to protect these clothes in a plastic bag within your backpack to ensure they don't get wet during the day.
- A set of trekking clothes - shorts and t-shirt are appropriate as, on a fine day, you will feel hot and sweaty while trekking. These can be the same clothes for each day.
- Walking shoes - hiking boots or running shoes can be used. Sandals and flip-flops (or thongs) are not recommended. If you use running or tennis shoes you must be prepared for these to become wet and muddy. It is not recommended to wear a new pair of shoes as these often cause problems with the feet not being used to them.
- Snacks - You will be provided with main meals during the trek (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) however you will benefit from some extra food (or snacks) that you can eat while walking, to keep your energy levels up. In Cuba, there are limited options for this sort of food, so it will be easier if you buy this before you arrive in Cuba.
- Small towel. The guesthouses during the tour provide towels, however the campsite on the trek does not. It's important to bathe after finishing trekking for the day, and to get dry before going to bed.
- Toiletry items. Since you will be carrying all your own belongings, it's best to bring as little as possible and share items if possible (such as soap, deodorant, toilet paper and toothpaste) with a traveling companion.
- Sun protection - hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Much of the trail is in the shade of the forest, however there are some sections where you can get sunburnt on a fine day, if you don't take the necessary precautions.
- Flashlight or torch. There is only limited electric lighting at the campsites.
- Simple first aid kit. With essential items for things like foot blisters.
- Good backpack. You will need to carry all of the above items by yourself on the trek. The national park has mules, however these are used to transport food and supplies to the campsites and there are not enough of these to be able to offer the service of carrying people's luggage. We recommend a backpack that has a waist strap that supports the weight of the pack. This will lesson the strain on your back.
- Camera - either a water resistant camera, or protected by carrying it in a plastic bag.
- Insect repellant. If you are particularly sensitive to mosquito bites you can bring some repellant. During the winter, there are less mosquitos. The mosquitos are also less active during the day when you will be wearing less clothing and more of your skin is exposed. Usually the only time mosquitoes are a factor is when you take a rest stop from trekking during the day in a heavily forested area. While you are on the move, the mosquitoes seem to find it harder to land on you.
- Cover for your backpack. An impermeable layer that can cover your backpack will be usefull to ensure the contents of your backpack don't get wet.
- Cash. A small amount of money to be able to tip the trekking guide and the campsite chef if they provide and excellent service.