Sierra Maestra Treks

The Sierra Maestra mountains in the south-east part of Cuba, offer some of the best hiking trails in the Caribbean including a trek 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 Casto's rebel army in the early part of their military struggle against the Batista regime.

An image of a young woman on the trek to Pico Turquino, Sierra Maestra, Cuba

Our Sierra Maestra treks range from 1 to 3 days. The prices below are for private groups accompanied by a local guide and include transport to and from Santiago de Cuba.


Pico Turquino

The 2 day trek to Cuba's highest mountain - Pico Turquino - is a physically demanding hike. It is suited only 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 12 to 15 hours over the 2 days. The total walking distance is only 25km (15.5 miles) 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 slightly more short of breath than normal.

An image of the Pico Turquino mountain, Sierra Maestra, Cuba

At 1974m, Pico Turquino is Cuba's highest mountain.

Pico Turquino Option #1
PRICE $255 per person
PRICE $425 if only 1 person in group
EXCURSION START POINT Santiago de Cuba (alternatives available)
EXCURSION FINISH POINT Santiago de Cuba (alternatives available)
GROUP SIZE maximum 20 people
GRADE difficult
TOTAL TREKKING TIME 12 to 15 hours
DURATION 2 days / 1 night
TREK LENGTH 25km / 15.5 miles
MAX ALTITUDE REACHED 1974m / 6,476 ft
TERRAIN Undulating, steep in parts, with lots of steps
TRAIL CONDITIONS Well maintained with steps and handrails where needed, some rocky and muddy sections
CAMPSITE "La Aguada"
INCLUSIONS Local trekking guide, breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the trek, water, return transport from Santiago (taxi + jeep).
ROUTE ALTERNATIVES See below for the cost of variations.
ITEMS TO TAKE See below

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 the 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 colorful 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.

A hand made wooden ladder forms part of the trail to Cuba's highest mountain, Pico Turquino

In the steep sections of the track to Pico Turquino there are some quite well maintained stairs, handrails, and ladders.

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Comandancia de la Plata

Now a museum, Comandancia de la Plata consists of a number of wooden huts scattered across this remote area of densely forested mountains. This was the head-quarters of Fidel Castro's 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.

One of the buildings that forms part of the Comandancia de la Plata historic complex in the Sierra Maestra, Cuba

One of the buildings at Comandancia de la Plata where Fidel Castro and his guerilla army had their headquarters during the revolutionary struggle.

Comandancia de la Plata Option #2
PRICE $155 per person
PRICE $260 if only 1 person in group
EXCURSION START POINT Santiago de Cuba (alternatives available)
EXCURSION FINISH POINT Santiago de Cuba (alternatives available)
GROUP SIZE Maximum 20 people
GRADE Moderate
TOTAL TREKKING TIME 3 to 5 hours
DURATION 1 day (12 hours)
TREK LENGTH 6km / 3.7 miles
MAX ALTITUDE REACHED 950m / 3,117 ft
TERRAIN Undulating
TRAIL CONDITION Well maintained, some rocky and muddy sections
CAMPSITE n/a
INCLUSIONS Local trekking guide, lunch, 1 x 600mL water bottle, park entry, return transport from Santiago
NOT INCLUDED Permission to take photos at La Comandancia de la Plata (optional 5CUC)
ITEMS TO TAKE Rain jacket/poncho, snacks, sun protection

This trekking option is less difficult than the trek to Pico Turquino, however the mountain views and scenery are perhaps even more breathtaking. With the visit to the Comandancia and the explanations and stories provided by the local guide, this trekking option provides a more interesting option 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.

One of the stunning views over the Sierra Maestra

One of the stunning views over the Sierra Maestra mountains in Cuba during the trek to Comandancia de la Plata.

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Pico Turquino + Comandancia Combination

This option is a combination of the above 2 treks - a visit to La Comandancia de la Plata and the summiting of Cuba's highest mountain - Pico Turquino. It is a physically demanding hike suited only to those who enjoy some prolonged physical exertion in challenging conditions. The 3 day excursion starts and ends in Santiago de Cuba, however we can arrange the pick up to be in Bayamo or Holguin, and we can drop you in either of those places as well (instead of Santiago) at the end of the excursion on the 3rd day. See below for these alternatives.

Pico Turquino + Comandancia Option #3
PRICE $285 per person
PRICE $475 if only 1 person in group
EXCURSION START POINT Santiago de Cuba (alternatives available)
EXCURSION FINISH POINT Santiago de Cuba (alternatives available)
GROUP SIZE maximum 20 people
GRADE difficult
TOTAL TREKKING TIME 16 to 19 hours
DURATION 3 days / 2 nights
TREK LENGTH 30km / 18.6 miles
MAX 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
CAMPSITES "La Platica", "La Aguada"
INCLUSIONS Local trekking guide, breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the trek, water, return transport from Santiago (taxi + jeep).
NOT INCLUDED Permission to take photos at La Comandancia de la Plata (optional 5CUC)
ITEMS TO TAKE See below

Route Options

The Default Route
For the 2 day Pico Turquino trek and the 3 day Combination Trek, the default route we take is a 1 way direction from north to south. The transport will take you to the trek start point at Alto de Naranjo. We trek up to Pico Turquino, then down over the other side of the mountain range, finishing at the coast to the south at Las Cuevas. The transport (jeep / taxi) will then take you back to Santiago de Cuba.

North Return Route
An alternative route that starts in the north, reaches Pico Turquino, and then returns to the starting point in the north, is also possible. This would suit travelers who want to continue their journey in Cuba after the trek westwards towards Havana (Bayamo, Holguin, Camaguey, Trinidad etc) instead of going back to Santiago de Cuba. The outward transport provided would take you to Bayamo and drop you there at a place of your choice. For this alternative of trekking back down to the starting point on the north side, a supplement payment of $30 USD per person is required due to the additional road transport required.

Reverse Route
We can also run the 2 and 3 day treks in a reverse 1-way direction from south to north, starting at the coast at Las Cuevas, and finishing at Alto de Naranjo. This alternative is only suitable to very fit and experienced hikers. The climb on Day 1 from the coast all the way up to Pico Turquino (1974m / 6,476ft) is very steep and arduous and takes between 6 and 9 hours to complete. There is a further 2 to 3 hours required to reach the campsite at La Aguada for that first night. If you don't know how demanding a 2000m (6,500 ft) climb is on 1 day, you'd be best to talk to someone you know who is an experienced walker and ask their opinion, and if they recommend it for you.

If you are continuing your travels in Cuba towards the west after the trek, and are prepared for this physical challenge of the Day 1 climb, then this alternative saves you having to go back to Santiago after the trek, and can also represent a more interesting option being a 1-way trek instead of walking back down the mountain the same way you walked up. With this option, if there are some belongings that you don't want to take with you on the trek, with some additional organisation, we can arrange for them to be sent from Santiago to your arrival point of choice in Bayamo.

A rough map of the Sierra Maestra trails in Cuba - not to scale

A rough map of the Sierra Maestra trails. Not to scale!

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Campsites

Trekking Huts
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.

One of the trekking huts at a Sierra Maestra campground in Cuba

The trekking huts at the campsites have up to 6 bunk beds in each unisex room.

Bedding
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 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.

Bathroom Facilities
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, filling, 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.

One of the included meals at a Sierra Maestra trekking hut, Cuba

The included meals at the campsites are simple but healthy, and filling.

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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.

Checklist

  • 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 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 in Cuba 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, torch, or a cell phone with this feature. 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.

A view from La Aguada campsite on the way to Pico Turquino in the Sierra Maestra, Cuba

The La Aguada campsite on a clear afternoon with Pico Turquino in the background. The temperatures at night can be cool so you need to be prepared with clothing and sleeping gear.

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Optional

  • Camera - either a water resistant camera, or protected by carrying it in a plastic bag.
  • Binoculars
  • 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.
  • Entertainment. Depending on the weather and how quickly you can complete the day's walk, you may find yourself arriving early to the campsite. There is not a lot to do once you reach there so you might be grateful if you take along a book to read, a lightweight travel game, or some entertainment of some sort.
  • Cash. A small amount of money to be able to tip the trekking guide and the campsite chef if they provide excellent service.

A hummingbird spotted on the trail in the Sierra Maestra, Cuba

One of the features of the Sierra Maestra is the rich native flora and fauna that can be encountered. This mountainous area of Cuba in protected within a national park.

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