Trekking adventure in central Cuba

March 13, 2020 | by James Corporal

Cuba is a beautiful Caribbean island with a diverse and fascinating landscape, full of wildlife that simply isn’t seen in any other parts of the world.

The thing is, if you visit the island and manage to get out of Havana, which has enough itself to entertain you, the temptation is to travel around by car, as most people do. Though this is understandable, there’s the chance you’ll miss the nuanced beauty that exists here.

Cuba is more than pastel-coloured facades, 1950s Cadillacs, cigars and Mojitos. It’s ten thousand more things that you can discover by exploring every corner of this fascinating nation on foot, trekking around some of the planet’s most interesting and unforgettable places.

Does this sound appealing? At Cubania Travel, we think we may just have the right trip for you.

Day 1 – Arrival in Havana

Bienvenidos a Cuba! Even if your Spanish is rusty, there’s no need to worry. One of our Cubania Travel reps will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your accommodation in Havana.

You won’t need long in Havana to realise that it lives up to everything you’d heard and much more. Cuba’s capital has genuinely become one the planet’s “must see” cities. The best way to see Havana is by diving in at the deep end, making the most of the blossoming gastronomy scene, the world-famous cocktails, the retro architecture and the contemporary art scene. And that’s not even mentioning the music which fills the air in every restaurant and bar!

You’ll get this evening to relax and enjoy this enchanting city with all its tropical charms. What an introduction to the Caribbean!

Day 2 – Ciénaga de Zapata Natural Park

After a night in Havana, we recommend a refreshing Cuban coffee for breakfast as today we transfer to the Ciénaga de Zapata natural park. This area is a protected nature reserve and one of the most important birdwatching sites in Cuba.

It’s the natural habitat of the smallest bird in the world, the Bee Hummingbird (Zunzuncito), and there’s a good chance you’ll see one of these as well as Cuba’s national bird, the Cuban Trogon (Tocororo). With its bright red, white and marine blue plumage, you could even say it’s sporting the colours of the Cuban flag!

We begin by taking a gentle warm-up walk in Bermejas to observe local flora and fauna, particularly birds such as the aforementioned bee hummingbird and the Cuban pygmy owl.

It’s worth mentioning that Cuba’s wildlife was an inadvertent benefactor of the island’s political exile and now boasts a more diverse marine life than anywhere else in the Caribbean, as well as possessing species of flora and fauna unseen on other islands. This is because as other Caribbean nations opened their doors to tourism in the 1960s, resulting in hotels and holiday apartments being built on previously unspoilt land, this simply didn’t happen in Cuba.

Nature was able to flourish, and now, the Cuban government has the conundrum of protecting the unique types of plant, birds and animals, while also welcoming tourists to enjoy this unparalleled beauty.

We’ll also make a short stop at the museum in Playa Girón, a name that you may not immediately recognise, but was actually where the events surrounding the CIA-backed “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Castro’s Cuba in April 1961 took place.

As they say, time heals all wounds, and the area now is a far cry from what happened all those years ago, as you’ll see as we lunch in Caleta Buena, where we can also swim in the beautiful natural sea pools.

Afterwards, we’ll transfer to the city of Cienfuegos, known as “The Pearl of the South”, for a brief tour and where we’ll also spend the night.

Tonight, dinner isn’t included so you’ll be able to explore this wonderful city with a very French feel to it. Make sure you try out the local “paladares”. They’re privately owned restaurants where the food is typical, traditional and most importantly, delicious!

Day 3 – Trek through the Escambray mountains

A short transfer from Cienfuegos takes us to the majestic Escambray mountains, Cuba’s central mountain range that dominates the entire landscape.

If you want to discover more than just the paradisiacal beaches that Cuba has to offer, don’t hesitate to visit this central region.

Some of the terrain here is close to a thousand metres high, shaped by millions of years of geological and geographical evolution. The San Juan Peak stands as the tallest point at 1,140 metres above sea level.

Fear not though! To make the trek easier, we’ll leave our bags at the Hotel Hanabanilla, collect our packed lunches and head for the “La Atalaya” trail.

This trail takes us along the banks of the Lake Hanabanilla through the Escambray Mountains with a steep climb to the top of La Atalaya hill where you’ll have amazing views of the surrounding countryside. The trail ends on the banks of Lake Hanabanilla, where a boat will pick us up and take us for refreshments at the Rio Negro Café.

At Rio Negro there’s an opportunity to climb to another “mirador” (lookout point) for those who still have the energy! The trails are decorated with diverse vegetation like coffee bushes and trees like the cedar, mahogany, and teak.

Tropical citrus fruits are also plentiful along the way and the flora is spectacular. Colourful wild roses and rosemary grow in abundance, as do ancient plants with supposed medicinal properties.

It’s common to see parrots and other tropical birds as you trek along, adding to the tropical feel of the stunning habitat you find yourself in.

We return to Hotel Hanabanilla for check in and a well-earned rest for the night. Dinner isn’t included this evening, so you’re free to explore the Cuban cuisine locally, or alternatively there are fine eating options at the hotel.

Day 4 – To Topes de Collante

Today, we’ll leave the hotel by boat and cross Lake Hanabanilla to the Cortina de Jibacoa. It’s from here that we’ll trek for 13km on jeep tracks along a finger of the lake and upstream above the Rio Guanayara, stopping halfway at Tito’s Farm for a water break.

The route today is low-medium intensity on a good surface. It’s also very pretty, skirting between forested hillside on one side and the lake on the other.

We arrive at Casa de la Gallega for lunch and some time to relax. We then continue upstream on a 3km trek to the beautiful El Rocio waterfall where there is a natural swimming pool close-by for you to enjoy a refreshing dip and enjoy the views. From here, we continue across a coffee plantation to reach the local transport which takes us to our accommodation for the night.

Day 5 – Trek the Codina Trail in Topes de Collantes Natural Park

This morning we set off from our hotel on foot heading first for La Casa del Café where we can enjoy a cup of delicious local coffee and hear about its history and production in Cuba.

We then continue our trek through the Topes Arboretum, a wooded area planted in the 1930s with over 300 varieties of trees. We keep moving until we reach La Batata, a point where the river pushes through a crack in the limestone.

La Batata has become the place par excellence for trekking, mountaineering and any other natural or healthy tourism activities in Cuba.

The elevation and greenery of the area make this natural reserve a particularly tranquil environment, especially for meditation and the search for inner peace whilst being in contact with nature.

Here, there’s time for a swim before continuing on to Codina for a traditional Cuban lunch of roast pork.

In the midst of these amazing landscapes, lovers of ecotourism and history can find varied interpretive trails, suspension bridges, wells, streams and waterfalls. Visitors can enjoy trekking, horseback riding, bird watching, organised camping, and bathing in natural pools of crystal clear water.

After lunch we take the “Alfombra Magica” or Magic Carpet trail, a trek of approximately 1 hour at a height of 800 metres, visiting an orchid plantation and exploring a cave to see the rich natural fauna where we complete the walk at the arboretum. There’s time to enjoy a swim before we head down to Trinidad and check into our “casa particular”, or Bed & Breakfast for the night.

Day 6 – Visit the colonial town of Trinidad

A transfer this morning takes us to the beginning of our trail at the look-out point where we stop for pictures of the spectacular views across the mountains and down to the Caribbean Sea.

From here, we cross the road and take the jungle trails back towards Trinidad, cutting through the gorgeous tropical forest.

After a 6km descent we have an opportunity for a refreshing swim in a natural pool before trekking the last 2-3 km to the El Cubano restaurant for a well-earned drink. We then return to Trinidad for lunch and an afternoon sightseeing tour of the town.

Trinidad is probably Cuba’s most famous provincial town, and rightly so. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 and is perhaps the best-preserved colonial town on the island, some say in the whole Caribbean.

Exploring Trinidad is like stepping back in time to the 1800s; the pristine pastel coloured houses, the quaint cobbled streets, and the horse drawn transportation all whisk you back to colonial times before cars, mobile phones and laptops.

There are a number of interesting museums housed in old colonial buildings to visit during the day, but it is as the sun sets that Trinidad really comes alive with music and dance. It’s a great opportunity to meet the locals and have a go at practising your salsa moves to those catchy Cuban salsa rhythms. Dinner will be at one of the local “paladares” in town.

Day 7 – Return to Havana

We leave Trinidad early this morning and head east to the city of Santa Clara, the site of the last battle of the Cuban Revolution.

In December 1958, Che Guevara and his troops ambushed an armoured train carrying arms to the city and this was a major turning point in the Revolution.

We’ll visit the Mausoleum of Che Guevara and his comrades who died while fighting for their cause in the jungles of Bolivia. The museum attached to the Mausoleum has many of his former belongings and is a fascinating insight into one of the 20th Century’s most revered icons.

We then continue our journey, stopping for lunch (not included) before reaching the capital.

This evening you are free to explore on your own and dine out locally. As dinner isn’t included, we recommend taking in the sites and visiting the places you didn’t get to see on the first day. Obviously, Havana is a diverse and entertaining city, and you need to spend time here to appreciate it.

Make the most of your last evening in Cuba, because the evenings can be pretty special themselves in this part of the world!

Day 8 – Guided tour of Old Havana and departure

In the morning, you’ll be served breakfast before your guide takes you on a walking tour of Old Havana. This part of town is said to be the finest surviving Spanish colonial city in the Americas.

Since it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, millions of dollars have been invested in its restoration and the results are spectacular.

The many marvellous monuments, cathedrals and palaces of the city’s historical centre are brought to life by the constant hustle and bustle and the unmistakable sound of Cubans going about their daily lives.

It’s recently celebrated its 500th birthday, so there’s history, culture, architecture, colour, music, food, drink, sunshine and much more for you to investigate here.

We’ll definitely make time to have a Mojito and lunch (included) at one of Hemingway’s favourite haunts, La Bodeguita del Medio.

It will then be time to part ways and say “adios”, or, as we prefer to say, “hasta luego”, as we hope to see you again some time!

It’s around 30 or 40 minutes to Havana airport, and after 8 days in Cuba, trekking through jungles, forests, mountain ranges and ancient towns, we’re sure you’ll take home an abundance of unforgettable memories on the aeroplane!

Written by

James Corporal

James Corporal - Avid cyclist and cubaphile.

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