Authored by Claudia Tavani
Cuba is a breathtaking country, one which leaves visitors both puzzled and captured at the same time. “Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating; Cuba is a country of indefinable magic”, and people who travel here can’t help but to head back for more.
And there is plenty to discover. Think beautifully kept colonial cities, meticulously preserved historic heritage, pristine beaches, awe inspiring nature, intriguing culture, an innate musicality, food that will leave you licking your fingers, and a welcoming and interesting people. Cuba has been likened to a “prince in a poor man’s coat; behind the sometimes shabby facades, gold dust lingers.” Best hiking in Cuba. Where to hike in Cuba.
While many head to Cuba and don’t wander far past Havana, I always feel that in order for my travels to be accomplishing something, I need to get down and dirty on a good, tiring hike. Cuba did not disappoint in this sense, and I highly recommend adding a hike of the Mighty El Yunqueto your Cuba travel guide.
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From UNESCO-Listed biosphere reserves, lush mountain ranges, protected landscapes and endemic wildlife, the diversity of Cuba’s ecosystems astounds and bewilders. Of the many amazing hiking trails throughout the country, some of them completely exhausting though a lot of fun, one which stands out is the El Yunque.
And while Cuba isn’t short on choice if you’re looking for things to do, I can highly recommend hiking as an activity which everyone can appreciate and enjoy. Best hiking in Cuba. Where to hike in Cuba.
Hiking the Mighty El Yunque
El Yunque. This is a flat top mountain (well, sort of, the altitude is only 575 meters!) that can be seen from the lovely city of Baracoa, in the Guantanamo province and at the south east corner of the island.
The whole region is very tropical. It rains every day, and is hot and humid. Hiking El Yunque is a must for anybody visiting Baracoa; for both foreigners and Cubans alike. Some choose to head up the mountain on a horse, though I liked the idea of sweating my way up. Or this is was my official story while in Cuba, as truth be told, I can’t ride horses! And I surely did sweat: the heat was actually oppressive.
Hiking the Sendero Juncal-Rencontra, including a longish detour to take in a set of magnificent waterfalls at the end, is about 10 km long and takes a good 6 hours. The hike starts at the visitors centre, and anybody wanting to go on the hike has to hire a guide. Best hiking in Cuba. Where to hike in Cuba.
Granted, my guide wasn’t exactly the most friendly person, though at least he kept me safe! The first part I could have hiked easily on my own; a simple dirt road which eventually ends right in front of the river. Though that’s when things get interesting, and perhaps the expert guide wasn’t a bad thing to force upon me after-all. Unless there is a cayuca (a bamboo made boat) available, the river must be crossed on foot. We were lucky enough to find a cayuca.
Next came a path which wound through a series of cocoa plantations. The vegetation became very thick and it tourists on their own could easily find themselves lost. While exotic insects and birds are there to be admired, most people dedicate their focus to not falling down: the constant heavy rains and humidy make this path very muddy and extremely slippery. My tip would be that this is not a hike to undertake without very good hiking boots.
After two hours we did reach the top, and once there admired an amazing view of the Caribbean sea stretching across a coastline of beaches near Baracoa. The way back down was terribly slippery, and it took more or less the same amount of time to get back. Though it’s worthwhile convincing your guide, however reluctant they may be, to take you past the nearby waterfalls.
We this time swam across the river and climbed the banks to reach a series of stunning natural pools. On a hot and humid day this will be the highlight of your hike. With water so clean and clear, this is a truly refreshing way to end your day.
Expect an overall long, muddy and tiring day should you take on El Yunque, however this is a rewarding hike, and will be one of the most memorable moments from your Cuban holiday.
Tips for Those Embarking on El Yunque:
- Carry a lot of water. It does get very hot, and water will be needed.
- Carry some snacks and even a packed lunch, as there is nothing on the way.
- Make sure to travel with good quality hiking boots. During our hike people were attempting the mountain wearing flip flops. They were not having a good time.
- Wear a swimsuit, in case you make it to the waterfalls and have to cross the river.
- Talk to your guide before you start the hike. Ask how long it is going to take, enquire about what you will see, and get an overall feel for them.
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