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Hiking downstream in the Canyon of the River Santa Cruz

Hiking downstream in the Canyon of the River Santa Cruz

by WhyNotCuba

This rough canyon is located in the Sierra del Rosario, a natural reserve within the Guaniguanico mountain range, the biggest in the west of Cuba. The Canyon stretches along six kilometres of the River Santa Cruz and goes around the river with huge farallones (rocky outcrops) up to 200 metres high. Other rivers and streams flow through different canyons in the range, but no one as well-defined, extensive and amazing as the Canyon of the River Santa Cruz. For those staying at the Cuba’s capital, a hiking tour to the Canyon is easy to do in a weekend because it is near Havana. It is also near from Soroa Orchid Garden and Las Terrazas, which are part of Cuba’s biosphere.

Characteristics

The River Santa Cruz flows from north to south through the Sierra del Rosario and the following plain until flowing into the sea. In the rainy season, the river covers superficially the canyon’s bottom. In the dry season, it flows underground. The surface current can be seen only at both entrances of the canyon, and then it disappears under the bosom. Because of this, you can walk along the rocky bed without getting wet. Several small caves adorn the canyon, formed by the cracking of the hillside blocks.

Amongst the vegetation in the canyon, you can see the ceibón in the choppy slopes. This is an endemic tree from the Guaniguanico mountain range, with a greenish trunk and quite thick in the base. Another endemic specie is the palma de sierra (mountain palm), with a narrow trunk and a height larger than those of the palma real (royal palm), present in the hillside too. The pomarrosa, with its rounded and yellow fruits, is abundant in some areas. The entire region is rich in the majestic jagüey. Amongst the birds, you can frequently see and hear the tocororo.

Different access points

The most direct way to reach the Canyon starts in the crossroad of Chirigotas, near the Havana-Pinar del Río motorway. From this place, you have to move forward by a road about 5 kilometres, heading towards the Sierra del Rosario. This way leads you to the entrance of a floor tiles factory. There, you have to follow an embankment through its left side, next turn to the right and again to the left in a crossroad until arriving a house. Then pass behind the house and go down to the beginning of the canyon, downriver.

The other common entrance starts in the crossroad of San Cristóbal, in the motorway as well. Later on, take the road to the Sierra del Rosario in search of the small village of Cinco Pesos (Five Pesos). After passing a flat zone and ascending to the mountains through a road, turn left in the intra-mountain crossroad just before arriving the village, near a public transport stop. Keep forward by the intra-mountain road about one kilometre and when the slope begins the descent, leave the road surface to take a path on the left side, exactly where there’s a pine forest. Walk about five kilometres without straying off the path until reaching the river Santa Cruz. After crossing the river, climb a path to the left until you arrive to a house. From the house, a path brings you to the canyon entrance, upriver.

I will describe this latter route, which crosses the Canyon from north to south. This route is accessed by the entrance upstream. Next, you could find information about the route and things you may need in this hiking experience:

Difficulty: Medium.

Duration: A day and a half.

On foot-distance: 12 km.

Sights: Cinco Pesos town, house of Tomás, Quitacalzones, Cave of the Indian (Cueva del Indio), crossroad of Chirigotas.

Wear: Comfortable clothes (shorts, t-shirt), walking boots, sunglasses, cap.

Pack: insect repellent, sun cream, water (2 litres), a snack, energy-giving meal (candy, peanuts, energy bar), tent, inflatable raft, photographic camera, torch.

From Cinco Pesos to the house of Tomás

You can hire a taxi and reach the village of Cinco Pesos at mid-morning, or maybe go ahead until reach the pine trees that mark the path deviation to the north part of the Canyon. Always seek the wider track, as you can get lost by going along the narrow paths that seems to take you to a river or other houses. After the long walk (5 km), you will arrive the river Santa Cruz at early afternoon. Cross the river and you will have half a day to settle and explore the campsite.

Here you will find the house of the hospitable peasant Tomás, well known amongst those who often enter to the Sierra del Rosario. Behind the house, is the beginning of the path that stretches parallel to a minor canyon. By this route, you can access to a crag, from which you can see the Canyon entrance and a wide area of the Sierra del Rosario.

Tomás receives every year hundreds of visitors who want to cross the Canyon. He has stated that in some summers, there is not one single day without the presence of visitors in the surroundings of his farm. The countryside near the Tomás’s land is rich in the native flora and birds, besides the domestic animals he owns.

On the way through the Canyon

Going straight ahead by the path located in the southeast side of the house of Tomás, will put you in the Canyon upriver entrance. At the beginning, the track is a little wooded, and some shrubs obstruct the way. Further on, the way is sometimes a narrow path alongside the slopes. In other occasions, you will walk by the bed of rocks, always watching where you step. If it is the rainy season, it is almost impossible not to get your shoes wet or to not get your feet all muddy.

Amongst the notable sights, there are two peculiar ones: Quitacalzones (literally “the one that takes your pants off”) and the Cueva del Indio (Cave of the Indian). The former is a kind of funnel of rocky slopes. The way through this place is quite difficult, despite the cable that has been placed in the western hillside to help cross through this place.If the river is high, you will have to swim to cross this part. Backpacks and other belongings have to be transported via a raft. Specially, take care of your camera and phone.

Cueva del Indio is an area where the river shows a beautiful blue-green colour and immerses in the cave in the rainy season. The inflatable raft is useful in this part too. Nevertheless, it won’t be necessary to swim, as it is not deep enough. What is very difficult is trying to pass by grabbing the rocks and roots on the slippery hillside.It is better to get wet and walk by the water. Of course, this depends on the season.

From here, you are able to take some secret short cuts, courtesy of experienced hikers. They are located in solid ground, mainly in the right slope of the Canyon. In the south exit, you can find a beautiful spring, making its own way between uneven mountain blocks, and even a little waterfall.

The end of the hike

After reaching the last part, you could take a swim in the natural pond that ends in a small waterfall. Beyond this south side of the Canyon, there are private lands and you will see a fence that divides the river. In the left side, two paths go up by the eastern slope. Both are suitable to the final walk bound for the floor tiles factory, and then for the crossroad of Chirigotas and the motorway.

Personal experience in the Canyon

I went to the Canyon of Santa Cruz along with other 126 young people. A trip like this may seems as an impossible, but we do travelled across the Canyon without any mishap.It is worth to say that some of us belong to a movement that has vast experience in backpack adventures. This time we hired three camiones (lorries) to transport all of us from Havana to the town of Cinco Pesos, but the drivers refuse to climb the steep road before arriving our destination. Finally, most of us climbed the road from the village of La Muralla until reach the bus stop at Cinco Pesos. Then, we walk the 6 kilometres between the town and the house of Tomás.

In the evening, we cooked spaghettis in a huge pan that Tomás lent us. Is difficult to make dinner for 127 people without jeopardising the quality of the food, but in these exhausting trekking tours, every meal seems like fine dining. The surroundings of the house functioned as a giant camp, where we pitched our tents.

Early in the morning, we started our way through the Canyon. In a large line, we walked the rocky bed and swam until crossing the already mentioned Quitacalzones. Up to five inflatable rafts were necessary to carry all the backpacks. After the Cave of the Indian, we had a meal consisting of a piece of turrón de maní (candy made from peanut with a fudge-like consistency) -we always prepare a breakfast consisting of milk or soft drink and crackers with a guava bar slice, and a light snack for the journey-. The team moved faster and we reached our goal by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We took a few moments to take a bath in the river. Then, we continued the path to the place where the camiones were waiting to return Havana.

Here is a list of a four-person module for this travel and other things included in the budget:

Food

1 packet of spaghetti

1 tin of tomato sauce

1 packet of soft drink powder

1 guava bar

1 turrón de maní

1 packet of crackers

Total: 3.65 CUC and 45 Peso Cubano

Transportation

A filled lorry for outward and return: 4 CUC a person

Author

My name is Marlon, I’m an engineer living in Havana with a particular attraction for sports and outdoor activities. Before being dazzled by the capital city I lived half of my life in Remedios, in the province of Villa Clara but, wait… I thought I was born in the neighbouring town of Zulueta. Well, both are truth, cause I spend first years of my childhood coming and going from one place to another. In fact, that gave me a special fondness for traditions, like the Parrandas of Remedios and Zulueta and of course: football, the favourite sport of Cubans. Or it was baseball? Anyway, what matters is that we zulueteños have a close relation with the beginnings of football in Cuba.

I am enthusiastic about hiking in the beautiful landscapes of our green caiman. I have backpacked to some of the greatest places in Cuba’s geography, including the amazing Turquino Peak. To me, travelling is a like, mainly if I do it along with my friends. I’m also keen on the urban, fashionable ambience of Havana.

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