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Hiking Turquino Peak: Granma- Santiago route

Hiking Turquino Peak: Granma- Santiago route

by cubapura

Pico Real del Turquino (1974 m) is the highest summit above sea level in Cuba. It is the main elevation in the Sierra Maestra range. This mountain chain was a refugee and warfare scenario for the Fidel’s revolutionaries in the second half of the 1950’s. The ascent to the Turquino is a challenge for many Cubans, mainly young students who often choose this hiking experience as a final moment to crown their university graduation.

Popular routes to climb the Turquino Peak

There are two main routes to climb and go down the Turquino. One is in the north to south direction (Granma-Santiago) and the other is in the south to north direction (Santiago-Granma). In addition, you can decide whether to come back the same path or not. Then, it results in four different ways to travel to the Sierra Maestra going through the Turquino.

Another route, seldom used by locals or foreigners is the one of the natural reserve Alto del Cojo. This one is very similar in the last part to the conventional Granma-Santiago route, but it is harder to find transportation and lodging to try it.

Granma-Santiago route

This route is very useful if you are in Bayamo, Manzanillo or any other location in the province of Granma. After reach the summit of the Turquino, you have the option of going ahead if you want to go Santiago de Cuba. Here is some information about the track and things you may need in this trekking tour:

DifficultyHigh
Duration2 days and 2 nights
On foot distance24 km
SightsSanto Domingo town, Alto del Naranjo viewpoint, Aguada de Joaquín shelter, Turquino Peak, Cuba Peak, Las Cuevas camp
What to wearComfortable clothes (shorts or maybe trousers, t-shirt), walking boots, cap
What to packRaincoat, insect repellent, water (2 or 3 litres), a snack, energy-giving meal (candy, peanuts, energy bar), photographic camera, torch.

How to reach the start point

The start point is the intra-mountain town of Santo Domingo. You can reach this place by hiring a car or arranging a tour with a travel agency or the Turquino National Park administration. If you decide to arrive the same day of the ascent it is recommended doing it very early in the morning, say before 8 am. The reason is because you must e at the access entry of the National Park before 10 in the morning, after which you will not be able to enter. There is an entrance fee you have to pay.

On the other hand, if you are plenty of time, you can spend the night before in Santo Domingo at the lodging facilities or at a casa particular. You may leave at dawn and continue the journey.

The beginning of the adventure

Every great feat begins with the first step. In this occasion, that first step is the steepest road in the whole country (5 km). For 10 CUC, a shared 4×4 jeep will give you a lift to Alto del Naranjo viewpoint. In the way up you will notice the humps on the road and the rungs that help cars not to slip. The hillside is also well protected by a rail.

Once in Alto del Naranjo you are supposed to meet the guide who will lead you in the trek to the Turquino. From now on, you must go on your own feet. It is worth being in good shape for this. Next destination is the shelter Aguada de Joaquín, to the distance of 8 km. Before continuing towards Aguada, it is possible to stray off the main path about two couple hundred metres, to visit the Comandancia de La Plata (La Plata Command Headquarters). This place was a former refuge for Fidel Castro and his comrade-in-arms during the revolutionary struggles in the 50’s. Today, you can find there a museum showing original belongings of the rebels.

The way to Aguada is a variable sloping path with different resting points, namely Alto de Lima (1238 m) and Cuatro Caminos. Each one has some rustic seats and wooden signals marking the height and the connection to other paths. The travel distance is also marked each kilometre. A dense vegetation makes its own way the more you walk, but you don’t have to worry because the trail is well-defined. You find also marked man-made stairs to help you climb in the slopes. The pine trees and big ferns are very common in this landscape. For those who are on the lookout for the birds, is better to get ready the camera in case of the presence of the tocororo or the cartacuba.

Eventually, you will notice how the temperature is decreasing as the upwards climb goes on. You can’t miss the view at the “Teatro de nubes” (Clouds theatre), a mid-way stop where you may see an astounding view of the Turquino surrounded by other elevations.

Arriving Aguada de Joaquín

If everyone makes the travel without any mishap on the way, with a bit of luck, you will be reaching the shelter Aguada de Joaquín (1360 m) long time before it gets dark. After a bushy corridor, the place appears before your eyes and you can settle at a two-room shack made of palm tree planks.

There is accommodation for about a dozen people and there are beds with comfortable foam mattresses. Near the shack, there is a hut that lodges the shelter’s ranger. He is the person who will cook at night or help you to prepare breakfast. You can also buy a cold, fizzy soft drink! Don’t be surprised, the temperature here is really low. In the wee small hours it can get as cold as 6 degrees. Nevertheless, the shack is a warm place at night if you make sure you’re covered enough.

You can replenish your water at the supply in Joaquín and, if you dare, take an adjacent way downwards about one hundred metres until arrive to a small stream that ends in a pond, ideal for taking a bath or freezing in the attempt. Before going to sleep, enjoy of the amazing view this high point allows. It is possible to see all the stars in the night sky and the city lights beyond the ends of the mountain range.

On the way to touch the clouds

The second day you will be well rested and it is better to continue at daybreak. There are 5 km left to the highest cumber. Next step is to climb the 800 metres steep path to Joaquín Peak (1676 m). From here, it is a track at times slightly flat or steeper. The Paso de los Monos (Monkey’s Pass) is a downhill pass where you have to help yourself using the wooden ladder in the path. You can glimpse a close-up of the very Turquino Peak and Loma Redonda (Rounded Hill) from near this area. The final challenge is to climb the 1 km abrupt path to the Turquino. Before reach the summit, it is worth to seat on the big rock that acts as a natural viewpoint.

Did you find too long the way travelled here? Well now you’re going to start climbing the Turquino surface. Rest and keep going!

The effort has paid off. If you are now in front of a bust of José Martí (the National Hero), you are at the top of Cuba. Some fleeting clouds will touch you then as a welcome. The view from here is not that good, since the trees block the external landscape.

Going down to Las Cuevas

An 11 km track is waiting for you. Another guide will lead the hike always in the southwards direction. Leaving the peak just before noon will guarantee to be at the coast before night falls. You can feel sometimes exhausted, but is normal because the muscles you need to descend are seldom used in the daily life. I prefer always to climb rather than going down, especially because the knees suffer a lot.

The weather in the southern mountainside could be very wet and foggy at the beginning. It is common if a drizzle catch you when going downhill so, be careful with the slippery track. About two kilometres from the start is the Cuba Peak (1872 m), with a former shelter now abandoned since it was destroyed by a hurricane. You need to avoid some dangerous drops by walking carefully.

In the kilometre 7 ½ it is located the camp La Majagua, but that’s not the final destination. Further on, the way is a stony embankment that stretches three and a half kilometres until arrive the seaside. The view from this slope is amazing, highlighting the southern coast and the possibility of witness a red dusk. Then, stay overnight in Las Cuevas camp, which has some beds and a bathroom. You can also go for a dip in the river Palma Mocha. It is important to have arranged in advance transportation from Las Cuevas to Santiago for the next day.

Backpacking on a budget to Pico Turquino

I’m currently part of a movement that travels along the whole country as backpackers. If you want to hike on a tight budget and you don’t mind to sleep out in the open inside a tent, follow this advice. Foreigners are also welcome to travel with us.

I organized a three-day trip to the Turquino from Bayamo following the route Granma-Santiago. We were a group of thirteen. First day, we managed to hire a camión (passengers lorry) to Bartolomé Masó municipality (45 km) and then other to the village of Providencia (13 km). We walk 8 km along the steep Road of La Plata trying to reach Santo Domingo Boy Scout camp. In the track we interacted with the highlanders and saw a funny thing: a man riding downhill a chivichana (four wheels buggy made of wood).

In Santo Domingo, we thought to use our tents outdoors, but heavy rain stopped us. We lodged at a large shelter with several bunks. The cooking staff made the dinner (rice and tinned fish) and then we went to sleep. Months before, when planning this trip, we phoned the Park administration to let them know we would come. Locals also have to pay the entrance fee at the Turquino National Park.

The second day in the morning we climbed the difficult road to Alto del Naranjo, wearing ourselves out in the last part (the angle is of near 45º). When we don’t have any guide, we set a vanguard and a rearguard to avoid that somebody gets lost. This time we met the guide in Alto del Naranjo and skipped Comandancia de La Plata to go directly to Aguada de Joaquín. There, we ate spaghetti and tinned beef, thanks to the ranger/cooker. It is worth to say that each one of us left a 5 or 10 Peso Cubano tip. Just before dawn, we set off to keep pursuing the cumber of the Turquino. Without any setback we reached the top before midday. Next to the statue, we rest a little in order to make it to Las Cuevas with the sun still up. Once in the camp, some of us stayed overnight inside the bedroom and the others slept in the tents outdoors. That night we cooked ourselves in the kitchen.

The third day we woke up really early to catch one of two buses living the area. This mean of transport is intended for the nearby inhabitants and it is very cheap (2 Peso Cubano). At 7 o’clock we left Las Cuevas bound for the town of Chivirico (52 km). There, we rapidly took a camión to Santiago de Cuba (74 km).

Here is a list of our expenses (individual) during the trip:

Food: 3.50 CUC and 55 Peso Cubano.

Transportation: 5 CUC and 42 Peso Cubano.

Entrance fee: 5 Peso Cubano (foreigners are charged in CUC).

Tips: 30 Pesos Cubano.

For those who love hiking, the Turquino Peak is a landmark you can’t miss. Amongst the great landscapes of Cuba, the Sierra Maestra stands out not only for its beauty, but also for the simplicity of the people who have decided to live in the mountains. Trying to inspire for a while the same air they breathe is an unforgettable experience.

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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