Join Us for a Cuban Hiking Trip of a Lifetime
Feel the pulse of Cuba (and your own heart) on this exciting cultural and active tour that hikes to Cuba’s highest peak, Pico Turquino. Located in southeastern Cuba, Pico Turquino is within the Sierra Maestra mountain range, the birthplace of Cuba’s revolution. At the northern edge of the Sierra Maestra, near the town of Bayamo, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves in 1868 and made a declaration of independence from Spain. While real freedom didn’t come to Cuba for another 90 years, Cubans are proud of the long history of revolution that planted its roots here in the Sierra Maestra.
In 1980, Turquino National Park was established to protect this revolutionary history as well as the unique tropical ecosystem of the area. As we approach the mountains, we see firsthand the blue hues of the peaks, from which the name Turquino came, a corruption of the Spanish word for turquoise, “turquesa.” Fewer than 500 people a year climb the summit. While most approach and return on the mountain’s north side, we hike the entire trail, starting in the north and ending on the Caribbean coast south of the mountain. This full descent from summit to sea is a feat that fewer than 100 people accomplish each year.
Within the Turquino National Park, we also visit the Comandancia de la Plata, where Fidel Castro’s rebel army hid out during the last six months before the final push into Havana in late 1958. The three-mile (5 km) roundtrip hike is a good warm-up the day before we start the hike towards Turquino.
Before the hike, we have a brief visit to the city of Holguin, known as Cuba’s “City of Parks.” On our way to the Sierra Maestra, we also stop in the town of Bayamo, founded in 1513 as the second of Cuba’s original seven cities. Horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the main forms of transport around town.
After summiting Pico Turquino and reaching the Caribbean coast, we drive east to Cuba’s second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba and to spend time exploring the streets, music, and culture of this lively waterfront port.
The trip is designed to take advantage of flights that arrive in Holguin and depart from Santiago. It can also be easily combined with our eastern Cuba sea kayaking tours, or other walking itineraries that we operate in the east of the island.
Note that for those that wish, there is an alternative to climbing to the summit and instead, traveling east to a lodge nestled in the mountains, hike and explore that area and then rejoin the group in Santiago.
Although the elevation of Pico Turquino is only 6476’ (1974 meters), it’s a tough climb due to numerous ascents and descents. Our approach from the north climbs from roughly 3100’ (1000 m) to 6476’ (1974 m) but the trail’s ups and downs easily triple the altitude gained. On the first day of the climb, we spend one night at a mountain refuge which is a very basic bunkhouse. The next day we rise by 5:00 AM to reach the summit some 3-4 hours later. Once at the summit, we continue south for a seven-mile, 6476’ descent all the way to the Caribbean Sea!
This is a knee jolter and much more enjoyable if you train and are prepared. No technical gear or skill is needed. It’s simply a hike up and then down the other side. However, it’s not easy and you need to be in excellent shape to enjoy it. Seasonal rains can also make the trail muddy and slippery, adding to the difficulty. For those up to the challenge, the reward is fantastic! The hike passes through a tropical forest and there’s plenty to learn from our local guide. The views from the top are tropical and beautiful, but not spectacular. The draw here is to know that you’ve climbed Cuba’s highest peak and seen a part of the world that few others see.
Images & Videos
*This itinerary is designed so that we may provide an alternative for those who may not be physically fit enough to reach the summit. For those seeking an alternative, it’s possible to instead visit a mountain resort called El Salton for some less strenuous hiking. If we do have people doing this alternative, we reunite the two groups after one night apart.
Arrive Holguin, Cuba
Arrive Holguin, (served by American Airlines and Jet Blue). Have lunch at a local paladar (private restaurant), then learn about this “City of Parks” with a relaxed walking tour of Cuba’s fourth largest city. Later in the day we check into our Casa Particulars (Bed & Breakfasts), each hosted by a local family. This is an ideal way to meet Cubans in a relaxed way and learn about their daily lives. We dine out at another paladar and for those with energy, enjoy an evening stroll and the local music scene.
Holguin to Bayamo, hike to La Comandancia de la Plata, then to Santo Domingo
Departing from Holguin, we drive an hour south to Bayamo. This relatively small city is where Cuba’s independence movement started in the 1860’s. We stroll the streets to learn about Bayamo’s role in Cuban history. We continue south into the mountains and on to the small village of Santo Domingo. From here we ride in a SUV about 3 miles up a very steep incline to Alto del Naranjo, elevation 3116’. To start our 2.5-mile roundtrip hike (about 3 hours) to visit La Comandancia de la Plata, Fidel’s rebel army headquarters in 1958. We visit the collection of wooden buildings, visit a small museum, learn the stories, enjoy a picnic lunch, then hike back out.
We return to the hamlet of Santo Domingo to spend the night in local accommodations.
Santo Domingo to Aguada del Joaquin (option to go to El Salton)
In the morning, if anyone of the group is opting to not hike to the summit, they will transfer to our vehicle and travel back to Bayamo, then east to a small village near El Salton. Here a local guide will show you the area including lovely waterfalls, coffee plantations and small farms.
The main group starts out with our local National Park guide for a 5-mile hike that will take about 4.5 - 5 hours. Our destination is the trekking hut at Aguada del Joaquin at 4482’ for a net elevation gain of about 1366’. Although the distance is not great, the trail is somewhat demanding due to the ups and downs and possible mud if it’s raining. The total elevation hiked in the day 2611' up, and roughly 1200' down. Simple dinner and overnight at a very simple mountain bunkhouse. Extra water is available at the bunkhouse camp. Because we have to carry our own gear (a detailed list is provided), we leave much of our gear in our vehicle to be transferred to Santiago.
Summit Pico Turquino
We rise by 5:00 am for our final ascent to the summit. It’s another 3 miles and 1994’ elevation gain to reach the peak at 6476’. The goal is to reach the summit by 8:30-9:00 am. After enjoying the summit, we continue to the coast, 7 miles and 6476’ down. On the ascent, it’s very steep, with crude steps in some places. On the way down to the coast, walking poles are a necessity. It’s hard on the knees. We plan 5 -7 hours for the descent. The views of the Caribbean Sea below are stunning.
Once on the coast, we have lunch, then drive about 2.5 hours east to Santiago de Cuba where we reunite with anyone who may have left the group yesterday.
For those that chose not to summit, the day is spent hiking near El Salton with our local guide. You visit a small mountain village, and then a farmhouse for a farm-to-table lunch and a great interchange with a local family to learn about their life in the mountains. The walk is a total of about 5 miles with roughly 600’ elevation gain total, through forests and small coffee plantations. There’s an optional swim in a small river. Return to the vehicle and drive about 3 hours to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second-largest city. Here we reunite with the others.
Dinner and overnight in Santiago de Cuba. Optional evening outing to listen to Cuban music!
Explore Santiago de Cuba
A full day to explore Santiago de Cuba. First up we go to the Plaza of the Revolution with its monumental bronze statue. A short drive takes us to the cemetery Ifigenia, where Cuba’s National Hero Jose Marti is buried as is Fidel Castro. After watching the changing of the guard, we continue to San Juan Hill where Teddy Roosevelt led the Rough Rivers in 1898 during the Spanish-Cuban-American War. We have lunch, then head to the Moncada barracks where the revolution had an inopportune start. After lunch we visit the House and Museum of Velasquez the first Governor of Cuba who settled Cuba on behalf of Spain starting about 1512. Then it’s a casual stroll on the longest pedestrian boulevard in Cuba that leads about a mile to the sea. Overall it’s a fascinating day in Santiago, learning and meeting with local Cubans along the way.
Sunset takes us to a rooftop terrace to view the harbor and urban landscape. Dinner at a local paladar ends the day except for those seeking to enjoy more of Santiago’s vibrant music scene.
Explore Santiago, Late Afternoon Flight
There’s a lot to see in Santiago and we start our morning with a walk through the Tivoli neighborhood. Later in the morning we visit the rum museum to learn about the important role this played in Cuba’s history. Then we enjoy a final lunch together and by mid-afternoon head to the airport for the American Airlines flight out. (As of August 2019, this flight is scheduled to depart daily at 5:05 PM)
*Note this trip is available as a custom tour on any date. Limited scheduled departures are also offered. It can easily be combined with other walking tours of the east, including traveling to Cuba’s oldest town, Baracoa.
Dates & Rates
Note: $1790 per person price based on a minimum of 4. Itinerary available by request for two or more people. Add $200/person for groups of 2-3.
- Experienced Cuba Unbound Tour Leader
- Specialized hiking guides
- Private pre-tour orientation meeting
- Accommodations as noted in the itinerary
- All meals as noted in itinerary
- All drinks with meals and clean drinking water at all times
- Certification of travel to Cuba under the U.S. Department of Treasury general license
- Small custom group size
- All entrance fees to included events, activities and Parks
- All in-country ground transportation
- Gratuities and fees for presenters, luggage handling, and restaurant staff
- Round-trip air to/from Cuba
- Cuba Tourist Visa Fee (ranges from $75-$100 depending on where you buy it.)
- Cuban Tour Guide and driver gratuities
- Personal expenses such as souvenirs, gifts, additional drinks/entertainment, and incidentals