Turquino Peak Hike
The Pico Turquino is the highest mountain in Cuba with almost 2000 m. It lies in the Sierra Maestra mountain chain in the east of Cuba, the historical setting of the guerrilla campaign of the revolution in the years 1956-1958. A 2 to 3 day hike can take you over the peak. No special equipment is necessary, just a good physical condition and the will to do it.
The mountain Pico Turquino lies in the National Park Pico Turquino and entrance fee is charged. This includes the assistance of a guide, some food along the way and the accommodation in the lodges up in the mountains. We recommend to begin the trip in Santo Domingo on the north side of the peak. Here you find a small hotel at the entrance of the park where you can sleep the night before. The entrance to the park trail is limited and can not be guaranteed but in general there is no problem to start the next day after your arrival in Santo Domingo.
You need to begin the walk before 10 AM as the entrance to the park closes after this time. We recommend to arrange a transportation (taxi or truck) to do the first 5 km up the slope to Alto de Naranjo where the actual trail begins. This slope is quite steep, especially the last part which has an amazing 45 % angle. If you car can’t make it you can walk it as it is the last hundred meters to Alto de Naranjo. Here you have a view over the area at 950 m. Here another trail takes you in an hour to La Comandancia which is the former headquarters of the Revolutionary Army of Fidel Castro. The visit to the camp gives you fairly good idea of how the Revolutionaries organized themselves and their battles. It is a very interesting visit but is not recommended to combine on the same day with the hike to the Pico Turquino.
You take the other trail and in about 5 hours you hike to the first lodge Aguada de Joaquin. The trail is very well marked and consists for a great part out of man-made stairs to avoid erosion. The nature is astounding with tropical mountain vegetation changing with the altitude. On the way you see many birds and especially butterflies are abundant. Many are endemic to the area. On the way this morning you also pass by the only community on the way, called La Plata. This is a government project to populate the mountains with villages receiving all social benefits as in the cities. Their economic activity is mainly the cultivation of coffee beans.
Aguada de Joaquin is one of the only places where nature offers us fresh water. Here a small basic lodge has been built by the park to provide shelter and food. This station is manned day and night. The cooks prepare a meal for the visitors and there is even a television if the generator is working. There is a dormitory with 16 beds in total. A basic shower and toilet facility is available but you can also wash yourself a bit down the lodge at the source.
You leave at sunset for the final hike to the Pico Turquino. Right after breakfast there is a steep climb to the Joaquin peak. This first hour of the day is one of the heaviest in the trip. After this 3 hours of up and down take you to the Pico Turquino which you will have all the time in front of you. Between the Joaquin and the Pico Turquino there is a gap to be crossed called the “Pass of the Monkeys” as the park rangers have built wooden ladders which you must climb to get through. Finally before midday you reach the top of the Pico Turquino where a bust of the Cuban National hero José Martì welcomes you. Here you can take a rest before the descent begins. The Pico Turquino has no good views due to the trees on its top. A little bit down from the peak there is a view point where you see the majestic Caribbean sea.
From the top it is a long but smooth walk down to the southern sea shore. It can still hurt as you have already many hours of hiking behind you. Alternatively there is a sleeping lodge just after the Pico Cuba, about 1 hour from the Pico Turquino. On arriving in the village Las Cuevas you should have made arrangements for transportation as there is none. From there you can reach the hotels in Marea del Portillo or Chivirico at 1 hour drive.
We recommend to bring along enough drinking water for the trip and some extra food as the meals supplied by the park are sometimes not sufficient. It is possible for the part between Santo Domingo and Joaquin to rent the service of a donkey to carry supplies.
It is recommended to walk on altitudes during the mornings as in the afternoon it can rain very heavily with lightning and thunder above you.