World Heritage Listed Camagüey, Cuba’s Third City

Camagüey, Cuba’s third largest city was founded in its current location in 1528. The city’s labyrinthine streets in its UNESCO world heritage-listed historic centre are worth wandering. Camaguey is also a good base for exploring its eponymous province, Cuba’s biggest, including Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey, Nuevitas and Refugio de Fauna Río Máximo, the Western Hemisphere’s largest flamingo nesting site.

Camagüey's central square

Camagüey’s central square; the building on the right features an image of Che Guevara and a common official Cuban phrase ‘until victory always’ (hasta la victoria siempre)

Rocío and I first visited Camagüey for an afternoon in between the bus from Holguín and the train to Nuevitas. Returning Christmas day after a night on a hut floor, we desired a shower and proper bed. From our worst Cuban accommodation we chanced upon our best: Casa Juanita y Rafael, a lovingly decorated guest house with super high ceilings and a beautiful courtyard (25 CUC/US$25 per night). The courtyard included a fish pond in Camagüey’s symbol, a large ceramic vessel called a tinajón.

Our guest house (casa particular) courtyard featured Camagüey's symbol the tinajón (large ceramic vessel), using it as a fish pond

Our guest house (casa particular) courtyard featured Camagüey’s symbol the tinajón (large ceramic vessel)

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Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey – Waking up Christmas Day on a Hut Floor in the Middle of Nowhere, Cuba

Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey (Limones-Tuabaquey Ecological Reserve) features giant millipedes, a huge natural depression, caves with indigenous art and endemic flora and fauna. Who knew it would be so difficult to get to!

Rocío and I wanted to spend Christmas eve 2016 in a cabin at the reserve near Cubitas. At least that was our intention after reading Lonely Planet’s 2105 Cuba guidebook.

Our Multi-Faceted Journey to Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey

Getting to Cubitas from Nuevitas involved taking a passenger truck for 10 CUP (US$0.40) each to the junction of Camagüey-Nuevitas Highway (Carretera de Camagüey a Nuevitas) and North Circuit (Circuito Norte). From there we would hitch-hike along North Circuit to our destination.

The North Circuit (Circuito Norte) road was desolate while we waited for a ride in the roadside shelter

The North Circuit (Circuito Norte) road was desolate while we waited for a ride in the roadside shelter

At the junction we waited more than an hour for a ride. It was the 24th of December and the highway was desolate. While waiting, lizards, birds, cows and butterflies entertained us. Continue reading

Visiting Nuevitas Via our First Cuban Train Journey

I had never heard of Nuevitas until this day. A port town on Camagüey Province’s coast, it is not on the tourist map. Arriving to Camagüey from Holguín, Rocío and I hoped to go north to Cubitas for the Reserva Ecológica Limones Tuabaquey. Instead, the fruit cart man suggested catching the train east to Nuevitas. We wanted to experience a Cuban train ride so embraced his idea.

Our bicycle taxi driver advised we buy food beforehand as the train doesn’t sell any. 5 CUP (US$0.20) per fish sandwich later and we were set.

Fish sandwiches in Camagüey for the train journey to Nuevitas

Fried fish sandwiches in Camagüey for the train journey to Nuevitas

Taking a Cuban Train from Camagüey to Nuevitas

The daily Nuevitas train left Camagüey at 5:20pm with ticket sales beginning 4pm so we had time to observe the locals in the station and watch a freight train pass. Continue reading

Holguín and Catching an Ómnibus Nacionales Bus

Rocío and I wanted to catch a train on our Cuban trip at least once. Unfortunately, the Santiago de Cuba to Holguín train times weren’t convenient. Instead, Rocío around and we went trucking.

Sugar cane, Cuba's primary agricultural product

Sugar cane, Cuba’s primary agricultural product, between Santiago de Cuba and Holguín

We caught a passenger truck one third of the way (10 CUP/US$0.40 each) and then a second truck the remaining distance (2.50 CUC/US$2.50 each). Well, we thought it was taking us to Holguín. However, it dropped us off part way.

Passing through Birán, where Fidel and Raúl Castro grew up

Passing by Birán, where Fidel and Raúl Castro grew up

Slightly annoyed we got ripped off (in Cuban terms) for the second ride, I soon became glad we didn’t reach our destination. We were about to have a rare experience. Continue reading

Santiago de Cuba, Where the Cuban Revolution Began

Cuba’s second city Santiago de Cuba lies far from Havana and is known for both its music and rebellious streak. Rocío and I visited Santiago twice in December 2016, firstly for Fidel Castro’s memorial rally and funeral and later, returning from Baracoa. While based in Santiago we had an epic day trip to La Gran Piedra I blogged about here.

Moncada Barracks and the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement

Children at a school that used to be the Moncada Barracks, where the Cuban Revolution began; note the bullet holes in the walls

Children at a school that used to be the Moncada Barracks, where the Cuban Revolution began; note the bullet holes in the walls

On 26 July 1953 Fidel Castro led an unsuccessful armed attack on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada army barracks. This is regarded as the start of the Cuban Revolution and the official revolutionary movement is named 26 de Julio (26th of July) after this date. The former barracks was converted to a school although some of the battle’s bullet holes remain. Continue reading

The Epic La Gran Piedra Adventure

Wildfires, tree rat stew, a fallen tree blocking the road, slavery, a butterfly with clear wings, and a ride with the Cuban Air Force, this December 2016 La Gran Piedra day trip had almost everything. La Gran Piedra National Park (Parque Nacional de la Gran Piedra) is named after the monolith at the top of the mountain about 28 kilometres from Santiago de Cuba.

Waking up early, our Santiago de Cuba hosts kindly provided a 6am breakfast. We walked to bus terminal near the port on Jesús Menéndez Avenue. Our options from hear were a bus to Siboney 1 hour later or a 10am bus direct to La Gran Piedra (The Big Stone).

The bus schedule to La Gran Piedra from bus station near Santiago de Cuba's port

The bus schedule to La Gran Piedra from bus station near Santiago de Cuba’s port; buses leave Santiago 6am Monday, Wednesday and Friday, returning from La Gran Piedra at 3pm. There is a 10am Sunday bus which I guess also returns 3pm but it’s Cuba so who exactly knows…

Instead of these options, we:

  • Rode moto taxis across town (20 CUP; US$0.80 each) to El Palo del Aura where more frequent transport departed towards Siboney.
  • Caught a bus for 1 CUP (US$0.04), exiting at the junction to La Gran Piedra. Here we watched lizards while waiting with others for a ride up the mountain.
  • Took a private car (organised by a man in a tractor) up the mountain for 20 CUC (US$20; negotiated down from 30 CUC).

This car should have delivered us to the top, however, we came across the following:

Our old US sedan ride to La Gran Piedra stopped abruptly by a recently fallen tree

Our classic US sedan ride to La Gran Piedra stopped abruptly by a recently fallen tree

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Baracoa, a Special Place in Eastern Cuba

Boats in Baracoa Bay with El Yunque (The Anvil) mountain in the background

Boats in Baracoa Bay with El Yunque (The Anvil) mountain in the background

Baracoa in Cuba’s far eastern Guantánamo Province has unique a history, location and environment. Founded in 1511, the city is the island’s oldest Spanish settlement and Cuba’s first capital. Historically, people could only visit Baracoa by sea or air with the first mountain-piercing road connection opening in the 1960s. Continue reading

Hurricane Matthew and its Impact on Baracoa

On 4 October 2016 Hurricane Matthew struck far eastern Cuba, causing more the US$2.5 billion of damage. Amazingly and thankfully, no direct fatalities were recorded although 4 people died more than a month later when a bridge damaged by Matthew collapsed near Moa. The biggest single infrastructure impact around Baracoa was the destruction of the Moa-Baracoa Highway bridge over the River Toa.

The remains of the bridge over the River Toa after Hurricane Matthew

The remains of the bridge over the River Toa after Hurricane Matthew

While visiting in December 2016, a causeway was being constructed to allow vehicles to cross. In the interim, people crossed via boat and cable ferry as Rocío and I did to and from Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. Continue reading