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.

Lizards kept us company in the shelter while we waited

Lizards kept us company in the shelter while we waited

Across the road this raptor sat on a powerline

Across the road this raptor sat on a powerline

Eventually, we received a ride in the front cabin of a truck. The policeman in the intersection checkpoint had kindly stopped the driver and asked him to pick us up. On the way we witnessed something I’ve only seen in Cuba – harvested rice drying on the road. Not on the side of the road, but taking up one complete lane. Apparently, growers believe the rice is better after being driven over.

The truck drives on the left lane to avoid the rice drying on the road

The truck drives on the left lane to avoid the rice drying on the road

The truck driver dropped us off in the non-descript town of Cubitas and we gave him 10 CUC (US$10) for the ride. Upon asking locals for directions, we realised we were a long way away from the ecological reserve.

Rocío was determined to get to the reserve so we hiked back to an intersection to catch a bus to the village of Vilató (1 CUP/US$0.04 each). Vilató didn’t have any transport options so we walked back to the road and continued hiking south. Thankfully, a friendly tractor driver gave us a complimentary ride towards Paso de Lesca.

Hitching a ride in a tractor

Squashed together hitching a tractor ride

Then we stopped a Soviet-built sedan with government number plates for the remaining journey to Paso de Lesca, also free. Rocío’s persistence, negotiating skills and Spanish language were getting us closer and closer to our destination. However, we still needed a method to follow a minor dirt road to the reservation. Enter a horse and cart going the opposite direction. Rocío convinced the driver to take us to the reserve. For a while he had a second horse beside the first. On the way we passed a quarry. For the ride we gave him 5 CUC (US$5) and, when we saw the Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey sign, our eternal gratitude.

Seeing the Reserva Ecológica Limones Tuabaquey sign was a relief

Seeing the Reserva Ecológica Limones Tuabaquey sign was a relief

This man with his horse and cart delivered us to the reserve

This man and his horse and cart delivered us to the reserve

Rocío on the cart holding the reins

Rocío on the cart holding the reins after we arrived

We had finally arrived via seven different forms of transport: passenger truck, truck with trailer, foot, bus, tractor, car and horse and cart.

Due to Cuba’s uniqueness and limited internet access, I recommend visitors use travel guides and the Lonely Planet Cuba book was critical for our trip. However, for Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey their information was incorrect. The guidebook stated:

The reserve lies approximately 35km north of the city of Camagüey on the main (bumpy) road between Morón and Nuevitas. The turnoff is near the village of Cubitas.

In fact, the reserve entrance was more than 20 kilometres from the Morón-Nuevitas road.

Lonely Planet's 2015 Cuba travel guide's description of Reserva Ecológica Limones Tuabaquey; note the statements about accommodation in cabins and location

Lonely Planet’s 2015 Cuba travel guide’s description of Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey; note the underlined statements about accommodation in cabins and location

The 2015 Lonely Planet Cuba's travel guide's description of the reserve entrance was significantly out

The 2015 Lonely Planet Cuba’s travel guide’s description of the reserve entrance was significantly out

Upon arrival we were met by a park ranger and another person (who left in the evening). Many birds including the national bird, the Cuban trogon, provided great late afternoon distractions.

A colourful parrot in the golden late afternoon light

A colourful parrot in the golden late afternoon light

Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey Accommodation

Despite Lonely Planet writing accommodation in cabins is in the offing, no accommodation existed. With the nearest official accommodation unknown and likely far away, the night fast approached and we didn’t have any transport. Rocío negotiated hard with the ranger for us to stay. Eventually he relented, allowing us to sleep on a hut floor. Usually, the only overnight tourists come with an official guide and bring camping gear.

I suspect the ranger was reluctant to allow us to stay because he risked getting in trouble with the authorities. Foreigners are legally required to register every night they stay in Cuba. Casas particulares (private guest-houses) always requested our passports upon arrival in case officials checked their guest registry.

Christmas eve sleeping illegally on a hut floor in the middle of nowhere, Cuba!

The amazing night stars added to the experience. Thankfully we brought enough food and water with us and, to insulate the floor, the newspapers covering Fidel’s death. Bedding consisted of our clothing and towels. Travelling light, we didn’t even have much of this.

Our bed for the 24th of December consisted of Fidel Castro newspapers and our clothes and towels

Our bed for the 24th of December consisted of Fidel Castro newspapers and our clothes and towels

Despite being in the tropics after sunset the weather cooled significantly. Unsurprisingly, neither of us slept well with Rocío having the added distraction of a kitten bumping her intermittently.

This kitten kept bumping Rocío during the night

This kitten on my bag kept bumping Rocío during the night

The hut we slept in

The hut we slept in

Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey’s Environment

Like La Gran Piedra and Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt, Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey has its own micro-climate with many endemic flora and fauna species. Early on Christmas morning, the ranger showed us around the reservation.

Cueva María Teresa (Maria Teresa Cave)

Our first destination, Cueva María Teresa is known for its pre-Columbian cave paintings. On the way there we saw our first giant millipedes crawling on the jungle floor.

One of the reserve's giant millipedes

One of the reserve’s giant millipedes

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get to the paintings. We did see stalactites, stalagmites, modern graffiti and, to Rocío’s disgust, bats.

The park ranger taking us down into Cueva María Theresa

The park ranger taking us down into Cueva María Theresa

Paso de los Paredones Gorge

Paso de los Paredones is a natural gorge with 40 metre high sheer cliffs. Up high, beehives stick to cliff walls. On the ground we saw old beehives, millipede exoskeletons and snail shells.

An old beehive on the ground; note the piece of millipede exoskeleton at the top left

An old beehive on the ground; note the piece of millipede exoskeleton at the top left

Paso de los Paredones was the site of an 1869 battle between mambises (Cuban guerrillas fighting for independence) and the Spanish, part of the Ten Years’ War. A plaque commemorating the battle lies in the gorge.

A plaque marking a battle of independence next to natural gorge Paso de los Paredones' high walls

A plaque marking a battle of independence next to Paso de los Paredones’ high walls

Hoyo de Bonet Depression

Further on from Paso de los Paredones lies Hoyo de Bonet, a natural depression 300 metres wide and 90 metres deep. If possible, I would love to have hiked down to the floor. Contrarily, I wouldn’t want to disturb the pristine environment below.

Hoyo de Bonet is a 300 metre wide and 90 metre deep natural depression

Hoyo de Bonet is a 300 metre wide and 90 metre deep natural depression

Bromeliads growing on this endemic palm tree

Bromeliads growing on this endemic palm tree

The Journey to Camagüey

Towards noon on Christmas day we farewelled Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey. The reserve visit, including entrance and the guided tour cost 24 CUC (US$24). Helpfully, the ranger exited with us and flagged down a man on a horse and cart carrying milk cans.

With the park ranger as he accompanied out out of the reserve

With the park ranger as he accompanied us out of the reserve

For the ride back to the Camagüey road junction we gave the driver 4.50 CUC (US$4.50).

On a horse and cart passing a goat resting on the side of the road

On the horse and cart passing a goat resting on the side of the road

Thankfully, our trip to Camagüey was comparatively boring. We hitched a free ride to the city in the back of a truck and then took a local bus (1 CUP/US$0.04 each) to the central train station.

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

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