Orchids and Waterfall in Soroa, Cuba

Soroa, 7 kilometres north of the Havana-Pinar del Río Freeway is a village known for both its waterfall and orchid garden. As fans of orchids the latter attracted Rocío and me and we made a detour to Soroa between Viñales and Havana.

Getting to Soroa from Viñales without private transport took two colectivos and then a Jeep organised by a tout from the mechanic near the Candelaria/Soroa junction. The travel logistics and costs are listed below this post.

Soroa Waterfall (Salto del Arco Iris)

The Soroa Waterfall has two entrances. The Jeep dropped us off adjacent the lower, southern one where we paid the 3 CUC (US$3) entry fee.

Entry signs to waterfall Salto del Arco Iris; entry costs Cubans 10 CUP (US$0.40) and foreigners 3 CUC (US$3)

Entry signs to waterfall Salto del Arco Iris; cascada is Spanish for waterfall; entry costs Cubans 10 CUP (US$0.40) and foreigners 3 CUC (US$3)

January is well outside the May to October wet season so the waterfall was a relative trickle. Despite this, the overhang and surrounding greenery still made a beautiful setting.

Soroa's waterfall Salto del Arco Iris

Visitors enjoying Soroa’s waterfall

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Viñales: Beautiful Landscapes and More

Viñales including its surrounding national park is one of Cuba’s premier tourist destinations. Three hours by road from Havana, its picturesque limestone outcrops (mogotes) and tobacco fields attract day-trippers and longer-stay travellers.

View of mountains surrounding Viñales

View of mogotes surrounding Viñales

Rocío and I visited Viñales twice in January 2017: a day trip from Pinar del Río and then four nights. We arranged our Casa Adela accommodation a day in advance to ensure we had a decent stay. Over the new year we heard reports of tourists sleeping in Viñales’ streets because all beds were full.

Parque Nacional Viñales sign; note the different fingers on each hand

Parque Nacional Viñales (Viñales National Park) sign; note the different hand shapes

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A Crazy Adventure Seeing Flamingos at Río Máximo Wildlife Reserve, Camagüey Province, Cuba

* See bottom of post for a video of the day

Camagüey Province’s Río Máximo Wildlife Reserve (Refugio de Fauna Río Máximo) contains not only Cuba’s but the Western Hemisphere’s largest flamingo nesting site. After not getting to Cayo Sabinal, Rocío was determined to see the flamingos at Río Máximo.

Flamingos at Rio Maximo Wildlife Reserve

Flamingos at Río Máximo Wildlife Reserve

In Camagüey City we asked people and agencies how to get the reserve. No one seemed to know. State tour company Ecotur hadn’t organised tours there for two years due to the track there requiring a truck and the lack of on site hygiene facilities. An official tourist guide, who also didn’t know the way, recommended we hire a large US car (with driver) that had been converted to diesel to maximise our chances of reaching the reserve. In the city centre while looking for such car, we met an old man who reckoned he knew a way there. Then we met a younger guy who was willing to take us and had a friend with a car.

Instead of a hulking diesel-fueled US classic we had the opposite: a small Soviet petrol sedan! But our Lada had character, including huge windscreen cracks and no internal rear door handles. Time for another crazy Cuban adventure. Continue reading

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

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

Visiting Alejandro de Humboldt National Park from Baracoa, Cuba

Alejandro de Humboldt National Park (Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt) is UNESCO world heritage-listed and located north-west of Baracoa in the provinces of Guantánamo and Holguín. The park is famous for its endemic flora and fauna including the northern hemisphere’s smallest frog, the Monte Iberia Eleuth, which we were lucky enough to see and photograph!

Pretending to sell Baracoa sweet cucurucho at Humboldt National Park entry

Pretending to sell Baracoa sweet cucurucho at Alejandro de Humboldt National Park entry

A destroyed bridge over the River Toaheightened the challenge of visiting the park from Baracoa without private transport. However, with Rocío’s persistence we succeeded and, after waking up early, arrived to the park by 8am. This is despite the power failing on our bridge-replacement electric cable ferry. Continue reading