Visiting Cuba’s Largest Cave: Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás, Viñales

The Great Cavern of Saint Thomas (Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás) is Cuba’s largest cave system. Near the town of El Moncada 18 kilometres’ drive west of Viñales, the cave belongs to Parque Nacional Viñales.

Santo Tomás Cave is part of Viñales National Park

The Santo Tomás Cave path is 2.8km long

As a geology lover, Rocío was keen to see the cave, especially after seeing artefacts from it in Havana’s Fundacion de la Naturaleza y el Hombre museum. From Viñales we hired a car and driver for 20 CUC (US$20), waiting time and return journey included. Continue reading

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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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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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

Two Amazing Day Trips from Macusani, Carabaya Province, Peru

In October 2016 Rocío and I undertook two amazing day tours in the southern Peruvian Andes Mountains as part of our 2016 Interoceanic Highway Trip. We saw stunning scenery, prehistoric history and witnessed something extremely rare: a condor hunting and dive-bombing. From Macusani, guide Ulices and our Hilux driver took us one day to Ayapata District and the next to Corani District.

Video of the condor hunting and dive-bombing near Lake Qañuqota, Ayapata District

Located in Puno Region’s north, Carabaya Province is rarely visited by foreigners. In fact, in ten days, we did not see a single foreign tourist. This is despite being situated between touristic cities Puno, Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. One reason for limited tourism is elevation. Carabaya Province’s capital and largest city, Macusani, lies an inhibiting 4,315 metres high.

With fun couple adjacent Lake Qanuqota, Ayapata District, Carabaya Province, Peru

While hiking to Pitumarka we met a fun couple relaxing against a stone wall seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Ayapata District Continue reading

Wondrous Landscapes, Natural and Ancient Sites at Pitumarka, Peru

The scenery and views around Pitumarka in Ayapata District blew me away. Travelling from Macusani, Rocío and I accompanied guide Ulices and our Hilux 4WD driver for the first of two amazing day trips.

Seeing the glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, Andean geese, flamingos and other birds on the way to Taype was a great start. At Taype we turned off the main Ayapata unsealed road and drove past Lake Taype surrounded by mountains and potato fields.

Potatoes growing next to Laguna Taype, Carabaya, Puno, PeruLake Taype with potato fields in the foreground and mountains behind
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Condor Dive-Bombing and other Animals Around Macusani, Carabaya Province

A condor dive-bombing was the biggest highlight of Rocío and my two amazing October 2016 day trips from Macusani. Other animals in the Carabaya Province of Peru’s Puno Region included flamingos, Andean geese, a native rodent and domestic livestock.

Andean Condor Hunting and Dive-Bombing

Hiking back from Pitumarka to Ccochauma we had just turned the corner after Lake Qañuqota when we witnessed a truly special sight. In the sky an Andean condor, one of the world’s largest flying birds, was repeatedly hovering then flying, hovering then flying, sometimes as a silhouette in the sky, other times against mountains.

Although I had seen condors before, even quite close, nothing matched this occasion.

Andean condor hovering in front of snowy mountain, Ayapata District, Peru

The condor hovering in front of a snowy mountain peak Continue reading