Ascent of Pico Turquino on 2015-10-19

Climber: Sean Caulfield

Date:Monday, October 19, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Pico Turquino
    Elevation:6476 ft / 1973 m

Ascent Trip Report

Took a shared taxi from Bayamo to Santo Domingo October 17th with two other backpackers who wanted to hike to the Commandancia de la Plata (Fidel Castro & Che Guevara's old rebel HQ). Tried to arrange to hike to the Commandancia in the morning (it's only 3km round-trip), then to Aguada de Joaquín 8km up the Pico Turquino trail afterwards, but the official at the Park HQ was very unhelpful. Did the Commandancia hike (we were put in with a huge tour group of elderly Germans), then returned to Santo Domingo.

The official promised I would get to do the hike the following day, he acted like he was doing me a huge favour since I was on my own. I wanted to do it in one day, up from Alto de Naranjo & down the other side to Las Cuevas, but he wouldn't allow this either. Found a casa particular for the night, then hiked along a mule path up the river from Santo Domingo to the tiny settlement of San Francisco for the afternoon (13km round trip, at least 10 shallow river crossings, some nice swimming holes along the way - trail is on wikiloc).

The following morning, instead of starting early, I had to wait until 9:30am to start because there was no car in the village powerful enough to drive up the steep road to the trailhead at Alto de Naranjo. Paid $CUC57 to the official, which would include guides - one to the Aguada de Joaquín where I would have to spend the night (included), one to the summit in the morning & one down the other side. It also included lunch, dinner & breakfast at the Aguada. It did not include transport to Alto de Naranjo, but I was able to tip an Ecotur driver $CUC2 to take me up when he arrived with a couple of customers for the Commandancia hike at about 9:30am.

The hike to Aguada de Joaquín wasn't too difficult, there were many downhill sections, but it was VERY humid & sweaty. I was carrying a 20kg backpack, I had 5litres of water & also my freediving gear which I would need on the other side of the mountain for the Spanish shipwreck at La Mula. I reached the Aguada de Joaquín in 3hrs 15mins, my "guide" was about 5mins behind me the entire way & he returned to Santo Domingo shortly after we arrived. Three park rangers work at the Aguada on a 15days on/15days off roster, they showed me to my dorm (there are 14beds in two dorms, all were empty), cooked lunch, dinner & breakfast & one of them "guided" me up the well defined, signposted trail to the summit in the morning.

We started at 5am & arrived at the summit less than 2hrs30mins later despite stopping at several points along the way to take pictures of the sunrise - the best spot is a large rock just before the summit. The summit itself is just a large flat clearing surrounded by trees with a bust of José Martí (the guy is everywhere in Cuba!) - no view. My guide suggested I start the descent alone, the other guide would meet me somewhere on the trail.

Finally free of the unnecessary guides, I began the descent. I met at least 10 Cuban hikers on their ascent (all without guides, only extranjeros need guides) before I bumped into two park rangers at about 1,100m eleveation, one of whom announced he would be my guide. Great. Luckily he was also in a hurry to get off the mountain before the heat of the midday sun & we half jogged, half ran down the trail. I was swimming in the Caribbean 2hrs30mins after standing on the highest point of Cuba. Didn't have to pay anything extra on this side, though I gave the guide a small tip.

From Las Cuevas (not much here) I got a bus at 12pm to La Mula, where I stayed at the Campismo ($CUC10/night) & after enquiring about the shipwreck two of them took me out spearfishing! Great wreck, about 15m down with some swimthroughs & lots of fish & lobsters.

Few notes of advice for those wanting to hike Turquino:
1. It is much less physically demanding to hike from the Granma side (Santo Domingo/Alto de Naranjo) - 13km long trail, just 1,020m elevation gain
2. You probably won't be able to organise a one-day hike, or hike to the Commandancia de la Plata followed by hike to Aguada de Joaquín in Santo Domingo, the official at the Park HQ is an a**
3. Try contacting Ecotur at their office in Bayamo's Hotel Sierra Maestra. They are expensive, but might be able to organise a trip to suit you.
4. There are at least three casa particulars in Santo Domingo, expect to pay $CUC15-20, bargain to have breakfast included
5. If you haven't hired a car capable of making the steep ascent from Santo Domingo to Alto de Naranjo (750m elevation gain over 5km), you are dependent on being able to hitch a lift with whatever other group is going up that day
6. The only reliable method of reaching Santo Domingo is by taxi - there is no bus service. This is expensive, the journey takes about 1hr15mins. Bargain hard with your driver & try to find other people in Bayamo who might want to share the cost. Ask if the car you hire is powerful enough to make it up the hill to Alto de Naranjo. There is a guagua (converted cattle truck) from Bayamo to Barthomolé Masó 20km away, so if you want you can take that & try to hitch from there (not much traffic at all), or walk (last 8km have some steep inclines & declines).
7. From the Las Cuevas side the hike is much more physically challenging, starting at sea level & the trail is just 12km long.
8. There is only one room for rent to foreigners in Las Cuevas & not much else here, except a stony beach
9. There is a refuge (Aguada Manajua) at 4km on the trail, not sure of its condition or availability to foreigners as we took a shortcut around it on our descent. The much better located Aguada de Cuba was closed.
10. Contact Flora y Fauna in Las Cuevas for information on hiking from that side. I have heard it costs as little as $CUC20 for a one-day hike
11. Campismo La Mula is a good place to stay before/after your hike. Bar & restaurant here, cabins for $CUC10/night (twin or double). Bring snorkelling gear & ask about the shipwreck. Transport to Las Cuevas, the trailhead 12km away (by moto taxi), early morning start, evening return can be arranged for $CUC5 return. They guys at the Campismo can also help arrange guides, call & ask for Popo (Spanish extremely helpful).
12. To get to La Mula/Las Cuevas from Santiago de Cuba take one of the many buses to Chivirico, then take a 2pm or 5pm guagua the rest of the way. Both journeys take about 1hr30mins, the road from Chivirico-La Mula has recently been improved. The cost of the Santiago-Chivirico leg depends on the quality of the bus, from Chivirico-La Mula on the guagua it is $CUP2 (Moneda Nacional, or about US$0.08)
13. There is a schoolbus that leaves from Las Cuevas at about 12pm daily that will take you to La Mula
14. Guaguas pass Las Cuevas at about 5:30am & 6:30am daily heading to Chivirico, via La Mula
15. It might also be possible to take a guagua from Pilon to Las Cuevas, & there is sometimes a guagua at 5pm to Chivirico (maybe Monday/Wednesday/Friday)

NOTE: My GPS wouldn't work the morning of the summit ascent until we reached Pico Joaquín, so the file is from there to the Turquino summit & down to Las Cuevas.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3359 ft / 1023 m
    Total Elevation Loss:6476 ft / 1973 m
    Round-Trip Distance:15.5 mi / 25 km
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Guide, Hut Camp
    Weather:Hot, Clear
Hot & Humid
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3359 ft / 1023 m
    Distance:8.1 mi / 13 km
    Route:Granma side, via Pico Joaquín
    Start Trailhead:Alto de Naranjo  3117 ft / 950 m
    Time:5 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:6476 ft / 1973 m
    Distance:7.5 mi / 12 km
    Route:Santiago side
    End Trailhead:Las Cuevas  0 ft / 0 m
    Time:2 Hours 30 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Sean Caulfield
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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