La Gran Piedra
The Gran Piedra Mountain Range, a pre-cursor to the larger, more easterly Sierra Maestra Range, is home to the Siboney-Justici Ecological Preserve and Gran Piedra, quite literally "The Big Rock."
In Eastern Cuba, which is already home to Cuba's highest mountains, it's hard to imagine that a big rock would have the draw that Santiago Province's Gran Piedra has.
The Big Rock
At around 14km (9 miles) from the city, it is the geological peculiarity of the Gran Piedra and the beauty of the local nature which attract so many local and international visitors. It has become one of the natural star attractions of the Sierra Maestra Grand National Park. The rock sits at 1,225 meters (4,019 feet) above sea level. Gran Piedra is of volcanic origin and measures 51 meters (167 feet) in length, is 25 meters (82 feet) high and 30 meters (98 feet) wide. It is estimated to weigh over 63,000 tons. It is the biggest rock of its kind in the Caribbean region.
There are several theories about the rock's origin. A less likely story suggests it was the result of a meteorite which struck Earth millions of years ago. A more likely assumption is that Gran Piedra was formed by the explosion of an underwater volcano.
Spectacular scenery and nature
Access to the top of the Gran Piedra is via 452 steps. As well as the ascent itself, it is the surrounding countryside and the spectacular views which take one's breath away. During the climb, visitors will see lush green vegetation of ferns, orchids and other species of flora and fauna. If you are lucky, you'll glimpse the tocororo (Cuban trogon - Priotelus temnurus), the Cuban national bird.
Botanists and biologists estimate the area features 222 kinds of ferns, and 22% percent of Cuba's endemic plants as well as 926 animal species, making the area a magnet for nature lovers and photographers as well as climbers and trekkers.
Looking down towards the coast, you will see the unspoilt beaches around Siboney and the Baconao Biosphere Reserve where the grey volcanic sand meets crystal blue Caribbean waters.
The fertile slopes of the area were once home to French coffee farmers who fled the revolution in Haiti. A working museum dedicated to the history of this community is located at the UNESCO-listed site, Cafetal La Isabelica, a 2km trek from Gran Piedra.
Gran Piedra can also be combined with a visit to the attractions at Siboney, namely Granjita Siboney, which was the staging point for the opening gambit of the revolution, and Playa Siboney, a low-key beach resort nearby.
Get InspirationAll about where to go and what you can do
If you are interested in Cuba's incredibly diverse indigenous biodiversity, the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is worth a visit. Featuring 16 of the 28 protected national plant species and several endemic animals and birds, even those less attracted to flora and fauna will be impressed by the landscape and unspoilt beaches. It is best accessed from Baracoa.
A visit to the Almendares Park is an opportunity to relax in a lush, green setting in the heart of the city. Located by the river-side of the Playa neighbourhood, the park is an example of forward-thinking urban planning and offers some leisure activities for adults and children alike as well as the chance to see Habaneros relaxing with their families.
Playa Ancon just might be Cuba's best south beach. A 15-minute drive from Trinidad, visitors will find white sand, clear water, great diving, and sunny skies on the end of Ancon peninsula. There are three luxury resorts for those looking for an opulent holiday, as well as more modest options for the budget-conscious.
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