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The top of the West: Climbing the 170 steps of Pan de Guajaibon

The beautiful view from the top of Pan de Guajaibon, together with the relatively easy climb, makes this the best elevation in Cuba for unskilled hikers or for warming up. It is the highest point in the province of Pinar del Rio and a well-known track in the Sierra del Rosario Mountain Range. At the top of the mountain, after climbing 170 steps, you will find the remains of a military base from the Cold War period.

The top of the West: Climbing the 170 steps of Pan de Guajaibon

The Sierra del Rosario Mountain Range is one half of the western Guaniguanico Mountain Range that runs between the provinces of Pinar del Rio and Artemisa. It is world-famous for places like the Viñales Valley, Soroa or the Aspiro Gardens. The highest peak is Pan de Guajaibon, at an altitude of 699 metres or 170 steps. The mountain is shaped like a loaf of bread (like the Pão de Açucar in Rio de Janeiro) and its top is the end of a well-known track by backpackers in the west of Cuba and by tourists staying in Viñales.

Route data & stats
Location: Rosario Mountain Range, Pinar del Rio province
Difficulty: Medium
Distance: 7 Km (approximately)
Start point: San Juan de Sagua town
End point: Top of Pan de Guajaibon
What to see: The Pan de Guajaibon (highest elevation in the western part of Cuba), abandoned military equipment, local vegetation
What to take: Shoes to protect your ankles, trousers, long sleeve shirt, water and energy snacks

Tracking this route is a fantastic warm-up exercise before attempting more complex ones like the Turquino or San Juan peaks, 1974 and 969 metres each respectively. Guajaibon is like an initiation or training passage for those intending to become trackers in Cuba. I had just come back from climbing the Turquino Peak, so I sailed thorugh this one easily. I was really excited about climbing it because I knew that reaching the top would be an interesting experience for the reasons I will explain later on.

The track to Pan de Guajaibon starts at the town of San Juan de Sagua, in La Palma municipality of the province of Pinar del Rio. You can get to this small town by catching the shuttle truck that runs every two days, but the best option is to rent a car or grab a taxi. It is relatively close to Soroa, Las Terrazas, Viñales and the health resort of San Diego. From the latter, you can track other simpler routes like the "Back to Jurassic Times", which I have not yet tried.

San Juan de Sagua is the place to find a guide or, at least, directions to get to the top of the mountain. Many villagers are used to guide tourists and they know how to bargain over the price. It may cost you about £5 to £10 (paid in CUC) to convince one of them to take you there.

This is not an unnecessary expense, in my own experience. Reaching the foothill is easy: you can see it from the town. The route from San Juan to the mountain goes through open fields and under-stocked and bushy forests. Once you get to the foothill, it branches off in many directions and this is when a guide is needed. There are many hunting paths and dead-ends to cliffs. We lost a lot of time going back and forth until we found the right path. The correct pathway narrows down and gets very bushy, so it is hard to find.

This path leads to a stone stair almost hidden in the bushes. Once you find the steps, about half way to the top, you can relax: you are now on the right track. The forest is so bushy that you can hardly see any further until you reach the top, after having climbed the 170 stone steps covered with weeds.

Finding yourself in the middle of nowhere, climbing up worn out stone steps lost in the mountains causes a funny feeling. This is not common in other routes in Cuba, in which you can find rustic wooden steps, if any. One feels like exploring the routes to a lost civilisation and about to find a closely guarded secret.

The hidden secret that lies in these mountains is nothing other than an abandoned military base. During the Cold War period there was an anti-aircraft base on the top of Pan de Guajaibon, where you can now see plenty of remains of old military equipment. Among the remains there is a bust of the War of Independence hero Antonio Maceo, with a brass plate placed by the Speleological Society of Cuba in 2008. The martyr seems to be looking into the valley at his feet, watching over to the North.

I am fascinated by military equipment no matter how old or deteriorated it might be. The top of Pan de Guajaibon resembles part of a film on future dystopias in which humans get rid of technology to live a simpler life. The improbability of finding structures like this and the level of creativity for their construction in such a narrow mountaintop, together with the wild scenery, create a sensation of dizziness and unreality.

Pan de Guajaibon is very different from the Turquino and San Juan peaks and not only in terms of height. The novice climber usually gets disappointed when reaching these other summits for the vegetation or the nearby mountains block out the views. Guajaibon is a fine mountain to climb and it rewards you with a great view from its bald top, beaten by the trade winds.

You can watch the whole plain to both sides of the mountain range as far as the eye can see. In clear days with very thin fog it is possible to watch the waters of the Strait of Florida to the north. Some people say they could even see Cayo Levisa1. I, personally, do not believe you can, but I would like to climb Pan de Guajaibon again, just in case I can.


Notes

1Cayo Levisa is a small island two kilometres off the northern coast of Pinar del Rio and a very popular spot for scuba divers.

Alejandro Malagon

Alejandro Malagon

Lead Explorer

As a lover of nature and people, Alejandro has explored an abundance of routes through his homeland...

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