Trekking the central mountain range of Cuba feels different to trekking other mountain ranges in the island. The Sierra Maestra mountain range stands out for its majestic landscape of mountains and trees while the Sierra de los Organos range is famous for the singularity of its mountains and the abundance of caverns.
However, the Escambray Mountains are different as they are home to cold water creeks with dramatic falls and calm pools of striking colours. If you like swimming amongst exuberant nature or want to admire in wonderment as the trickling currents cascade down into serene pools, then you will have a greater time throughout these routes than in any other place in Cuba.
|Location:||Escambray, Cuatro Vientos, Sancti Spiritus province|
|Distance:||3 Km (approximately)|
|Start point:||Town of Cuatro Vientos / Trinidad|
|End point:||Casa de la Gallega|
|What to see:||Streams, waterfalls, pools, typical rural housing in Cuba|
|What to take:||Shoes to protect your ankles, trousers, long sleeve shirt, bathing suit, insect repellent, sunscreen, water and energy snacks|
The slopes of this mountain range are located 80 kilometres apart from each other, almost reaching the old city of Trinidad on its easternmost side. Almost in the middle of the road to Cienfuegos, you will find the diversion to the Topes de Collantes Natural Park, where the Escambray Hotel is the resort per excellence in the area.
At 16 kilometres from Topes de Collantes, deep into the mountains you find the town of Cuatro Vientos, a small village in terms of its number of inhabitants, but big in terms of its great beauty and virginal state of the surrounding foothills. "La Gruta" (The Cave) and "El Salto del Nacimiento" (The Birth Waterfall) are two unmissable places, but the most popular route is that of Parque Guanayara, also called "Sentinelas del Rio Melodioso" (Sentinels of the Melodious River), the name it's given in tourist packages.
You can get there from Cuatro Vientos in a dizzying descent by road which we do not recommend you do on foot, but instead on the comfortable trucks provided by the tour agencies that depart from Trinidad or from the Escambray Hotel. Another way to get to the park is by car from the neighbouring cities of Cienfuegos and Sancti Spiritus, by taking the road to Topes de Collantes and then the diversion to Guanayara.
Access to the town of Cuatro Vientos
There are two ways to attempt this three-kilometre-long route: one departing from the House of the Galician Woman, and the other from the town of Cuatro Vientos. Traditionally, the tours for foreign visitors take the second one while domestic tourists do it the other way around. The tour agency in charge of the maintenance of the park charges visitors a reasonable price for using the tracks and facilities. It is important to bear in mind that the Guanayara Park is a popular route, so it is usual to find different groups of walkers along the route.
Poza del Venado in Guanayara Park
The Guanayara path is full of caverns, cold water streams and creeks with falls and pools of striking colours. I have always taken this route starting from Cuatro Vientos. It is flat and crosses a sparse forest, full of endemic plants like pine trees, eucalyptus, ferns and lichens. It ends at El Salto del Rocio, a natural copious waterfall where the water descends from a 12-metre-high cliff.
There is also a cavern with a skylight that lets the flickering light through and the sound of the falling waters. Many visitors like to sit under the waterfall for a while but climbing up the rough rocks behind it is not recommended. To the naked eye it may look like a deceivingly easy climb, but the rocks are covered with slippery moss.
Salto del Rocio in Guanayara Park
From this point onwards, the route becomes a little more rugged, with small ascents and descents. Here you can find natural pools that are much more appropriate for a good swim. If you want to cool off in the waters, make a stop at La Poza del Venado. It is easy to get to, it has depth marks, and it is surrounded by some rustic wooden facilities like benches and a pier. You can also dive from the rocks or from the trees, provided you are cautious and observe the signs indicating the depth.
Poza del Venado in Guanayara Park
After a swim in the cold waters, you will be refreshed and energised enough to keep going. This is the most demanding part of the route, with small ups and downs covered with vegetation that protect you from the sun. Two paths at both sides of the river lead to the end of the route. If you take the left one, you can visit some farmers' houses. The one on the right is lower and flatter, but it's not very well maintained.
Just before reaching its end the river has still pools filled with water plants and rapids full of small boulder stones. This open landscape with tall palm trees that seem to caress the sky is really worthy of admiration, as you can see it for the first time in all its full glory since starting the hike.
Casa de la Gallega awaits you at the end of the route. There you will enjoy a warm welcome with traditional Cuban food under the porch and a well-deserved rest after the three-kilometre walk. The most audacious, if not yet satisfied, can follow the river down a couple of hundred metres to a wide spring out of the usual route map. Unlike the others, which are surrounded by tall trees and where sun light barely touches its waters, this one is clear and with much warmer waters. Local people call it Charco Azul (Blue Puddle).
The Centinelas del Rio Melodioso route is simple and pleasant. It's recommended for beginner trekkers or those who want to warm up with an easier route before attempting more difficult trekking paths. It can also be done in between two more difficult hiking routes, to recover and relax with an easier scenic journey. Most remarkable here is the beauty of the creeks, pools and waterfalls you discover along the way. It's a journey that it's best done with the right clothing to protect yourself from the sun, and pack a bathing suit to take a good swim in the cold waters flowing down from the Escambray peaks.