The hike to El Salto del Caburni is not one to be taken light-heartedly, it's certainly no mean fit. From a physical point of view it's the most challenging of all the trails in Topes de Collantes - one of Cuba's most fascinating nature reserves at the heart of the Escambray Mountains.
It's not advisable to go for this one before testing your endurance in more simple ones, like La Batata (The Potato) or Los Centinelas del Rio Melodioso, or if you have no previous trekking experience and your fitness level is not up to the challenge.
Nevertheless, even when you are an experienced hiker there is no guarantee that you can cover the route without taking breaks, mostly on the way back which is a steep climb.
This route is almost mandatory for people staying at the Escambray Hotel in Topes de Collantes. Many hard-core trekkers and tourists staying at hotels in nearby Trinidad also come here to do it. The Gaviota travel agency manages this tour which you can book from the tour desks at any of the hotels in Trinidad and Escambray.
|Location:||Escambray, Topes de Collantes Natural Reserve Park, Sancti Spiritus province|
|Difficulty:||Medium - High|
|Distance:||3.5 Km (approximately)|
|Start point:||Pozo de los Gallos (Roosters' Well)|
|End point:||Salto del Rio Caburni (Caburni River Waterfall)|
|What to see:||Mountainous trails, the Caburni River and its waterfall, farmers' houses, natural pools, lookouts, sulphur springs|
|What to take:||Shoes to protect your ankles, shorts, long sleeve shirt, bathing suit, insect repellent, sunscreen, water and energy snacks|
Pozo de los Gallos: the starting point
There are different ways to access the Caburni River trail. You can start from El Pozo de los Gallos where trucks from the tour agency stop to take passengers onboard. While they wait many visitors take the opportunity to freshen up and drink water from this sulphurous spring. This is the last point where you can fill up your water bottles, buy an energy drink or stock up on some snacks, all of which you will need to bring with you for the journey, especially on your way back.
The path departing from this point takes you to La Solapa (The Flap), an outlook that stands over a natural pool with bedrock. You'll spot it to the right of the first turn and it's very easy to miss because the track is hidden by the abundant vegetation. There you'll find one of the main attractions of the route: a very well preserved aboriginal settlement of great archeological importance.
After leaving La Solapa, the route turns into a huge descending loop that takes you through the foothills all the way up to Caburni River. This part of the trail is downhill and gravity helps to make it easy, but you shouldn't get too get carried away and watch out for there are slippery loose rocks everywhere, but mostly under the shadow of the trees. Some slopes are at an angle of over 40 degrees and can make you speed up too much on the way down, so you'd better take control of the descent.
At the beginning the road is rocky and with very little vegetation to be found under the scorching sun (at boiling point in the summer months). Once you get into the valley the high trees covering the pathways making the journey more pleasant and a little less intense. Here, the route branches off many times, so it's necessary to pay attention to the guides and the signs indicating the right trail to follow. In many cases, the minor tracks that break from the route end in a farmer's house, but other times they fade off slowly until they finally disappear.
A farmer's house near the Caburni River route
If you have a good sense of direction (or a special thirst for adventure) you may want to follow some of these bifurcations on the way back. Some may lead to spots on the river not included in the usual tourist route. The guides will most probably not be willing to second you on taking this diversion and you can be left alone at your own peril, but you can find some waterfalls that are worth taking the chance. You must weigh whether taking the risk of getting lost in the woods for some hours - and even missing the return transport – is worth the privilege of witnessing rare natural beauties hidden to most people.
Caburni River's waterfalls, a trail off the beaten tourist path
In any case, you're better off following the main route on the way back in order to get to the natural pool and the most impressive sight of all: the waterfalls on the Caburni River, where your journey reaches its climax. Looking at the waterfall is a breath-taking experience, and it's hard to take a picture capturing all of this monumental scenery from such an up-close point of view, but for sure you'll be able to obtain some awesome photo mementos of the striking landscape before your eyes.
The cliff of the waterfall is 250 metres at its highest point and the huge trees that grow under its shadow look just like shrubs. The river goes down a waterfall – a great natural attraction itself, and then breaks up in a series of smaller pools before continuing all the way down a long slope towards the large natural pool at the foot of the main fall.
The Caburni waterfall
The less enjoyable part of the tour comes after swimming and gazing at the landscape: the return. You'll have to walk all the way back again, now uphill. Everything will be fine when you walk under the shadow of the trees, but when you get to the highest points the sun will start wearing you down – with virtually shadows to shelter you.
It's good to take this experience as a personal challenge, get rehydrated and have a positive attitude. The sugar reserves in sweets or drinks are critical for this part of the trail. Don't overdo it and don't exceed your limits, take it easy; if you need a break, take one underneath a tree, but do not sit down. After sitting for a while, it will probably be hard for you to stand up again because your muscles will have relaxed already.
In spite of these difficulties, the Caburni River route is worth trying because of its magnificent views and the historical and natural attributes of the area, declared a National Monument. To embark on such a journey you must be well rested, be willing to launch into a fully-fledged adventure and feel sportingly when trekking the hard parts of the route. If you love challenges and mountainous landscapes, then it will be a wonderful experience for you to treasure forever. I highly recommend it.