Pico Turquino is Cuba's highest peak, superlative in more than meters, for it sits in the heart of the Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra, stronghold of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara's rebel army that successfully ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
There are two routes for this summit hike, one beginning at Alto del Naranjo in Granma Province, the other beginning at Las Cuevas on the southern coast of Santiago de Cuba province.
The former has some distinct advantages as it allows hikers to take in Comandancia de la Plata (mountain headquarters to Fidel, Che, Camilo and the rest (8 men!) of the 'M-26-7' rebels) and is spread over two or three days, permitting a more gradual elevation gain and better vistas.
The latter has the advantage that you can plan your trip from Santiago de Cuba to organise your (private) transport from there and have a few stopovers at some beaches along the way. It's hard to get (private) transport when you have started in Alto del Naranjo.
A disadvantage is that you have to ascend 2,000 meters in 9.6km of trail in 4 to 6 hours and, if you don't continue to Alto del Naranjo, a 3 to 4 hours descend that same day. Going down can be a 'knee-breaker'.
The Sierra Maestra is a National Park full of endangered or endemic animals, including the smallest toad in the world (1cm / 3rd inch), millions of birds, giant ferns and wild orchids inside beautiful cloud forests.
A bust of José Marti, the independence heroe of the second independence war, has been placed on top of Pico Turquino.
International flights go to Havana, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba. And local flights from Havana to Bayamo (or by bus from Holguín to Bayamo) for transport by bus, car or taxi to Villa Santo Domingo. From Villa Santo Domingo by 4WD, truck or powerful rental car to Alto del Naranjo. If you fly in from Santiago de Cuba, it's a 2-hour drive to Bayamo.
If you want to start at Las Cuevas, Santiago de Cuba is your place from where you organise your trip. By private 'taxi' (like everything in Cuba taking a non-registered taxi is illegal) it will take you 2 hours to La Mula, excluding the stopovers for pictures and beaches. You can rent a cabin near the beach at La Mula Campismo. From there, it's a 12 km drive to Las Cuevas in the morning. A round trip from Santiago de Cuba by private driver, who also spends the night in La Mula, should cost you no more than 50 to 60 convertible pesos per taxi. You can also take the 'daily' bus.
There is a 20 convertible pesos fee, including a compulsory Cuban guide, to enter the National Park.
There is a US embargo on Cuba
for all US citizens. They are only allowed to travel to Cuba with a certain permission, which is hard to get. It became even harder to get a permit when Bush became president. If you are not a student or a Cuban American, forget about this permit and focus on the detours via Toronto, the Bahamas, Jamaica or Mexico.
Approximately 100.000 US citizens travel each year to Cuba though. (I even came across a US criminal offence attorney in Havana) They cannot get money from their US credit cards/accounts. It is not possible to book your detour flight to Cuba from the US. And they should not get their US passports stamped by Cuban customs or avoid getting an international transit stamp in Toronto or elsewhere. If you are caught, the fine is usually between US$ 1,000 and $ 7,500.
Read the internet and guide books. There is a lot of information on this subject.
When To Climb
It is best to climb in the dry season from October to May.
There is a campground, La Mula, 12 km east from Las Cuevas and there are several refuges and campsites on both trails.
Below are three photos of one of the many valleys around Pico Turquino; a giant fern and a Cuban snale crossing the path.