In early January, a close friend of mine suggested the trip. He heard that there was rock climbing in Cuba and it was supposed to be fantastic, but unfortunately banned and nearly impossible to access. I asked around and it was the same response from almost everyone: “No, it’s banned. Non-negotiable with the authorities, you won’t even get to climb.” It sounded like an adventure to me.
After a long red-eye f light and a three-hour layover in Toronto, we landed in Veredero, Cuba. I must have been smiling for a good half-an-hour because I noticed my face was aching when I went through customs. All four of us looked like typical Canadian tourists with pale skin, big smiles and warm clothing. We were ready to explore the tropical country and do what we all loved to do: climb. Our destination was the small rural town of Viñales in the western province called Pinar del Rio, 90 per cent of Cuba’s climbing is located there.
The mountain-filled province of Pinar del Rio has a lot of untouched limestone karst crags, which we couldn’t wait to get our hands on. It is no wonder Cuba’s nickname is the “Pearl of the Antilles.” A few years back, Cuba officially made the Valle de Viñales a National Park and unesco made it a World Heritage Site, which has made it harder for climbers to develop the area. The Mogotes (mountainous karst formations) have around 250 routes developed and have the potential for hundreds more.
The climbing is steep, sharp and overhanging in most areas. It has stalactites and tufa columns and chiselled pockets unique to the area. Most of the routes are within the Valle de Viñales: La Costanera, Mogote Del Valle and El Palenque. All of the climbs in the main valley can be seem from Viñales. With an easy 25- to 30- minute hike from town, the cliffs can be quickly accessed. While in Viñales, we stayed at Oscar Jaime’s Casa Particular, a bed and breakfast. Oscar’s Casa has been visited by climbers from all over the world and is known as the climber’s “basecamp” for the area. I felt like part of his family.
Approximately 10,000 people live in Viñales valley. The town has a lot of small local shops and restaurants along the main strip. The most common modes of transportation are horse, ox and goat-drawn buggies. The local Guajiros (farmers) are rarely seen without rubber boots and a machete attached to their hip. There is local produce everywhere, stray dogs in the alleys and plenty of Cuban rum.