Like most things Cuban, the idea of “adventure” here is no simple concept to pin down. Even by seasoned travelers’ standards, the word itself can be applied to a particularly broad selection of situations and events depending entirely on where you are, what you’re talking about, and who you’re talking to - just ask anyone who’s tried tracking down reliable internet access, or wanted to hop a quick, unplanned 260 km ride from Havana to the west coast. But trade embargos, worn infrastructure and obfuscated regulatory systems aside, there is a natural adventurous splendor to this Caribbean island nation that has remained largely untapped throughout the decades; a portfolio that includes canyons, caves, rivers, rainforests, sheer-faced mogotes, 1,900+ m mountains and some of the most ecologically well-preserved coral reefs in the world. Sound like the kind of “adventure” you prefer talking about? Good, us too. So sit back, kick your feet up, and let us give you a quick introduction into the world of truly off the beaten path Cuban experiences.
Venturing even marginally into the country’s interior from hubs like Havana and Varadero, it quickly becomes apparent that a featureless island Cuba is not. Topographic variations here range from the low rolling crests of the Rosario and Escambray mountains to the prominent, rugged massifs of the Sierra Maestras, with the country’s tallest peak, Pico Turquino, topping out just below the 2K meter mark. You could go exploring here for months and still not discover all the hikes, waterfalls, and lookout points available in these three ranges alone, not to mention their wealth of jungle-shrouded Cuban revolutionary history. Should your interest in geological formations bend towards the more unique, you’ll have your work cut out for you there as well, between highlights like Baracoa’s table-topped El Yunque and Yumuri Canyon to the east and the world renowned Viñales Valley to the west. This latter destination has become a mecca of sorts for hikers and rock climbers travelling to the Caribbean, and could easily (and justifiably) eat up nearly a week of your itinerary.
But let’s be honest; you didn’t come to Cuba to avoid the water, and seeing as there’s 5,746 km of coastline and innumerable rivers on the main island alone it stands to reason that adventurers will find plenty of things to explore on the aquatic end of the spectrum. Let’s start with the bad news. In terms of paddling, many of Cuba’s waterways are unfortunately either underdeveloped or simply off limits. That said, the mangrove forests of Punta Frances and the rapids of Rio Toa are two of the country’s best available kayaking/rafting locations, and well worth checking out. Scuba divers, on the other hand, have the rare opportunity to enjoy an adventure industry that’s been robustly embraced by the Cuban government, with renowned sites like Los Jardines de la Reina and Maria la Gorda providing true dive-getaway destinations. The beaches near Havana may lack the same kind of selection, but they more than make up for it in sheer accessibility, and should you make it below the surface at caves like Saturno or, even better, Los Tanques Azules, prep yourself for some truly one-of-a-kind additions to your dive log. After all, when in Cuba, you’ve got to learn how to embrace adventure in all its various forms.
...and you just wanted to spend two weeks at that resort in Varadero.