Parque el Cubano is the closest park to the colourful colonial town of Trinidad. Hiking to the waterfall and swimming in its icy pool is the perfect break from hot and sticky Cuba.
Early into our 4 days in Trinidad, we knew we had to visit Parque El Cubano.
Within the neo-baroque main square and beside the 19th-century cathedral; from every street corner lined with rustic cobbled laneways and pastel walls; in front of colonial mansions and modest Cuban homes, the cries of “El Cubano” emanated from every taxi driver, tourist tout, bloke with donkey and bicycle riding kid – all promising the best price to take us to this nearby natural wonder.
The subliminal messages were too much to resist.
Additionally, Trinidad is hot. And we’re not just talking about the spicy dancing that fills packed bars well into the wee hours. With an average temperature that rarely drops below 26 degrees in winter, Trinidad can be a scorcher in the hotter months.
Fortunately, the Sierra del Escambray rise just to the north of the town. And within these mountains, a number of natural parks provide perfect (and popular) day trips from Trinidad. Parque El Nicho was one of our favourites, but the most accessible from Trinidad is Parque El Cubano. The best hike in the park is the easy to follow Cimarrones de Javira trail. Its shaded trails, waterfalls and natural pools sounded too good an offer to refuse.
Only one question remained: how should we get there?
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CIMARRONES DE JAVIRA TRAIL AT PARQUE EL CUBANO
After passing up several offers including getting a ride on the back of some kid’s bike or a horseback ride on a sad mistreated-looking creature, we picked our favourite looking taxi driver from the many lined up near the bleak tourism office. Bartering badly, we headed off.
At the entrance to the park, our taxi driver gave us firm assurances that he’d be here when we finished. So we paid our 10CUC each (yes, natural attractions are charged at a premium in Cuba) and made up some passport number to appease the attendant.
Cimarrones de Javira – the 6 km round trail that delivers you to the heart of el Cubano – begins with a small rope bridge. A fitting start for a hike in Cuba where everything is delightfully hand-made.
On the other side, we followed the path that gently rises beside the river. The canopy of the trees protected us from the scorching heat. Colourful birds flitted overhead. Tropical plants lined the path with exotic-looking flowers and deep green foliage. It’s an easy and well-trod path that allows the mind to wonder.
After about 30 minutes we reached the Javira Waterfall. Wedged between two large rocks, it drops into a pool formed from a huge crevasse. There were two options for getting into the pool: walking down to the bottom or jumping in from a ledge at the top.
The park attendant assured me the centre of the pool is 9 m deep. “You just have to make sure you hit the centre.”
Surprisingly, the water was cool but not cold. And beautifully clear. I swam up to the waterfall and let the water pound out the knots in my back caused from many days hunched up in the back of a packed colectivo.
At the end of the pool is a cave. Peering into the looming darkness I could just make out stalactites. And the odd bat clinging to the roof.
After a quick swim I found a suitable rock to lay on and let the sun dry me off. I shut my eyes and took a rest. A moment of clean, refreshed happiness washed over me. I wondered if our taxi driver would still be there.
PARQUE EL CUBANO INFORMATION
The Cimarrones de Javira trail is 3km long (6km round trip). It doesn’t gain much height and the path is clearly marked the whole way. It splits a couple of times but both routes always come together so there’s no need to fret about which path you should be taking.
You may find many people at the entrance offering to give you a guided tour of the hike. The walk can easily be done on your own so unless you want some company, we’d recommend going without a guide. With a 10 CUC entrance fee, there’s no need to fork out extra pesos for an unnecessary guide.
Don’t lose your entrance ticket on the way to the waterfall as you’ll need to show it to the attendant there as well.
Allow 35 – 45 minutes to walk to the waterfall, additional waterfall frolicking time and 35 – 45 minutes to return. The entire hike and swim should take about 2 hours.
GETTING TO PARQUE EL CUBANO
Parque El Cubano is getting a name for itself on the alternative tourism circuit, however it’s still the most accessible of the Topes de Collantes parks from Trinidad, making it the easiest one to visit. A 5 km pothole-infested road starts just 1.5km west of Trinidad, and winds along the river to the park entrance. There are a number of ways to get there. Our article on getting around Cuba might be useful for planning your trip.
Walking – You can walk from Trinidad to the park, but it is 1.5 km to the road junction and another 5 km along the paved road to the park entrance. Walking to el Cubano will take around 1 hour and 30 minutes. The scenery doesn’t change that much and it could be very hot, so this option is only necessary if you really want to stretch the legs.
Cycling – You can hire bikes in Trinidad for about 10 CUC per day and cycle to the park entrance. It’s a straightforward ride, in spite of the bumpy road. Again, beware that the temperatures in Cuba can be fierce. Allow about 30 minutes to cycle to the park.
Taxi – If you have your own car you can easily drive yourself, otherwise, get a taxi from Trinidad. It will cost about 30 CUC for the driver to take you there, wait for 2 hours or so while you explore the park, and then return you to town.
Horse – Horse trips to el Cubano can be organised in Trinidad and the price will depend a lot on your negotiating skills. Many of the horses look thin and poorly treated, so choose carefully before you set off. Trinidad Travels have a good reputation.
TIPS FOR VISITING PARQUE EL CUBANO
1 / Parque el Cubano is the nearest park to Trinidad, so it gets busy. Arrive as close to opening time as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat.
2 / Wear sunblock and bring a hat, water, towel and swimming trunks.
3 / Many beautiful birds endemic to Cuba can be seen along the path so, if you are a twitcher, bring binoculars and a zoom lens.
4 / There are toilets and a restaurant at the park entrance. The restaurant has a buffet lunch available between 12:00 and 15:00. It was heavily packed with tourist groups and the food looked like the 20 minutes or so to get back into Trinidad was a good option.
5 / Bring your passport numbers, they may request them at the entrance, as well as the 10 Cuc entrance fee.
6 / Download google maps for the area onto your phone. It lets you keep track of where you are and gives you the confidence you are heading in ‘roughly’ the right direction.
BEST TIME TO GO TO PARQUE EL CUBANO
Cuba is a hot destination all year round, with average highs of about 26 degrees in winter and 31 in summer. The rains come in May and stay around util October so the best months to visit are the sunny but slightly cooler months of January to April.
Parque El Cubano with its shaded trail and pool to swim in makes an ideal escape from the heat at any time of the day, but it may be best to avoid the hot afternoons.
Cuba is a unique place. Years of Soviet-funded political ideology created a strong- if slightly confusing – sense of national identity. Soviet, American, Spanish, Caribbean and African influences fuse together to create a fascinating place to visit. Here is some more of our reading about this fascinating place.
The best things to do in Cuba
Our complete guide to Trinidad
Viñales Valley – cycle routes through Cuban tobacco farms
How to visit Cuba’s Ciénaga de Zapata National Park
Explore the best scenery in Cuba on this Viñales Valley hike
Impressions of Havana – a story from the streets
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