Different people like to relax in many different ways. This becomes ever more evident as each year. Dozens of new extreme sports become recognized and practiced to the eye-opening fascination of those of us who seek out sun-loungers by turquoise swimming pools; slowly toasting underneath an idle sun. But, for the travellers that need more, those who require exertion, effort and endeavour in order to unwind; well, we doff our sun-hats to you.
Rock climbing in the Viñales Valley has been popular since the 1980s. When two pioneering tourists opened the first routes at ‘La Costanera’; a series of huge cliff faces over 100 metres high. With 35 different routes of varying difficulties to reach the top.
Since then, this mode of tourism has grown a staggering amount over the last 30 years and the Viñales Valley. A stunning area of natural beauty, offers thrill-seeking holidaymakers some of the most developed holiday packages available in the Caribbean.
So for those who choose to disappear vertically instead of relaxing horizontally; let’s have a better look at what’s available.
Nature’s jaw-dropping playground
Cuba is an aesthetically fascinating island where tourists have numerous options. You can choose to be pampered in luxury 5 star opulence whilst staying at brand new state-of-the-art hotels. Strategically situated next to beaches that resemble the sort that are wistfully gazed at on screensavers from Vancouver to Vladivostok. North Americans, Europeans and other tourists from all over can wander along the azure surf of the welcoming coasts. Or alternatively, dive deep into Havana’s historic city centre; to sample the innumerable cultural delights on offer to stimulate all five senses.
However, outside the city walls and away from the beaches, over to the west of the island in Viñales Valley. “Nature Tourism” offers travelers the option of getting to know an older Cuba; a luscious, ancient green interior of an island that smiles sagely as “Old” Havana celebrates only its 500th birthday.
Sprawling over 50 square miles; Viñales Valley remembers a time prior to when people hiked and climbed up its majestic precipices. It remembers a time further back still, even earlier than when armour-clad “Conquistadores” arrived with fierce fire and fervour. Back to a time before the age of the fern. When petulant tectonic plates battled against each other like mythical giants; and whole islands were formed as the offspring of these troubled Precambrian feuds. Vast limestone topographical accidents called “Mogotes” now litter the valley. Standing proudly in their conspicuousness, some of them 300 metres tall; sculpted lovingly over millions of years by the patient hands of Time.
Viñales Valley stands as UNESCO World Heritage Site
With the kaleidoscope of tropical flora and fauna and the deep caverns that drip limestone stalactites down like geological teeth. It is no wonder that this National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Thanks to all Nature’s happy geographical coincidences over millions of years; Viñales Valley is now one of the best places in the world for rock climbers. Which has become a thriving Winter destination. Peak season is between November and March as it is not a rainy time of year; with average temperatures are around 20ºC, two factors which make scaling the “Mogotes” ever so slightly more feasible.
Who’s up for going up?
What may initially seem like a niche holiday destination specifically designed for experienced climbers. Who are able to bring all the necessary equipment with them is not strictly true.
Over the last three decades that people have been coming here; the community of Cuban climbers has grown steadily bigger. And the friendly locals will eagerly share all their knowledge with people who still consider themselves novices.
Less experienced climbers have the option of climbing “Green Routes” with seasoned instructors. Also there are places where beginners can hire all the necessary safety equipment; such as ropes, safety harnesses, climbing boots, crampons and helmets. Before setting off, you’ll be taught how to tie harnesses; how to secure knots, and fundamentally, you’ll learn how to trust the people with whom you’re going to climb. Safety measures must be thoroughly studied and understood before setting off. As there is no specialised rescue body in the Viñales area, only basic health services located around the campsites.
Although there are countless places in the Viñales Valley to explore either on foot or by mountain bike; it’s definitely considered the climber’s paradise above anything else.
Some of the most popular places to climb are notable names for the experienced ones
- Área Mogote del Valle– Located closest to the campsites, is the easiest part of the valley to access. If you don’t have any other means of getting about. Just a 20 minute walk from where the campsites are, you will find numerous walls to climb. And a number of caverns to explore, the most famous being Cabeza de la Vaca.
- Cueva Cabeza de la Vaca– Without a doubt the most famous section of the valley. It is also thought to be the most difficult in Cuba. It has acquired a myth-like status because of it’s stunning waterfalls and eerie stalactites. Make sure you try out the routes “Esplendidos” (8a), “The Colony” (8a+), “Vamos Allá” (6c), and “Kid Expresivo” (6c+).
- Jagueyana– Popular amongst climbers with slightly less experience. There are some vertical walls and fissures to enjoy here like “Pikin” (6b+); “Ana Banana” (6c), “Catamarán” (7a+) or “Brutus” (7a+).
- Cueva Larga– Here, you can marvel at imposing 30 metre walls which make for excellent climbing. One of it´s benefits is the fact it remains in the shade all day. Favoured routes are “Fernando’s Hideaway” (6c), “Calzo de Guagua” (7a), and “Maybe” (7a).
- Cuba Libre Wall and Paraíso Escondido.- As the name suggests; this hidden paradise consists of incredible caves, caverns, waterfalls and stalactites. The best routes are “Najita” (6c+), “Captain Hook” (7b), and “The Rum Diaries” (7b+).
- Palenque Wall– Approximately 3 miles from Viñales, be sure to visit “¡Socialismo o muerte!” (6a), “Confiscado” (6c) or “Allez, Allez, Allez!” (6b+).
- La Costanera de Linares– A little further north, towards the edge of the valley. Its rubber-stamped by international enthusiasts as an excellent area for rock climbing. And one of the ten most famous sites in the world for practicing the sport. Highly experienced climbers should visit the “Bóveda de las Españolas” . And explore “Viernes Trece” (7a), “Chicken Run” (7aa+), “Mercenario” (7c) and “Have a Cigar” (7a).
Climbing into bed
If your weekdays are usually spent sedentary in an office for most of the year; Nature Tourism like rock climbing in Viñales Valley may seem like an attractive prospect. Nevertheless, spending the days scaling the sheer faces of the gigantic stone “Mogotes” is, on a physical level, extremely challenging. The development of your core muscles is significantly enhances as a surprising number of body parts are involved in climbing. You strengthen your abdominal muscles as well as your biceps and triceps. And the strenuous effort also burns thousands of calories during each ascent. In addition, your balance improves because it’s necessary to make specific movements in very small spaces. So, you’ll certainly need a place to rest your weary head at the end of the day.
There are several hotels near Viñales and hundreds of “casas particulares”. Where you can spend the night during your trip, including Los Jazmines; which, thanks to its high position, boasts one of the most beautiful views of the whole valley. There’s also the Rancho San Vicente, and the Villa Aguas Claras and Dos Hermanas campsites located down in the valley.
Villa El Mojito is really special
Tourists shouldn’t have any problems finding accommodation. As there are also dozens of houses and cottages. All on offer, for a good price, by the locals who live in the valley. Among many, one stand-out place is the Villa el Mojito on Calle Adela Azcuy Norte. Which provides two large double beds, air conditioning and a private bathroom with hot water and towels. There are also loungers located round a swimming pool and hammocks on a pretty terrace. With amazing views of the surrounding landscape.
What separates it from the rest, however, is the proprietor Juanito and his wife Tita. Who will offer you delicious Cuban Mojitos, cook excellent traditional meals. And generally see to it that you have everything you need. What’s more, over the years, climbers who have come before have donated their equipment deemed too bulky to fit in aeroplane holds when flying back. So Juanito and Tita can even lend you ropes, harnesses, decent climbing boots and crampons.
Up, up and away!
“Activity Holiday” packages are not a new sector within the Travel Industry. And people have been consistently flying to distant corners of the planet. For three decades in order to kayak along foaming rapids, cycle along sunbaked desert trails, trek up frozen mountains. Or even simply survive in jungles. Now, rock-climbing in Cuba’s Viñales Valley can be added to the list of established global activity destinations.
Offering some of the planet’s most appealing scenery and combined with some of the best climbing routes available anywhere; Viñales Valley gives another hue on the rich spectrum of colour that a holiday in Cuba provides.
Seasoned climbers and amateurs alike can enjoy the impressive green landscape of Viñales Valley. As it floods the eyes when viewed from the summit of a “Mogote”, 25 metres above the ground. It is a fine visual reward presented by Nature to those who rose to the challenge and conquered these ancient obstacles.
No, not everyone just wants to lie on a sun-lounger for seven days whilst on holiday. For those who love hiking, cycling and climbing in this astounding Jurassic setting. Viñales Valley in Cuba makes for a stunning, if not physically demanding destination.