Sierra Maestra and Fidel Castro are both highly connected with the Cuban Revolution. It was deep in the heart of the Sierra Maestra that the rebel army, led by Fidel and supported by the likes of Raúl Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, set up its headquarters in a place known as Comandancia de La Plata.
Comandancia de La Plata is considered the birthplace of the revolution and a very important historical place. It was here that the rebel army went on to free Cuba, and the rest is history. Nowadays, it can be visited as a short yet strenuous half-day hike through the forest of Parque Nacional Turquino (Turquino National Park) in the Sierra Maestra.
Nothing better to experience the real and off the beaten path Cuba than hiking to this remote location!
Sierra Maestra is Cuba’s longest and highest mountain range. Located in the southeastern coast of the country, it spreads over 250 km and its highest point is Pico Turquino at 1974 m. Within the boundaries of Sierra Maestra is Parque Nacional Turquino.
This is an area of outstanding beauty. Of virtually untouched lush and dense forest. So dense you can only see mountains of green for kilometres. A green which modifies its tone as the altitude increases and the vegetation changes. Some parts are really steep, yet they provide magnificent views.
When we started to approach the Sierra Maestra we were unsure about what to expect, especially because we were driving right into the heart of the mountain to Santo Domingo.
Getting to Santo Domingo was an adventure on its own. From the base of the mountain, up and down some of the steepest roads we’ve seen, it felt like the longest 20 km ever. The road itself is made of concrete and mostly in good shape, but the poor car struggled to go up some of those tougher sections.
Not to mention the temperatures hitting the high 30’s!
Our goal was to hike to Comandancia de La Plata. Information about it is scarce, so we decided not to make any arrangements beforehand and see how things went. After getting to Santo Domingo, we managed to ask around about it and were told to be at the park entrance by 8 AM the next morning.
Hiking to Comandancia de La Plata
Access to Parque Nacional Turquino is restricted and guidance is necessary. Heading further into the mountains, the main hiking trails start at Alto del Naranjo, which stands at 950 m. We mentioned steep roads before, but from Santo Domingo to Alto del Naranjo the road is ridiculously steep! This section is only possible with a 4×4 vehicle.
Shortly before departing, we met 3 other fellow Portuguese-speaking travellers from Brazil that would join us for the hike to Comandancia de La Plata.
After a somewhat thrilling drive, and while we waited for a few more people to arrive, we had the chance to admire the spectacular early morning views from the top of Alto del Naranjo. Waking up at 7 AM has its perks.
Miguel, our guide, briefed us about Parque Nacional Turquino and the local hikes to Comandancia de La Plata and Pico Turquino, focusing on the one we were about to do and its historical importance.
The hike to Comandancia de La Plata is approximately 3 km long through the forest and, although it seems like a short distance, it can be slightly demanding with some rocky hills to tackle. One factor to bear in mind is the weather. It can be quite warm and even rainy, hence the early start. Luckily we had the best of it with plenty of sunshine!
The first half of the hike until Casa Medina is mostly uneventful. This is a small community that serves as a rest point midway through. Don’t forget to observe the flora and hear some of the local birds in action.
Soon, we entered the historical Comandancia de La Plata area, where the wooden huts and buildings of the rebel army can be found. Our guide briefly explained some details about each building.
The first one is a very rudimentary hospital set up by “Che” Guevara to help the wounded soldiers. It’s nothing more than a small hut that sits still low in the mountain, away from the main rebel buildings, due to security reasons. Only the high ranked and most trusted members of the rebels would have access to higher ground.
Up in the next hill, an opening in the forest allows to see how far we’ve gone and to spot some massive palm trees. This area also includes a couple more wooden buildings and a grave of a rebel soldier that wished to be buried there.
We also found two curious little reptiles!
Not a lot further we entered the main area, where the most important buildings are located.
The highlight is, obviously, Casa de Fidel (Fidel’s house). It features a bed, a kitchen and a small table. The best part is that it includes 7 concealed exit routes. We tried to guess where, but they were quite hard to spot!
Most of the wooden buildings are covered in branches in order to blend in better with the surrounding nature. This was mostly to prevent them from being found and to be protected from potential airstrikes.
On the way back we still had plenty of time and, since part of our group was really slow, the guide told us to hike a bit further up the mountain to the Radio Rebelde and then join back with the rest of the bunch.
Radio Rebelde is the rebel run radio created to spread the word about the revolution. It played a very important role during that time. The radio equipment is still in place and intact!
The difficult part is getting up there. Again, yet another steep section and with some small obstacles, since this part of the trail is visited less frequently.
After this, we made our way back to Alto del Naranjo and then Santo Domingo, where our half-day hike to Comandancia de La Plata ended.
Santo Domingo is the perfect place to stay if you want to explore Sierra Maestra and Parque Nacional Turquino, since the park entrance is right next door.
It’s a very remote place that consists of a country hotel and a few houses. The hotel includes a restaurant which serves basic meals. A couple of houses are “casas particulares” as well.
Pure tranquility is what we found there. There’s not even mobile phone coverage. We had to resort to the town’s single public phone to call our next destination. Muchas gracias to the lovely family that allowed us to use their prepaid card there!
Sierra Maestra was a big surprise for us. Yes, we were attracted to it due to its historical importance to begin with, but far from knowing about its real beauty. We now wish we had more time there to further explore it.
This mountain is one of the many examples that proves Cuba is a perfect destination for nature and outdoor lovers – us very much included! Far far from the typical stereotype attributed to this Caribbean Island.
Don’t forget to watch the video with the highlights of our trip to Cuba for some scenes from this area.
- Location: Starts in Santo Domingo/Alto del Naranjo
- Distance: 3 km
- Time: 4 hours
- Price: 27$ when a guide is booked directly with the National Park (includes a sandwich and tasty mango juice)
- Photography: add 5$ per camera for the rebel headquarters
Have you been to Cuba? What about hiking in the Sierra Maestra?