“The Revolution,” said Fidel, “was the work of climbers and cavers.” Señor Castro was referring to the mountain strongholds from which guerrilla fighters in the late 1950s staged attacks that eventually led to an overthrow of the government. Climbers have always had a rebellious streak, so what better place to indulge it than in the land that still celebrates “La Revolucion”? Though it has yet to gain the international prominence of climbing destinations like Yosemite or the Alps, the Viñales Valley in western Cuba nonetheless offers world-class climbing to adventurers willing to try new routes with a revolutionary flavor.
Traveling to Cuba brings its own set of rewards as well as challenges—though restrictions have eased tremendously in recent years, Americans are still technically unable to visit the island except under certain conditions mandated by the U.S. Department of State. Nonetheless, every year thousands of American adventurers join turistas from Europe, Canada, and throughout Latin America to explore this tropical Eden. The trip from Havana to the town of Viñales is relatively easy; two different bus lines serve the area, and taxis also offer to make the ride for slightly more. It’s about a 3-hour ride, depending on road and weather conditions.
Climbing in Cuba brings its own challenges as well: Because this destination is the new kid on the international climbing scene, many of the mountainsides in this lush agricultural valley are virgin rock. Not all routes are well established or well known, maps aren’t readily available, and there aren’t retail establishments set up to accommodate climbers who need to buy equipment.
Those limitations shouldn’t deter travelers looking for a great adventure, however. The Viñales Valley is a dramatic geological anomaly, a karst topography with massive limestone mountains that look like giant blocks left behind by a playful child-god. The whole valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is dotted with palm trees, small farms, and pleasant little homes, and visitors compare it to a trip through a long-lost agricultural past. There’s also an extensive network of caves to explore, local beaches for relaxing, and the inimitable hospitality of the Cuban people. —ML
When to Go: Nov–Apr.
Havana (193km/120 miles).