See a Cuba tourists never see. Hike la Ruta de la Revolución trek which follows the historic route of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara that started the Cuban Revolution—from landing in Cuba in a foundering boat to their famous hideout deep in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Walk for days on wooded trails and mountain roads—see no cars, only the occasional mule cart. Eat dinner by oil lamp with campesino families in remote rural villages. And finally, be one of the very first to do the La Ruta de la Revolución while it’s “undiscovered” and unspoiled. We didn’t see a non-Cuban until we reached Fidel Castro’s Comandancia de La Plata hideout deep in the Sierra Maestra Mountains.
The following includes:
- A Trip Guide to La Ruta de la Revolución Trek (the only online or in print guide, even in Cuba)
- A Detailed Route Description and Photo Essay since few non-Cubans have visited this area. It documents the people and places and should give you a good feel for what La Ruta is all about.
- Some Travel Tips for the Ruta including info on Cuban Visa
- And a List of the Gear we took, including some Insect and Disease Prevention Clothing and Tips
La Ruta de la Revolución Trek Highlights
- La Ruta de la Revolución is a new long trail for the world. As far we know, only four people have completed it in the last few years (and Alison, our guide and I are three). This is an exciting chance to do a trail while it’s undiscovered and unspoiled. [At writing, only one travel agency guides it.]
- It has history because it follows the trail that started the Cuban revolution. It follows the treacherous path that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara took from their secret boat landing on the coast (2 dec 1956) to the famous mountain hideout (La Comandancia de La Plata) where they planned/orchestrated the revolution. (Only 21 of the original 82 men made it.)
- You’ll see a Cuba that other tourists don’t see. This is not the touristy beaches, antique cars, and clubs of Havana. Instead you’ll walk woodland/jungle trails and remote rural roads often times accompanied by campesinos on foot or horseback as they go between small villages and the farms they work.
- Experience the people and homes of a remote and rural Cuba. You’ll stay with campesino families each night in their palm thatch roofed casas. Dinner is cooked over an open wood fire in an earth floored kitchen. You’ll share simple peasant food and conversation with the family in the light of an oil lamp. (For us, this was our favorite part of the trek.)
- Finally, you’ll climb through coffee plantations, cross mountain streams and walk through small villages into the refreshing cool air of the Sierra Maestra Mountains. On one side, you’ll have views across the Caribbean Sea and on the other, the vast expanse of Cuba stretching northward to the horizon.
Top Things You Need to Know about La Ruta de la Revolución
|Location||Cuba’s Southwest Coast|
|Reference||This is the only guide online or in-print for La Ruta de la Revolución. For a good general Cuba guide we recommend Lonely Planet Cuba|
|Season||All year, but the weather is coolest in “winter,” November to February|
|Duration||6 to 8 days (it’s best to take more time, you’ll get more out of the trip)|
|Distance||~150 kilometers on a combination of trails and rural roads.|
(There is an option to split the route into half each about 3-4 days)
|Navigation and maps||A far as we know, you are only allowed to do this trek with an “official” guide. And even if it was allowed un-guided, you’d be crazy to try it—even with excellent Spanish and good travel skills. This route is not mapped. And even Cuban maps of the area do not have some of the roads and trails you’ll use. [See Guiding Section in next table]|
|Physical intensity||You need moderate hiking fitness. The first half is mostly rolling terrain—rural roads and farm trails. At times it can be hot and humid with full sun (you are hiking in the Caribbean). The second half is cooler but on steeper mountain roads, ending up on very steep mountain trails.|
|Gear||Travel light! This is a List of the Gear that worked well for us. Given the warm climate and that you’re not carrying food, you might even get by with a daypack or just about any 20 to 30 liter pack you have, e.g. REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack.|
|Camera||Bring a good one! Alan used a Sony a7R II with a Sony 28-70 F3.5-5.6 lens|
Alison a Sony a6000 with a 18-105 f/4 lens.
See more about Selecting a Travel/Backpacking Camera here.
|Sleeping||You’ll stay most nights with campesino families. This will mean a rural home with very basic facilities—but lovely families and people! See more in our Detailed Section on Sleeping.|
|Food||There are essentially no stores, and only a few meager “restaurants” along the route. Mostly you’ll eat whatever the local people cook for you in their homes. See more in our Detailed Section on Food.|
|Water||We chemically treated all water on the trip. We like these simple and effective Katadyn or Portable Aqua treatment tablets—best travel water treatment going! See more in our Detailed Section on Water.|
Arranging for Your Trek
|Cost||$1,280 USD for 2 people to do the trek in 8 days. Includes: transport from the airport to trek start, guiding, food and lodging along the route, and transport from the end of the trek back to the airport.|
|Guiding||Bayamo Travel Agent, based in Bayamo, Cuba offers the only guiding. The Ruta de la Revolución Trek is not listed on their site. You will need to email them to make arrangements. As of this writing, the only guiding language was Spanish, although Anley Rosales Benitez, the owner of Bayamo Travel speaks excellent English and could probably arrange for a translator.|
|Getting there||Its easiest and fastest to fly into the town of Holguin, Cuba. There are direct flights to the Holguin Airport (HOG) from the US. Your travel agent/driver will meet you there and transport you to the trip start. Flying into Bayamo would also be an option. Flying into Santiago de Cuba is your third option although it will take longer to get to the trek start.|
Shorter Route Options
This trip can be broken into two parts, each about 3-4 days:
- Option one, the first half is from Playa de Las Coloradas (in Desembarco del Granma) to the small village of Cinco Palmas. It was here that the revolutionaries re-grouped after being scattered into 27 separate groups after a disastrous first battle. In Cinco Palmas, you’ll find a bronze statue of campesinos who helped the revolutionaries on their trek.
- Alternatively, option two, if you are interested in a cooler (though more hilly) trek, you can start in Cinco Palmas and hike to the Comandancia de la Plata (Fidel’s hideout).
|Route||Days||km||ele. gain meters||ele. loss m||total ele. change|
|Total Route||6 to 8||150||4200||3700||7900|
|1st Half to Cinco Palmas||3 to 4||70||1000||900||1900|
|2nd Half Cinco Palmas to Comandancia||3 to 4*||80||3200||2800||6000|
Sleeping, Food, and Water
You’ll stay most nights with a campesino family. Usually this is a rural home where three generations share two or three bedrooms. There will be a tiled floor family/eating room, and a dirt floor kitchen with an open fire. These homes, while extremely compact, are quite clean. They are inspected by the health department regularly (check the back of the front door for their last health inspection date). The dirt-floor in the kitchen is because there is open-fire cooking. They will probably throw a mattress on the floor in the common room for you to sleep on. [Your guide will take care of all sleeping arrangements and pay the family generously for your stay!]
An outhouse on the property will handle biological needs. There is no running water in the homes so you’ll bathe in an outdoor area with a barrel and a dipper. We found it glorious after a long hot, sweaty day of hiking. We hand-washed our clothes in a laundry tub and hung them up to dry overnight.
Until the route becomes more established with set/pre-arranged places to stay each night there is a small possibility you’ll sleep outside in a tent or hammock. Either because you stop hiking for the day before you reach a suitable village, or because with three generations of people in their home there isn’t enough room for you to sleep. But you still will get dinner, breakfast and to bathe. We brought our own hammocks, but most people will likely be more comfortable with a a light backpacking see the List of the Gear we took.
Food and Water
As of this writing, buying your own food along the route is not an option. There are essentially no stores, no towns and only a few meager “restaurants” along the route. You’ll eat whatever the local people cook for you in their homes. We had two meat dinners and one vegetarian dinner, based entirely on what our hosts had in their homes the day we arrived (unannounced and unplanned). We always ate a big dinner, and had some bread/butter for breakfast. For us, lunch was a catch as catch can. (But you should request with your travel agent/guide what meals you want.) Your final option, although a heavy one, is to buy food in a grocery store in Cuba before the trip and carry it with you. We did not do this, rather we carried about 5 energy bars each.
This route is in rural Cuba with lots of farm animals living around every home. We chemically treated all water on the trip. The “best” water you find (if not all) will be trucked into the village. With the number of farm animals everywhere, we stayed away from water in the streams. And in the hot weather, during the dry season, many streams may not be running. We also carefully treated all our water and ended up carrying more than we would of liked. Don’t assume water will be plentiful while hiking.
This route is usually hot and water sources are far apart so you’ll carry a fair amount of water. We shared a 5 liter bottle of treated water that lasted us about 1/2 day until we had to refill it and chemically treat water again. We like these fast, simple and effective Katadyn or Portable Aqua treatment tablets. You can also use these Aquamira Water Treatment Drops which are more economical but a bit more fussy to use.
Detailed Route Description and Photo Essay
Part 1 – Overview of the Route – A Walk Through Culture and History
Be sure to soak up all the history on this route. Every day has points of the interest from Fidel, Che and the revolutionaries long and dangerous trek to their final mountain retreat. So keep an eye out for markers, monuments, plaques, etc. We saw cleared farm areas (makeshift camp sites for the fighters), markers for various events and battles, and even Che’s command center in Minas Frias. Our guide was great at pointing these out to us and explaining as we went along. By the end of our trek, we found that we knew more about this historic trek than most Cubans.
You’ll also walk though farmland and small villages, some with historical context, but all worth exploring. For us, the highlight was visiting and staying with the campesinos (rural farmworkers). We saw a way of life from almost hundred years ago in the U.S. They still use ox carts!
The first half of the Ruta de la Revolución is mostly flat. It can be hot and humid as you have yet to climb into the cooler mountains. The trek starts by walking the length of Parque Nacional Desembarco del Granma – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a unique coastal karst (limestone) habitat. Much of the trail is lined by trees and there are numerous markers explaining the historical events that occurred the first three days of the revolutionaries trek. The first half of the trek ends in Cinco Palmas where it is possible to take a road out. The small village of Cinco Palmas is where the remaining revolutionaries re-grouped after their disastrous first battle scattered them into 27 separate groups. Here you’ll find a bronze statue of the local campesinos who helped the revolutionaries.
After Cinco Palmas the trek gets hillier but also a bit cooler. Expect plenty of ascending and descending each day. You’ll climb through coffee plantations, cross mountain streams and go through small villages up into the refreshing cool air of the Sierra Maestra Mountains. On one side, you’ll have views across the Caribbean Sea and the other, the vast expanse of Cuba stretching northward to the horizon. On your last day, you’ll culminate at the Comandancia de la Plata. The only way to get there is literally trekking through the jungle just like Fidel and the revolutionaries. Our last day on the trek had 3000 m (10,000 ft) of elevation change!
Note: Playa Los Coloradas is worth a day to explore before your trip. The Desembarco del Granma National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and worth investigating for it’s unique ecosystem, its hiking trails, and even a few archeological sites. There is also the Desembarco del Granma museum which has a full-sized replica of the Granma, the boat that carried 82 revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba (the original boat is in Havana). There’s even a walkway through the mangroves to the very place the Granma ran aground.
Part 2 – Detailed Route Description
In our usual “get ‘er done in a hurry” style, we had only allowed 4, possibly 5 days to do the trek. Since the trek hadn’t been done in years, and the last person to do it took 8 days, we were unsure that we’d get done in time. We were even sure if we be able to follow the path correctly. As such we were in “hair on fire” mode from the get go. Most sane people will take longer to do the trek. Among other things you’ll want more time to visit with people along the way, explore the small farms and villages, enjoy the views and take lots of photographs.
Note: Our route description is for the 4 days it took us to do the route. Most trekkers will want to take 6-8 day to fully enjoy the Ruta.
Our Day 1
We had a 5:00 start in the dark to 1) get as many miles we could for the day, and 2) to get the most hiking time in the cool of the morning.
Day one is filled with Ruta markers highlighting various points of interest along the first three days of the rebels march inland. The trek begins at Playa Los Coloradas, the beach where Fidel and his revolutionaries landed in Cuba. The boat, the Granma was a US built boat that sailed from Mexico. It was designed to carry 20 men but had 82. As such it was very slow, arriving two days late, and was at risk of sinking by the time it reached the Cuban shore.
Our Day 2
Day two begins with some rollers and by mid morning you are walking roads. You pass by the small town of Manteca pretty quickly, and just the other side is another camp where Fidel and the revolutionaries stayed (so you know you are still on the Ruta).
Continuing on, you acquire a fairly major carretera (road) and walk it until the cut off to Cinco Palmas. Along the major road is a marker where Fidel crossed the road (see photo earlier in post).
The afternoon of the second day we arrived at the small village of Cinco Palmas. It was here that the revolutionaries finally managed to re-group after being scattered into 27 separate groups after a disastrous first battle at Alegria Del Pio. In Cinco Palmas, you’ll find a bronze statue of campesinos who helped the revolutionaries on their trek.
From here on the hiking gets progressively hillier and steeper for the rest of the Ruta. Coffee plantations start as soon after you leave Cinco Palmas. Keep an eye out for coffee beans carried by mule, drying plants, and seedling coffee plants on the side of the road waiting to be planted.
Our Day 3
Day 3 started out with rolling hills, then flattened out a bit until hitting a huge hill. In 1980, the government paved the road on this hill because it was so steep that trucks frequently flipped over on it. It is a stiff climb up to the top at 850 meters.
We stayed the night in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra in preparation for making the final ascent the next day into Fidel Castro’s Comandancia de La Plata hideout.
Our Day 4
Our Day 4 started out with a steep climb to la Comandancia de la Plata via Minas Frias. It’s an unrelenting climb up into to la Comandancia de la Plata. Our total elevation change for the day was 3000 meters or around 10,000 feet.
At some point, you turn off the road into a small side track and head into the mountain jungle. The trail gets difficult here—very steep uphills thru a narrow jungle path followed by steep downhills. This was easily the toughest part of the hike. Early on we acquired a second guide (a local campesino) who guided us through the jungle into the Comandancia. (Like Fidel 60 years earlier had a campesino guide them to the site!)
- As of this writing, stand-alone GPS units (SPOT and inReach included) and Satellite Phones were not allowed into Cuba. To confirm, Cuban customs did indeed check our luggage with X-ray machines and also asked us if we were bringing a GPS into the Country. Be forewarned. Strangely, cell-phones with a working GPS are fine. Go figure!
- Our US cell phones don’t work in rural Cuba (but this may change in the future). But your guide’s cell phone will likely work on some sections of the Ruta. In the bigger towns in Cuba, you can buy Internet cards. On the trek, you will not have this option.
- We were able to recharge our cell phones at two out of the three houses we stayed in. Electricity will be scarce so don’t expect every house to have it.
- US debit or credit cards don’t work with Cuban ATMs.
- So for US Citizens, this is a cash-only country. US dollars will cost an extra 10% to exchange so Euros, Canadian Dollars, British Pounds or any other currency is recommended. That said, you can change US dollars if needed.
- CUBAN VISA: US Citizens need a Cuban visa to get into Cuba. We went thru the Miami airport. At the boarding gate in Miami, a kiosk sold Cuban visas good for one visit, for $100/person. We assume this is the same at other airports in the US. Alternatively, you can get a visa through the Cuban consulate. It costs only $50/person however: you will need a passport photo, you’ll fill out forms, provide a copy of your passport and must hand it all to them in person (I provided all the same for my spouse, but it cost $75 since they weren’t there in person with me). A week later, you return to pick up your visa. The $100 airport visa is a much better deal.
- US CATEGORIES (not really a visa): The US government has several categories of reasons allowing you to go to Cuba. The reason that people have started to go now is that in March, 2016, the US Gov’t added the category of “people-to-people” to their list. You can go to the State Department website to read more about what this means (https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/cuba.html) see “support for the Cuban people”. As long as you fall into one of these categories, you do not need a visa from the US to travel (but will still need a Cuban visa). We carried our itinerary with us upon returning to the US to prove we spent time with Cuban people, but were not asked for it or anything else at US customs.
- Remember, you are in a very rural area. As such, we saw virtually no cars on the trek. Almost all transport is either by foot or by horse/mule. There may be options to rent horses/mules along some sections, but that needs to be well organized beforehand.
Gear for La Ruta de la Revolución Trek
Note: this is a excerpt from our 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List which we use for worldwide trekking, including our recent trek into the Jungles of Columbia to see La Cuidad Perdita (the Lost City). Depending on the time of year, temperatures on the Ruta can vary from the humid 80-90s °F with intense sun at lower elevations, to temperatures in the 40’s to 50’s°F on cool nights in the mountains. There is always a slight chance of rain even in the lowlands. The chance of rain increases when you get into the mountains as they have their own weather.
|Backpack for all your gear||30 to 40+ liter backpack||Osprey Exos 48 Pack, ULAOhm 2.0 Pack great!, or Hyperlite Mountain Gear SW 2400. See Recommended Lightweight Backpacks for other choices.|
|Day Pack||Just about any 20+ liter pack|
REI Co-op Flash 22
|Warm climate and not carrying food so you can also use a daypack. Alison used an Ultimate Direction Fastpack 25|
|Tent||Light one e.g. Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent||For the slight chance you need to sleep outdoors. REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent or for lighter options see: Recommended Tents and other Shelters|
|Hammock||Good for tropical climate||Tent alternative. Something like an Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip or Hyperlite Asym Zip|
|Quilt||Fleece blanket or Sleeping Bag||Only a light one is needed if at all. We didn’t use one.|
|Ground Pad||T-Rest NeoAir X-lite “Women’s”||Perfect size for most. Warm. Super comfortable!|
|Dry bags||These inexpensive dry bags||Keep gear dry — especially, cameras, electronics & docs like your passport, etc. and these dry bags have a valve-free air expelling design for compact packing|
|Clothing||and insect repellents||See Disease Prevention, Insects and Clothing below for our clothing list and strategy for avoiding mosquito and other bug bites|
|Trek poles||Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon||Help on muddy/slippery trails. Pers. favorites. 1/3 price but equal to the best poles|
|Water bottle||SoftBottle Water Bottle||Need 2-3 liter capacity per person. Can use standard commercial bottle. Or collapsable ones like these|
|Water purify||Chemicals light and effective||Katadyn or Portable Aqua tablets or Aquamira Water Treatment Drops|
|Camera||Camera Equipment||You’ll want a good one. See Best Lightweight Backpacking Cameras|
|Earplugs||Foam Earplugs NRR 33||If sensitive to noise. Tight sleeping quarters.|
|Charging||EasyAcc USB Battery (5.4)||Charge iPhone 6s ~3x, iPhone 6s Plus or Samsung Galaxy s6 ~2x (5,500 mAh, actual!)|
|Electronics||An excellent kit for travel||See “Best Lightweight Travel/Backpacking Electronics Gear” for both on and off trail use|
|Headlamp||Black Diamond Iota||Weather sealed. Bright 150 lumens. Can be recharged in the field! E.g the EasyAcc battery pack. Reduce battery waste, and see better!|
|Toilet paper||In waterproof Ziplock bag||TP not always at toilets in camp.|
|Hand sanitizer||Travel Size||For use when water/soap not available|
|Soap||Dr. Bronners||Small 1 oz bottle|
|Towel||PackTowl Personal Towel||Fast drying. Get one less than 100g (3 oz)|
|Sunscreen||small plastic tube about 1/2 full||for face & hands: most of body covered—large hat|
|Lip balm||Bert’s Bees or similar||Minimal wt for dedicated lip balm|
|First Aid Kit||Meds, wound/injury, foot care||A small personal kit see the one in my 9-lb Gear List|
|Headnet||Sea to Summit Head Net (1.2)|
|Insect repell.||Sawyer Picaridin for skin||0.5 oz pump is airline OK small, pocketable, and easily applied in field. Picardin also in lotion is the most effective on the market.|
|Knife/scissors||Wescott blunt tip school scissors||More useful than knife – OK for plane carryon|
|Knife||Gerber L.S.T. Drop Point||Can cut bread and salami – very light for 2.6″ blade (not carry on legal)|
|Repair||Tenacious patch, duct tape, glue||Also consider Aquaseal and a NeoAir patch kit|
See our 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List for a more complete list of gear.
Disease Prevention, Insects and Clothing
This is tropical Caribbean trekking with possible exposure to bug transmitted and water/food transmitted diseases. The CDC recommends visiting your travel doctor (ideally, 4-6 weeks) before your trip to get vaccines or medicines you may need. We got all our travel vaccines for water/food transmitted diseases. And we chemically treated all water along the route. We at well-cooked food as much as possible along the route. None of of us got sick.
A short list of Clothing and Bug Protection (a cool set that you won’t overheat in)
Note: this excerpted from a more detailed article. Best Ways to Protect Yourself Insect Diseases While Hiking some readers may want to investigate it in more detail.
|A||Hat (repellent)||Exofficio Bugsaway Hat||Bug repellent for upper head area|
|B||Shirt hiking*||RailRiders Men’s Journeyman Shirt w Insect Shield & Women’s Oasis||Cool fabric, mesh side vents, sun protection, Lifetime insect repellent (vs. sprays 8-14 hrs)|
|Shirt (alt)||Exofficio Bugs Away Halo Long Sleeve Shirt Men’s and Women’s||Also good, widely available via Amazon and other retailers like REI. Lifetime insect repellent.|
|C||Pants hiking*||ExOfficio BugsAway Ziwa Pants Men’s and Women’s||Available in both Men’s and Women’s. Light, cool, sun protection. Lifetime insect repellent.|
|Pants (alt)||RailRiders Men’s Eco-Mesh Pant with Insect Shield||RailRiders pants have huge side vent on legs for cooling. Lifetime insect repellent.|
|E G||Bug repellent on face neck hands||Sawyer Picaridin lotion 14 hrs!|
Pocketable Picaridin 0.5 oz spray
|Lasts 14 hrs! No odor. Won’t melt plastic. Small, pocketable, easily applied.|
|D||Physical Prot.||Tuck pants into socks||Prevents tick entry into pants. Stops pants legs from “gapping” and exposing ankle to mosquitos|
|F||Physical Prot.||Tuck shirt into Pants||Prevents tick entry into pants and lower shirt area.|
|H||Gaiters||Dirty Girl gaiters (fun colors!) or|
REI Co-op Activator Gaiters
|Seals pants against tick entry. No ankle gaps. Can be treated with permethrin spray.|
|H||Gaiter trap shoe|
|Altra Lone Peak shoes or|
Altra Superior shoes
|Velcro “gaiter trap” permanently attached to heel of shoe. (adhesive ones that come with gaiters only work for a while)|
|Rain Jacket||Outdoor Research Helium II||or inexpensive REI Coop|
|Fleece shirt||North Face TKA 100 1/4-Zip||Light and compact travel garment. For warmth in camp at night and sleeping. Good pillow!|
|Underwear||Patagonia briefs Mens|
Patagonia briefs Women’s
|Dry fast, will rinse/wash most days|
|Bra||Patagonia Active spots bra||Alison’s favorite|
|Hat regular||Outdoor Research Sun Runner Hat||Removable sun cape. Adaptable to most situations|
|Shoes hiking||Lightweight trail running shoes||Boots not desirable! Most non-Goretex trail running shoes that fit. You probably own a pair.|
|Shoes sugg.|| Altra Superior Trail-Running|
(or Lone Peaks)
|Light. Huge toe room. Super comfortable!|
|Shoes sugg.||Inov-8 ROCLITE 295 (20oz)||Light, sticky rubber, durable.|
|Shoessugg.||Brooks Cascadia (25 oz)||Popular trail shoe, available many stores|
|camp footwear||Sandals for showering/camp|
|Socks||Inexpensive cotton M’s and W’s|
(bring 3 to 4 pairs)
|Socks get dirty & stinky fast in hot climate. Best to wear cheap ones & use as rags after the trip. [Can treat with Permethrin if you want.]|
* You can treat your own clothing with permethrin spray (Amazon) or REI. This lasts for up to 6 weeks or 6 washings. (For comparison: factory treated clothing is good for up to 70 washings, essentially “life-time” use). Both clothing treatments far exceed the 8-14 hours of skin applied repellents like Picaridin and DEET. And they don’t require the time/attention needed to properly apply repellents to large areas of skin each day.
Note: We took two set of insect repellent pants and shirts — one pair exclusively for hiking, and one pair reserved for dry/camp use only. The reason is that hiking clothes will get wet with rain and/or sweat during the day and will not dry completely overnight. In the morning we just put on our damp hiking clothes (they will be dry in 30-60 minutes from your body heat), and put our dry camp clothes back in our packs. That way we always had nice clean clothes to change into after washing up. A courtesy to the families we stayed with!