Behind the Lens: A Cuban Climbing Excursion

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From bomber jugs and ideal pockets to amazing overhangs and tufas on perfect limestone – climbing in Cuba is well worth the trip. Brooks-Range ambassador Drew Smith made the journey south to get in some sun and sends before returning to Yosemite’s Search and Rescue team. We caught up with Drew to learn more about his climbing trip Cuba and what makes this an ideal climbing destination; take a look…

So give us a run down of your trip, where did you go when you first got there?

I just wanted to do some fun sport climbing and take photos before heading to Yosemite for my season on YOSAR, so I took a flight to Cancun from the States, then a flight to Havana, Cuba (this was the cheapest way I could find). After arriving to Cuba I headed to Viñales a small town which has the most established climbing areas around it in Cuba. I stayed for eight days and climbed within walking distance and short taxi rides of Viñales.

The cheapest and best deal for accommodation is staying in Casas Particulares, they are pretty much bed and breakfast type accommodation. Typically being a family’s house with added rooms and areas to hang out in, they provide meals and any other services you might need. Finding good food to snack on or eat for meals is difficult, the stores are super basic and often run out of things.

What’s traveling to Cuba like now that some of the restrictions have been lifted?

Traveling to Cuba is super easy and hassle free. A lot of false info is online right now and I was worried before going down. I purchased my Visa at the airport in Mexico on my way to Cuba and didn’t need travel insurance. The only tricky part is U.S. bankcards don’t work in the Country so you have to bring U.S. cash and exchange it in Cuba. I exchanged mine when I flew into Cuba at the airport.

What’s the state of climbing access in Cuba right now? We hear it’s tricky, but doable.

Climbing is technically illegal in Cuba, but we had no problems. The government may not necessarily care if people are out “trekking,” which is how climbing is categorized. The local climbing community said for the Cuban government the requirements for legality typically involve a sport being Olympic. The government won’t form official federations for sports that aren’t “globally recognized.” The climbing community is really small but they were all very friendly. They cant get any climbing equipment so I strongly recommend bringing any old gear that you were planning to get rid of or lost-and-found items from your local climbing gym. Small donations go a long way.

Any favorite climbing areas or notable climbs?

My favorite area to climb was the Cuba Libre cave in the Palenque area, it usually had a nice breeze and very little mosquitoes. A must-do climb and my favorite was probably “Moscow Mule 7b” in the Cuba Libre cave. It had a little of everything, wild moves on stalactites a dyno and big moves on good holds. Going in April when I did isn’t ideal for the temps and the mosquitoes were bad. Locals said January and February are better months for climbing. Most of the rock is high quality limestone, ranging from steep caves with stalactites to vertical technical climbing. I’ve heard it’s similar to Thailand.

What advice would you give to people looking to climb in Cuba?

It’s pretty much an uncrowned paradise, we only saw two other climbing parties. The climbing is amazing and on rest days you have beautiful white sand beaches within two hours away.

Were there any pieces of Brooks-Range gear that you used on the trip? How’d they do?

The only piece of gear I brought besides a shirt, shorts and one pair of pants was the Brooks Range Hybrid LT Jacket. I love this piece its warm enough during cooler nights and mornings but also has good breathability for when you are being a little more active.

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