Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes
Che's rebels hid in the Escambray mountains during the revolution. After the revolution (1961-1969) CIA-sponsored counter-revolutionaries (bandidos) hid in the same mountains. The Museo de la Lucha Contra Los Bandidos, a museum in Trinidad, documents the latter fight.
The national park has jungle-covered limestone mountains with waterfalls and caves.
The highest mountain is Pico de San Juan, at 1150 meters (3773 feet). You can't hike to the summit, as the mountain is in a military zone.
Flora and fauna
The main road starts at a junction four kilometers west of Trinidad. The road to Topos de Collantes is about fifteen kilometers and is amazingly steep. It is paved well (by Cuban standards).
The road from Cienfuegos through La Sierrita to San Blas is good, and quite scenic. Near San Blas is a cliff with stalactites. Somewhere between San Blas and Buenos Aires, near the village of Matagua, the pavement ends. Locals say the road is impassable after this, unless you have a Jeep. This road goes to Topos de Collantes, and has a turnoff that goes to El Nicho. This road goes through the highest mountains and might be a good mountain bike ride. Be aware that much of the area is military zone, so don't go hiking off the road, or take too many pictures.
The national park has six tourist areas.
Parque El Nicho
El Nicho is a beautiful series of waterfalls and clear blue pools. The drive from Cienfuegos is one to two hours each way. The road is good to Crucecitas, and after that it's OK if you drive slowly. There's a bus from Cienfuegos. El Nicho can be popular, especially in the summer. Don't expect solitude. The entrance fee is 5 CUC. You can hike along the creek above the waterfalls. Horseback riding is also offered. A restaurant serves meals.
This is the most developed tourist site. The only hotels are here (including the huge Kurhotel Escambray). There's an art gallery; the Casa de Café, featuring locally grown coffees; and a restaurant.
The 7-kilometer (roundtrip) hike to the 75-meter Salto de Caburní ("Caburní Falls") is well worth the effort (6.50 CUC fee at the gate). You can swim in the large pool below the falls. The trail starts east of the Kurhotel.
Another good hike is the Sendero La Batata, which is about six kilometers (roundtrip) to a cave with an underground creek. You can swim in the cave. Bring sandals for climbing around in the cave, unless the soles of your feet are tough! The trail starts at the Casa de Café. The fee is 3.50 CUC.
Other features include the Jardin de Gigantes ("Giants Garden") and a short hike to Salto Vega Grande ("Vega Grande Falls').
This is near the Parque Altiplano. A restaurant serves tour groups. There are hiking trails to waterfalls, caves, and viewpoints. Birdwatching and camping are also listed on the map.
Parque El Cubano
This reservoir is on the north side of the national park. At El Salto de Hanabanilla ("Hanabanilla Falls") there is a hotel with hiking, horseback riding, boating, and fishing. The nearest town is Manicaragua.
The huge Kurhotel was built in 1936 and has 210 rooms and 16 suites. A spa, it also has a restaurant, five gyms, a cabaret, and a thermal swimming pool with massage and therapeutic services available.
The two other hotels are the Villa Caburní and the Hotel Los Helechos.
All three hotels are tourist-only (no Cubans allowed). There are no casas particulares and nowhere for Cubans to stay.