The Sierra Maestra is Cuba's largest and highest mountain range, with Pico Turquino rising over 6,500 feet above sea level.This magnificent range is located in the Province of Santiago de Cuba in the south-easternmost part of this large Caribbean island. The rugged and often inhospitable mountains have a special symbolic meaning for many Cubans, as it was within this largely inaccessible terrain that rebels against authority have hidden out dating back to Hateyu, who was killed in 1511 while fleeing Spanish Colonial forces. It was the staging point and centre of operations for rebels in three wars of independence against Spain in the 1800s, as well as the hiding place of the Castro brothers in the mid-1950s while plotting the overthrow of Cuban dictator Batista.
Today, much of these majestic mountains, that plunge dramatically into the Caribbean Sea along the coast roughly between the city of Santiago and the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, remains wild and undeveloped and has recently become a popular hiking and rock climbing destination. It's also an unspoilt natural environment where a wide diversity of animal and plant life thrives, including pygmy owls, huge wild iguanas(some of which came right up close to us for food), deerand butterflies with invisible wings.
One of the highlights of our recent vacation to Cuba was a tour up toLa Gran Piedra, one of the highest pointsin the Sierra Maestra. It's a unique, almost round, volcanic rock the size of a large apartment building, that perches precariously on top ofone of the basalt peaks. Scientists don't know how it got there but speculation is rife.Our tour bus wound its way up a tortuously narrow roadway with no guardrails to a base camp about three quarters of the way to the top. From there, we walked/hiked the rest of the way, including mounting 452 rough-hewn stone steps and a rusty old steel ladder with another 50 rungs to reach the lofty summit. Once on top, we marvelled at the breath-taking panoramic views. We could glimpse Santiago as well as the southern coastline in the distance. We also saw on the top of a nearby, lower but incredibly lush hill the remains of an old French coffee plantation, La Isabelica.It's now been turned into a lush botanical garden that features a myriad of exotic flowers, plantsand fruit trees. For us, this assent of the SierraMaestra to the top of La Gran Piedra was one of the most memorable highlights of our recent (early March) trip to Cuba. Marvellous!