| 7 min read
Originally, our plan was to visit both Las Terrazas and Soroa, but as we were told those two places are very similar, we decided to stick to the former and spend more time there. Set up as a rural project of sustainable development, this riverside reserve in Sierra del Rosario offered us a relaxed experience of chilling by the river, hiking in the forest and camping in wooden cabins on poles.
Our wooden cabin
The Las Terrazas complex covers a small campsite by the San Juan river where you can sleep in a tent, or… in a rustic cabin on poles! All cabins are named after Cuban birds and we had been assigned the Cartacuba cabin (Cuban tody).
Below every cabin is a table and a ladder grants access to a trapdoor built into the floor of the cabin. Basically the structure consists of a wooden shack on poles with two matrasses inside, but that’s all we had been expecting. For the toilet and the shower, we had to go to another shared cabin.
There is also a restaurant on the campsite. Prices are reasonable with meals for 4,50 to 6 CUC and mojito’s for 1,65 CUC. The only downside is that it closes early at 6PM, so we anticipated by buying some bottles of wine and beer before closing time. The staff will be happy to provide you with a bucket of ice-cubes to chill your drinks for the remainder of the evening.
When the staff left, we had the campsite entirely to ourselves. A few tourists had been visiting during the day, but no one actually stayed to spend the night. We spent some time at the nearby river and drank our beers, then returned to our cabin for a quiet evening with a bottle of white wine.
When we switched off the light and went to bed, we realized how quiet everything was around us. We dozed off on the soft rustling sound of the river… until a loud thump came from the foot of the bed. It sounded as if something big had fallen down. What could that be? We switched on the light again and suddenly faced a large frog sitting on the end of our bed.
I may have missed out on the opportunity to meet prince charming by not kissing the frog, but all I wished for on that moment was to have him out of my room…
Part one: Hike in the woods
Our guide Luis Enrique guided us through the forest around Baños de San Juan while explaining the flora and fauna. He taught us how to tell the age of a palm tree by counting its rings. He also pointed out a tree called ‘turista’, referring to the red color of its bark which is characteristic for sun-burnt tourists visiting Cuba. Likewise, its bark also peels off after a while.
We saw a tree called Tortuga, which behaves more like a serpent, as the branches of this tree circle their way up over the trunk, wraps themselves around other trees, then hang down from their branches...
We passed several large groups of tourists coming from the other direction. They were heading to San Juan to swim in the river, but they would be gone again by the time we made it back home.
Luis Enrique’s attention was drawn by the song of a bird flying around us. It was the Cartacuba, after which our cabin is named. He pointed towards a bird with red, green and white colors. This tiny creature didn’t like posing for a photo though.
As we walked on, we passed a funny tree with a spiky bast and another palma real, which is the national tree of Cuba. This one had a bunch of aerial roots which serve to stock up on water. In dry season, these roots disappear.
Grabbing some dried palm leaves, our guide announced he would make something for us. He sharpened two small wooden twig and started cutting and folding the palm leaves, which resulted in a small but solid handbag!
A little later, our guide spotted another plant that could be of practical use. He cut of some branches of a plant with sharp stalks. Given that they’re round and hollow inside, they could serve as a straw for our next mojito. This is actually a great and ecological idea. I wonder why Cubans didn’t use those more often. I put my natural straws into the palm leaf handbag, along with two French lemons Luis had picked. My basked started to look more and more like a set for making cocktails.
We spotted a big tree being embraced by a smaller one, which is poetically referred to as ‘Yo Puedo Más Qué Tú’. The species of tree ‘chokes’ the other until it dies.
A small stone wall led towards the remains of a French coffee-estate, built in the 19th century by slaves that used to work on the French coffee plantations. They have all gone and the extensive coffee plantations are returned to mother nature, but the ruins remain.
Behind the plantations sat the small house of Johan, a friend of our guide’s. He invited us in and showed us some of his books and photo albums. Our timing was perfect, as all of a sudden it started pouring down. When the rain tempered, we walked on, but didn’t get far until the gates of heaven broke lose again. Being totally unprepared for rain, we got soaked in no time. Luckily, our guide had a solution for everything. He chopped off some large palm leaves and offered them to us as an umbrella!
In this heavy rain, we didn’t bother stopping to watch plants or birds. Instead, we headed straight to the lakeside village of Las Terrazas, where we took a taxi back to Baños de San Juan. Our guide offered to take us to the monument of Che Guevara the day after, for free. I guess he was desperate to get out of the rain himself.
Part two: Hike to the top
On our second day, we were joined by two Estonian girls for the hike up to the monument of Che Guevara. The path was easy to follow, but quite vertical and intense at times. It took us about an hour to reach the top and take in the beautiful panoramic view it offered.
From there, we returned to the camp where we had a swim in the river before continuing our trip to Havana.
- The staff of the San Juan complex can help you arrange a guide. Our guide only spoke Spanish, but then again he only charged us 5 CUC. If you don’t speak Spanish, I’m sure you can also get another guide, but the price might be more elevated.
- The price of a wooden cabin is 25 CUC per night, which is a more than most casa particulares. It however includes breakfast with coffee, tea, juice, crackers, cheese, ham and an omelet.
- There is a restaurant on the campsite. Prices are very reasonable, but it closes early at 6PM. Be sure to order your food before 5.30PM and buy your drinks and snacks for the rest of the evening before closing time.
Do you have questions? Did you experience something similar? Did you notice a mistake? Please share!