Climbers and Adventurers are banned from Cuba


Cuban climber Reiniel Sosa attempting the fiercely overhanging cavern called Wasp Factory€ (5.12c/7b), in the Valle de Viñales.

In January 2012 an edict of the government closed Cuba’s western mountains to all, not only to climbers, but to all visitors, hikers, cavers, and birders alike. In Viñales National Park, where 80% of Cuban climbing routes are located, visitors are required to hire official guides and stay on a handful of trails “authorized” by officials for tourism. The rest of this World Heritage site is off-limits to all visitors.

No one has seen a written decree, so the full scope, rationale, and penalties are unknown. Local officials themselves can’t say why the policy on access has changed. Because the closure applies to the entire western province and to all access, the Cubans believe that the closure is the work of state security authorities. See a Cuban blogger’s attempt to make sense of what is going on.

Cuba has become a climbing destination for US, Canadian, and European climbers. And it is home to a developing community of local climbers. Climbing and other outdoor activities played a major role in spreading the word about this World Heritage Site and built a thriving local economy and a standard of living well above the norm in Cuba. In the past 20 years, Viñales has grown to become a destination for birders, hikers, and climbers, who are drawn to explore the Valley’s exceptional natural beauty, to walk its traditional tobacco and coffee farms, where ox-drawn plows and horse-backed farmers still mark its agriculture, and to climb on its overhanging limestone walls.

Now, rangers sit at a couple of obvious climbing/hiking venues and tell visitors that they cannot enter, or if caught in the act of climbing, to stop. Climbers and others have figured out the rangers’ routines and enforcement and work around it. Climbers are still going and climbing, not without anxiety though.

“As we understand it, no one has been cited for climbing, nor for simply wandering into the country-side,” says Armando Menocal of Access PanAm and author of the climbers guide to Cuba. Repeat offenders have been threatened, but no one has been fined or sanctioned. “Still, in this authoritarian country,” Menocal cautions, “we do not encourage anyone to challenge the rules, however inexplicable or unintelligent.”

Lacking government “authorization”, the local climbers have not been permitted to organize. The Cuban climbers are working with Access PanAm.
For now, though, all that Viñales can offer, to locals and visitors alike, is in the past and hopefully in the future.

More on Cuba Climbing.



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