Topes de CollantesHiking and biking in a national park

Topes de Collantes is a mountain region of the Sierra Escambray, approximately 20 km north of Trinidad. The road twists and turns through spectacular scenery, with every bend offering new views of tropical vegetation, interspersed with plantation forests of eucalyptus and pine. Parrots (cotorras) and other bird species abound. Eventually you come to the undulating, wooded Parque Nacional Topes de Collantes.

For most visitors, the appeal of Topes lies in the walks, through beautiful scenery, and the exotic waterfalls nearby, especially Salto Vega Grande and the sweeping, uniquely shaped Salto Caburní, a 75-meter (250ft) fall. This hike involves a fairly testing 6km (4-mile) round trip.

The crenellated, 90 km long Sierra del Escambray is Cuba's second-largest mountain range, and it straddles the borders of three provinces: Sancti Spíritus, Cienfuegos and Villa Clara. In late 1958 Che Guevara set up camp in these hills on his way to Santa Clara and, less than three years later, CIA-sponsored counterrevolutionary groups operated their own cat-and-mouse guerrilla campaign from the same vantage point.

The park takes its name from its largest settlement, an ugly health resort founded in 1937 by dictator Fulgencio Batista to placate his sick wife, for whom he built a quaint rural cottage. The architecture went downhill thereafter with the construction of an architecturally grotesque tuberculosis sanatorium (now a health resort) begun in the late '30s but not opened until 1954.

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