Last spring I had a climbing trip with my best friend, away from the cold and snowy Chamonix, in an exotic, warm and sunny spot. We had heard of Viñales in Cuba, where the routes are steeply overhanging. Big roofs are not my specialty, due to my chicken arms, so of course we had to check this place out. I instantly fell in love.
The Viñales village is located 250 km from Havana, in the Piñar del Rio province. Surrounding the valley are the mogotes, old limestone mountains eroded for ages by water, salt and winds, sculpting walls, caves and tunnels with amazing shapes. Most of the climbing crags are less than 30min from the village, on foot.
Route development in Viñales is relatively new, but there are already alomost 500 bolted routes, and huge potential all around the area. Most routes grades run 6/5.10 -8/5.13, with the ocassional 5/5.9.
Upside down climbing
Be prepared for the most beautiful routes of your life. If you have been to Thailand or Greece, it’s a similar, sure without the beach and crowds.
Reading the routes is difficult and navigating amongst all the stalactites is absolutely confusing. Finding the next bolt or sequence amongst the many holds takes a bit of time as it is literally a three dimensional experience. However, no-hand rests are frequent and the routes are mostly well bolted.
A standard sport climb rack of QDs is enough in most cases. Take 14 draws including a few double slings to replace the used gear in spots. Two ropes and a prussiks for the multipitch routes, and a set of cams and stoppers for the odd trad climbs. This easily fits in an Octopus pack.
It’s also a tradition for foreign climbers to donate gear to the local community to encourage climbing. Harnesses, shoes, slings, ropes, draws, and especially bolts are always appreciated.
Top five climbing routes
- Mucho Pumpito, being, according to the guide book, « possibly the most beautiful 6b (5.10d) you will ever climb ». It’s true : constantly overhanging but with huge holds, pumpy, (sc)airy, with indedible views… That’s the route on the guide book front page. A must.
- Maybe (7a+/5.12a), a festival of micro-holds and miniscule foot placements, until the top, where bolts are rare. The crux is at the anchor, with the last bolt is already far below… Engaging.
- The Wasp Factory (7b+/5.12c), probably the most famous route, a real gem overhanging progressively along tuffas columns, to end horizontaly above a giant stalactite. Impressive.
- RM (6a+/5.10c), a perfect introduction to local overhangs, and one of the very few accessible routes in a cave full of crazy mutant routes. Encouraging.
- Pink Lady (6c/5.11b), another horizontal route, snaking in many columns, the crux being to find the hidden bolts and the (so many) rests. Astounding.
So, what are you waiting for to book your flight ?