Leaving Santiago de Cuba twenty kilometers behind, the landscape is transformed into a limitless expanse of untamed nature, rich flora, and the impressive geological formation known as the Gran Piedra.
Temperatures remain tropical – close to 30 degrees Celsius – on the approach to La Gran Piedra (The Big Rock). As you climb higher on the zigzagging, 12 km road towards it, you enter a microclimate with cooler temperatures and abundant vegetation. Most impressive are the flower species including begonias, birds of paradise, dahlias, orchids, ferns, chrysanthemums and more.
The flora is complemented by fauna such as woodpeckers, thrushes, cartacubas, hawks, doves, mayitos and the Cuban national bird, the tocororo, flying circles around the Big Rock. The mossy soil and floating fog clouds give this area a fairytale atmosphere.
The 452 steps leading to the Gran Piedra are well worth the climb to reach the volcanic rock more than 1200 meters above sea level. It measures 51 x 25 x 30mtrs (L x H x W), and is located in the eastern part of the Sierra Maestra, in the mountainous Baconao Biosphere Reserve.
Descending the steps from the rock, the breathtaking views give way to an ancient colonial building nestled in the forest. A cedar- and mahogany-lined path brings visitors to the former mansion of Victor Constantin – a French immigrant who fled Haiti during that country’s revolution. The hacienda is now a museum, with French-style furniture, a piano, and extravagant master bedroom, including a four-poster bed.
This and other ruins of French coffee plantations in this area were declared a UNSECO World Heritage Site in 2000.