Photo: No More Climbing Valle de Vinales
Since the late 1990s, foreigners have been heading to a Cuban national park, in Valle de Viñales, to enjoy the spectacular mogotes. It may sound like a refreshing drink, but the mogotes are islands of karstic limestone that became a rock climbing paradise once climbers found hundreds of routes up the precipitous mountain faces.
However, a crackdown on climbing, which began in 2003, has become more strictly enforced. Visitors are threatened with police action by the park guards and this is driving climbers away. Locals worry that this climbing prohibition will destroy the economy in Viñales which has over 300 boarding houses where tourists stay while visiting the park. Although rules are strict many people believe that the climbing location is worth the risk. Oscar Jaime Rodriguez, an owner of one of the many boardinghouses, states, “They are always saying, ‘It’s prohibited, it’s prohibited,’ but climbers still come and they still climb. It’s worth it.”
The government claims that they are setting up a system allowing people to buy daily passes or licenses to climb, though this story has been going around for nearly a decade. Other explanations say the state is worried that Cubans and foreigners are meeting at Viñales to organize against the government as many of the favorite climbing locations are part of the national defense plan in case of possible attack.
Yet, according to German climbers Jens and Ina Franzke, although the climbs they managed to complete by evading guards were breathtaking, the risks have been too overwhelming to ever do it again. “It feels like East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. There are all these rules and none of them make sense. There are no signs. No detailed maps at all. You ask if you can go somewhere and do something by yourself and they say, ‘No, it’s impossible.’ It’s a real shame because it’s such a paradise, but we will never come back.”
This feeling is the fear for many locals in Valle de Viñales. The crackdown on this outdoor adventure sport would be devastating to an area that has flourished from tourists looking to climb the mogotes.