A few years ago, Sergi Pujalte began to dream of a stage race in the mountains of Cuba.
A Barcelona native, Pujalte had done adventure races in various parts of Spain. He had directed the Barcelona Marathon, and organized a 450K mountain-bike race in Cuba. He decided Cuba should have a multi-day trail run as well.
“We wanted to create a trail race in an exceptional environment where the runners could find beautiful landscapes, adventure and a good experience,” he says.
Only 90 miles from Florida, Cuba has long been difficult for Americans to visit. But with the recent thaw in bilateral relations, things are changing—good news for history buffs, cigar aficionados, Hemingway fans and, of course, trail seekers.
Runners will be drawn to the mountainous jungles, bursting with tropical trees and flowering plants. But it’s not as easy as throwing on a pair of aggressively lugged trail shoes and disappearing into the jungle.
Accessing certain trails requires special permission granted only to organized tours. Plus, it’s always tough to drop into a new area equipped only with a map and vague descriptions from the Internet, and find the trails most worth your time.
That’s where Pujalte’s race, Jungle Trail Run Cuba, comes in.
The five-stage, 140K race—occurring for the first time this November—handles the annoying logistical stuff. That way, you can focus on what you want to do anyway: Run in some rad places.
A Beautiful and Unique Jungle
Jungle Trail Run Cuba takes place in Topes de Collantes Natural Park and its surroundings, a spectacular backdrop for five days of running.
The park is nestled in central Cuba’s Escambray Mountains, a region of steep hillsides, lush river valleys and thick jungles with what Lonely Planet calls “the best network of hiking trails in Cuba.” There are banana trees, coffee plantations and a World Heritage site with buildings that date back centuries.
It’s also a place of thrilling biodiversity. Pujalte says Topes de Collantes contains “15 species of pine trees, 12 kinds of eucalyptus and more than 100 ornamental plants” that are constantly in bloom.
Jungle Trail Cuba makes full use of this natural beauty. Over multiple visits, Pujalte worked with local residents to find the best trails for runners to experience—resulting in 140 challenging and diverse kilometers.
Staging the Race
To many, “stage racing” conjures images of runners with 20-pound packs, GPSing their way through a trackless desert.
Jungle Trail Cuba offers a more supported experience, while introducing runners to wild terrain.
The race kicks off with an 8K loop that starts and ends near the quaint hotel where runners spend the first few days. A nighttime jaunt past a couple waterfalls on technical trails, this short stage is not to be underestimated.
The distance ramps up on day two with a 31K, point-to-point run that includes relics of the colonial past and ever-shifting vegetation as it weaves between northern and southern aspects.
The next day, runners embark on an epic, three-day tour. Day three’s 32K route goes over technical jungle trails, across a river and in and out of small settlements. It includes views of the long, snaking Hanabanilla Reservoir.
Runners end the day at an idyllic riverside campsite. It’s “perfect for a swim,” Pujalte says—and relaxation is recommended. The next day, stage four, is the race’s longest, at 43K—just over a marathon.
It’s also the most remote. Narrow singletrack follows a river “into the deep Cuban jungle,” as Pujalte says. The biggest climbs of the week face runners here, as they trace a meandering loop back to camp.
Not that day five is a picnic. Thirty-three kilometers of steep climbs and primitive, overgrown trails stand between runners and the finish.
Jungle Trail Cuba is a five-day tour of trails, landscapes and sights that would be hard to replicate on one’s own—perfect for ambitious eco-tourists or those looking for a challenging but doable first stage race.
As Pujalte says, “It’s a mix of adventure, emotion and challenge in the middle of a tropical Cuban jungle—a winning cocktail all lovers of trail running will enjoy.”
For a chance to win a free entry to the Jungle Trail Cuba Run, email [email protected]. Winners’ names will be selected in a raffle.
Registration giveaway goes through July 31st.