Hanabanilla:  a tour along Escambray´s Golden Basket
Hanabanilla:  a tour along Escambray´s Golden Basket
Hanabanilla:  a tour along Escambray´s Golden Basket
Hanabanilla:  a tour along Escambray´s Golden Basket

All the beautiful spots of universal geography commonly host some type of legend traveling through time and oral tradition to explain the origins of said spots and their names.

This is true of the Hanabanilla Lake located in the Guamuhaya mountain chain in the south central part of Cuba; it is said it was named after an indigenous princess, the name meaning in Arauca culture: “small golden basket”.

Though there are no traces of gold in the area, the true richness of the region pertains to its exceptional natural environment shaped by mountains and forests with abundant centennial trees and extensive pine groves, serving as refuge to an exceptional fauna of birds, insects, reptiles and indigenous mammals.

This mountain chain also known as el Escambray hosts a community of expert coffee planters that every year yield one of the best coffee harvests worldwide, treasuring at the same time sociocultural features of great ethnographic value.

The Hanabanilla Lake, wherein the aborigine princess bathed centuries ago is really only 56 years old. The extreme need to increase water supply to the cities of Cienfuegos and Santa Clara accelerated the construction of the reservoir, benefiting from the geographic features of the Siguanea valley, similar to a natural container.

Between 1956 and 1962 damming of the Hanabanilla, Negro and Guanayara rivers allowed the progressive flooding of the territory up to 40 meters in depth, immersing a whole village and creating a 15 kilometers´ long water film. The dam´s 300 cubic meters capacity also feeds the Island’s largest hydroelectric plant connected to the national energy generating system (yielding 45,000 KW).

The dam provided a new and fascinating landscape, enhanced communications and enabled the construction of the Hanabanilla Hotel, inaugurated in 1975 with an inventory of 125 rooms, turning the artificial lake into a tourism destination dedicated to water sports, trekking and active leisure.  Its location between the Villa Clara, Cienfuegos and Sancti Spiritus provinces positions the Hanabanilla in a privileged situation as to circuit tourism combined with nature, as well as other urban itineraries leading to Trinidad, Remedios, Sagua la Grande and the provincial capitals. The beach destinations of the Northern Villa Clara keys or the beaches and fishing coves of the southern coast also benefit from the Hanabanilla.

The distance to the Topes de Collantes National Park shortens by escalating the coffee roads leading to the Escambray, riding in the powerful trucks provided by the Gaviota Tourism Group; there is a half way stop in the Hanabanilla Balcony where one can appreciate the majesty of green and beauty of the mountains having the lake in the background.

The virginal nature and location 800 meters above sea level of the small Topes de Collantes town impacts the visitor, enjoying a very agreeable climate contrasting the high temperatures of the flatlands especially during the summer.    The hotel inventory includes 210 rooms in Kurhotel Escambray offering health rehab services in some 10 programs.

One can also enjoy different difficulty levels of trekking along mountain trails leading to the Salto del Caburní and Cascada del Nicho falls, Jurassic type valleys populated by arborescent ferns and open caves settled in vertical crevices. Pastures with white tailed deer and wild pigs grazing among birds like woodpeckers, parakeets and parrots are part of an amazing scenery.

The Canopy Flight offers another perspective, with a thousand meters´ descent over cedar, pine, mahogany and eucalyptus trees, enjoying the landscape in the same manner the hawk does going after its prey.

The perfect circuit tour ends with a visit to Trinidad, 20 kilometers away from Topes de Collantes; it is one of the first seven villas founded in Cuba in the XVI century, attaining full splendor in the XIX century with an architecture adorned with stately mansions and miniature palaces located in the Historical Center of the villa.

Everything fits in the “small golden basket” where we started our trip, leaving a space open to discovery, emotion and adventure between heaven and earth.

Text and photos: Rolando Pujol