Health / Hazards

Food and Water

The level of hygiene and public health in Cuba is high. Food is safe. Cubans and many visitors drink the local water without problem, but if you want to add to the plastic waste problem, bottled water is readily available. In most houses that rent rooms the water gets boiled and/or filtered.

Yarobys Garcia, deliberate foot hang, Otra Mano Pa el Pulpo, 7c


Cuba is the karst climbing of Thailand’s Railae, but without poisonous snakes, such as viper or cobras, or malaria, typhoid and dysentery. This is fortunate, since there is almost no medicine in Cuba. Nor are there risks from banditry, hostage-taking, terrorism, and artillery shelling — hazards that far-ranging climbers have faced elsewhere.


Josué Millo, Polvo de Piojillo (5.11b/6c). “Polvo de Piojillo” is the campesinos name for the insecticide they, and the climbers, use to drive wasps from the walls. Progress against the wasps is temporary, requiring re-application of “polvo de piojillo.”

The major natural hazard is wasps. Some walls have hundreds of hanging nests. Most climbing lines have been cleared, although wasps occasionally reclaim some territory. Usually an active nests must be hit or brushed to provoke an attack. Allergic visitors must come completely prepared with Epi pen (or two) and benadryl, and have them always available.

Mosquitoes and Things That Sting

Dengue fever, a mosquito borne disease, has surfaced in Havana several times in the past decade, and each time the government has responded aggressively and fumigated extensively.

Mosquitos are a nasty, common pests, specially in jungle approaches or tree-shaded areas of climbs. Come prepared.

Poison Ivy Cuba’s version of poison oak-ivy, called “guao” is found in Viñales, although its range is not extensive. There is also said to be an anti-venom plant called “contra-guao,” but it has not been identified nor bottled.

Josué Millo lowering off Wasp Factory Wall


A climbing hazard deserves special respect. The longer routes almost always require technical descents, trail ropes anchored to the wall, and particular attention to lengths of rappels. There is the real possibility of being stranded in space if you blow it.


Although not a hazard per se, “jineteros” (hustlers, in modern Cuban parlance) can be a serious annoyance. “Jineteras” has become the common term for a female prostitute. Jineteros follow you around in Havana, trying to sell you cigars or guide you to restaurants.

By contrast, Viñales has few jineteros on its streets – by day. Go the clubs at night, however, and you will see the same men and women there every night, waiting for a drink or offering to dance. The locals joke that Viñales has no jineteros, only “dance instructors.”

Be careful of people offering to “guide” you, or to take you to a casa particular where climbers stay. Or they may tell you that the casa you want is full, even out of business. Taxi drivers are notorious for this trick. You may not be charged directly. Instead the jinetero returns later to the casa and demands a commission from the owner, who will charge it back to you.

To some, there is no such thing as a dirt-bag foreigner. You are a good target for people looking to attach themselves to you for tips, meals, gear, commissions by directing you to a casa or paladar, or get almost anything of value. Be assured that if you ask for help, many will volunteer.


Cuba treats possession, sale, or use of drugs seriously. Very little escapes its state security-police apparatus. If you try to buy drugs from a jinetero, the chances are that you are dealing with a government informant. Consider this: after just a couple of nights at the local clubs, you will be able to pick out the regulars, the “dance instructor.” If another local comes in, however, and sits down with visitors, he or she may later be quietly whisked away and perhaps detained. Why doesn’t this ever happen to the “dance instructors”?












Aníbal Fernández

Getting Help and Rescue

There are really only two kinds of sick or hurt — you need to be in bed or you need to be flown home.

The first will easily accommodated in Cuba. In fact better than at home. If you are sick or injured, any casa particular will have the neighborhood doctor come see you, probably immediately. Cuban doctors are well trained, knowledgeable professionals. They just don’t have modern medicine, diagnostic equipment, and testing laboratories. Most western medicines are not available. Pharmacies, which are common, stock herbal medicines.

Viñales has a clinic, and there is a hospital in Pinar del Rio, 27 km from Viñales. Outside of the hospitals in Havana established for medical tourism, it is unclear if you will be charged by a clinic or hospital. Usually not.

Currently, there is no organized high-angle rescue team in Viñales. The caving guides from Moncada (15km away) have rescue training, but overall, it’s best to count on other climbers at the cliff.

Cubans are never reluctant to help. If there is an accident, the victim will immediately be picked up, put into the nearest car, tractor, or cart, and taken to a clinic or hospital. They don’t usually stop to call, wait for a litter, or immobilize an injury. Cubans would be stunned if asked to call the police or wait for an ambulance.