ECOLOGICAL PARKS IN CUBA

ECOLOGICAL PARKS IN CUBA

Ecological Parks in Cuba and Natural Tourism Destinations.

ECOLOGICAL PARKS IN CUBA

The ecological pleasures of the Cuban archipelago are so distinctive that the island has become one of the most popular eco-tourism destinations in the region.

Cuba boasts over 360 protected areas as well as four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves: the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, La Sierra del Rosario, Baconao and Las Cuchillas del Toa, with special attention given to the important wetlands of Ciénaga de Zapata. These all represent 22% of the island's surface.

Eco-tourists can enjoy marvelous landscapes, near-silent forests inhabited by some 400 bird species including many endemic species, and such a varied flora that it represents 4% of the total flora of the entire planet. Some species are nevertheless in danger of extinction such as the manjuarí (Atractosteus tristoechus) and almiquí (Solenodon cubanus). The smallest bird and the smallest bat in the world can be found in Cuba. The forest zones offer many species of hard wood, palm trees, pines and many other important plant species that are situated in Guantánamo, Baracoa, the Sierra Maestra Mountains, Sancti Spíritus, Trinidad, the Zapata Peninsula and several areas of Pinar del Río.

Natural parks, bird observatories, the "mogote" areas (beautiful hills or buttes rising from rich forested landscapes), along with the plains and rivers throughout the island captivate and enchant visitors.

Guanahacabibes Peninsula National Park

This ecological zone is situated in the province of Pinar del Río. It begins in Cabo de Santo Antonio and extends to nearby Laguna Grande (Grand Lagoon), including within its borders the mountainous region of Sierra de Órganos which is formed by compact, dark colored limestone – the oldest rock in Cuba. The park preserves forests of cedar (Cedrus thyoides, C. deodora, Juniperus virginiana, Cedrela toona) and mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni, S. macrophylla). UNESCO declared it a Biosphere Reserve because of its enormous biogeographic value and its magnificent land and seascapes.

In this area you can find:

  • Accommodation: María La Gorda Hotel, La Ermita Hotel, Hotel Rancho San Vicente.
  • Other activities: Scuba diving, snorkeling, sport fishing, hiking, sun and beach worship.
  • Excursions: Viñales Valley, the city of Pinar del Río, the Great Cavern of Santo Tomás, Guamá.



Sierra del Rosario


This biosphere is located on the western limit of the Guaniguanico Mountains in the province of Pinar del Río. It was named a biosphere reserve in 1985 – the first to be designated as such on the island. While its abundant rainforest boasts trees that stand more than 30 meters high, it is inhabited by more than 800 plant species, of which 34% are endemic to Cuba. It is also the habitat of many bird species, including the smallest bird in the world – a hummingbird called a zunzuncito (Mellisuga helenae).

Sierra del Rosario possesses a landscape that is extremely varied, consisting of hills, plains and plateaus formed by limestone and bordered with mountains and longitudinal valleys offering beautiful spots such as Soroa, Rangel and Pan de Maniabón, the latter being a plateau that at 782 meters is the highest place in the area. It is hard to climb its limestone walls because of their great overhangs, which are formed in a manner very similar to the mogotes of the Sierra de los Órganos.

To the north rises the Cajálbana Mountain, a plateau with inclined hillsides made up of interwoven rocks and covered by pine trees.

In this area you can find:

  • Accommodation: Guamá Villa, La Ermita, Los Jazmines Hotel
  • Other activities: hiking, sea and freshwater fishing, spelaeology, archeology.
  • Excursions: Viñales Valley, the city of Pinar del Río, the Great Cavern of Santo Tomás, Los Portales Cavern.



Viñales National Park

This is the most renowned valley of Cuba. It is situated between the limestone rock hills of the Sierra de los Órganos in the province of Pinar del Río. The major attractions in the valley are the cone-shaped raised mogotes - which are a type of butte - with their exceptional landscapes. The mogotes are inhabited by several plant species such as palm trees and the endemic species of ceibón (Bombax emarginatum), the caiman oak (Tabebuia chalcicola), the palmita de sierra (Thrinax microcarpa, T. drudei) and the cork palm (Microcycas calocoma). Nowadays this last is considered a fossil. These limestone mogotes look like castle ruins with their inaccessible walls that are almost vertical and round-topped. The hard, dark limestone formations in this area are among the oldest geological formations in Cuba. In the southern zone rise slate round-topped hills. It is here that one of the most notable karst terrains in the world exists, with underground rivers hidden in caverns. The valley system includes the San Vicente Valley, Luis Lazo Valley, Guasasa Valley, Ruiseñor Valley, Mal Paso Valley, Ancón Valley, and the Hoyo Caliente or Hot Hole (for want of a better term). All of them are very accessible to visitors. Other important mogotes are the Cerros de Guane, Punta de la Sierra, Sumidero, Resolladero, Quemado, Celador, El Infierno (The Hell), Galeras, Ancón, Jagua Vieja and San Andrés.

For those visitors that enjoy bird watching, a large number of endemic bird species inhabit this area.

In this area you can find:

  • Accommodation: La Ermita, Los Jazmines Hotel, Villa Rancho San Vicente.
  • Other activities: sport fishing, hiking, spelaeology, archeology.
  • Excursions: Guamá, the city of Pinar del Río, Los Portales Cavern and the Great Cavern of Santo Tomás.



Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

These wetlands are the most humid inland place in the Caribbean and the most important ecosystem in the country, which is why they have been proposed as the 5th Biosphere Reserve of Cuba. The park is located on the southern coast of Matanzas in an area of 70,277 hectares of forest, mangroves and coastal vegetation. More than 900 plant species inhabit the zone.

It is hard to explore parts of the area due to the abundance of rocky terrain along the peninsula. The Hatiguanico River crosses the wetlands, and between Ciénaga de Zapata and the Zapata Peninsula extends a karst limestone zone with underground rivers and lakes.

Some 160 aquatic bird species inhabit the park and during the winter several migratory species visit the area. However, the most beautiful species can be found in the International Bird-Watching Center, such as the carpintero jabado (Centurus superciliaris), the cotorra (Amazona leucocephala), the wetland cabrerito (Torreornis inexpectata), the zunzuncito (Mellisuga helenae - the smallest bird in the world) and two local endemic species: ferminia (Ferminia cerverai) and the hamlet of Santo Tomás (Cyanolimnas cerverai).
Two species in danger of extinction live here: the manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) and the alligator-gar or manjuarí (Atractosteus tristoechus), the most primitive of Cuban fish that posses reptilian characteristics.
The wetlands are inhabited by the so-called blindfish, as are the crocodiles, which can be safely viewed in a farm, which houses the Cuban endemic species of the Crocodylus rhombifer.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: Playa Larga Hotel, Playa Girón Hotel, Villa Guamá, Caleta Buena Hotel.
  • Other activities: sun and beach, snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, sport fishing.
  • Excursions:  The crocodile farms, Cayo Largo, Cayo Sirena and Cayo Iguana.


Los Indios-San Felipe National Park

This sandy ecological zone is situated in La Isla de la Juventud (The Isle of Youth). Its marine life is very varied with many endemic species. There are old forests of hard wood such as guayacán (Guaiacum officinale, G. sanctum), granadillo (Notodon sacanerum, N. savanarum), mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni, S. macrophylla) and many others valuable plant species. Some pinewood still survives here. The park's waters contain several fish species, as well as lobsters (Palinurus vulgaris) and sponges.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: El Colony Hotel, Isla de la Juventud Hotel
  • Other activities: scuba diving, snorkeling, sea fishing, hiking.
  • Excursions: Nueva Gerona, Punta del Este Caverns, Ciénaga de Lanier



Punta Francés-Punta Pedernales National Park


Situated on the southeast platform of Cuba, in the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), this marine park is the product of the never-ending dashing of the sea upon the coast where grottos have been formed that offer marvelous attractions for the amateur diver.

The park possesses an area of 17,924 hectares and has a virgin coral reef with a variety of corals (Meandrina spp., Diploria spp., Acropora spp.) and gorgonians (Gorgonacea order). There are a number of interesting underwater caves inhabited by a large variety of marine life. The coastline comprises mini-bays, clean sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, which compare with the most beautiful of the world.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: El Colony Hotel  
  • Other activities: scuba diving, snorkeling, sea fishing, hiking
  • Excursions: Nueva Gerona, Punta del Este Caverns, Ciénaga de Lanier



Topes de Collantes Protected Natural Landscape

Topes de Collantes is located in the Escambray Mountains, south of Sancti Spíritus, 19 kilometers (11.8 miles) from the historical town of Trinidad. Its vegetation is notable because of its many different orchid species (Lephantes spp., Stelis spp., Pleurothallis spp., Dichaea spp.), moss (Funaria hygrometrica, Selaginella emmeliana), lichen (Lichenes group) and beautiful arborescent ferns (Cyathea arborea, C. serra, Alsophila aspera, A. nitens, Hemitelia horrida, H. calolepis). The weather is always humid due to the constant rain. The national flower known as white butterfly is in abundance as are different bird species and a variety of invertebrates.

Due to the unique beauty of its landscapes and its ecological splendor, this area of 12,494 hectares has been declared a Protected Natural Landscape. Through the valleys flow the waters of the Cabagán and Guanayara rivers with some areas possessing beautiful waterfalls such as El Caburní, which is almost 60 meters high. Its crystal-clear waters fall upon the rocks and tumble down into the valley. The humid hills provide excellent muddy soils for the cultivation of coffee and tobacco as well as some cattle raising.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: Escambray Kurhotel, Los Pinos Hotel, Los Helechos Hotel
  • Other activities: hiking, archeology, spelaeology.
  • Excursions: Trinidad, Santa Clara, Caburní Waterfall, Jeep trip to Plantation Valley, Jeep trip to Hanabanilla, Tope Tour.



Caguanes National Park

This park is situated on Caguanes Key, in the north-central part of Cuba. It comprises an area of 22,690 hectares of primarily abundant mangrove. It never rises more than 25 meters above sea level and has great spelaeological value because of the great number of caves it contains which house interesting species such as freshwater sponges.


Cayo Guillermo-Santa María National Park

This park is located north of Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila provinces in the keys area of Sabana Camagüey. It is surrounded by 400 kilometers (248 miles) of coral reef second only in length to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

After the last glacier had melted in the Ice Age many rivers were submerged in this zone, leaving water-channels that nowadays connect the keys.

This area is considered to be virgin, inhabited by marine species such as flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber), which share their habitat with the endemic fauna and migratory species. Nature lovers will find this to be a gorgeous place with flora similar to that of the Bahamas. Visitors have at their disposal different leisure activities such as outings, horseback riding, and bird watching.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: Cojímar Ventaclub Villa, Vigía Villa, Gregorio Villa, Trip Cayo Coco, Club Trip Cayo Coco, Sol Club Cayo Coco, Meliá Cayo Coco.
  • Other activities: sea fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, marinas, yachting and sailing, sun and beach.
  • Excursions: Cayo Coco, Remedios, Santa Clara with visit to the Che Guevara Monument, La Leche Lake.


Desembarco del Granma National Park


Situated in the mountainous zone of the Sierra Maestra in an area of 25,764 hectares which begins at Cabo Cruz, this park is appreciated for its rich vegetation and its beautiful landscapes of ancient arborescent ferns (Cyathea arborea, C. serra, Alsophila aspera, A. nitens, Hemitelia horrida, H. calolepis) and a variety of orchid species (Lephantes spp., Stelis spp., Pleurothallis spp., Dichaea spp.) which find their homes on logs that are hundreds of years old. Its wonderful sloped marine terraces are considered to be some of the most important in the country. "Farallón", or fallen rocks from the mountains that have been polished by the erosive action of the waves, combine with beautiful waterfalls and transparent pools to turn this park into a dreamlike landscape replete with colorful butterflies and tropical birds.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: Marea del Portillo Hotel, Farallón del Caribe Hotel.
  • Other activities: sun and beach, snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking.
  • Excursions: visits to historical sites (Alegría de Pío, Las Coloradas)



El Turquino National Park

"El Turquino" can be found in the Sierra Maestra Mountains comprising an area of 17,450 hectares, which contain the highest mountains in Cuba: Pico Real, at 1,974 meters above the sea level; Pico Suecia, at 1,734 meters and Pico Cuba, at 810 meters. The park originated from a fault line produced in the southeastern region and by the sinking of huge cracked blocks. Its rivers run from north to south and constitute tributaries of the Cauto River, helping to give shape to the transverse valleys. The lush vegetation of this place has hardly been explored.

  •  Accommodation: Marea del Portillo Hotel, Farallón del Caribe Hotel
  • Other activities: hiking
  • Excursions: visit to the historical sites of El Jigue and El Uvero

 

Baconao Biosphere Reserve

 

This is one of the most important Cuban Biosphere Reserves and comprises an area of 80,000 hectares in the Sierra Maestra Mountains running from the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba to Baconao Lagoon. It has marvelous beaches and bird corridors and offers good horse riding. It is also possible to row on the lagoon, which is surrounded by exuberant vegetation of primarily arborescent ferns (Cyathea arborea, C. serra, Alsophila aspera, A. nitens, Hemitelia horrida, H. calolepis) and cacti. Other attractions are the Amusement Park, Science Museum, the Aquarium, the Dolphin Pool and the Prehistoric Valley, this last exhibiting full size stone sculptures representing several animal species which inhabited the planet 65 million years ago.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: Bucanero Hotel, Los Corales Carisol, La Gran Piedra Hotel.
  • Other activities: sun and beach, hiking, snorkeling
  • Excursions: El Cobre, Granjita Siboney, Gran Piedra.



La Gran Piedra Natural Park


The smallest park in the mountain range of the Sierra Maestra owes its name (the Big Rock) to the presence of several stone blocks of which the biggest is 51 meters long by 25 meters high and about 6,336 tons in weight. The flora is rich in arborescent ferns (Cyathea arborea, C. serra, Alsophila aspera, A. nitens, Hemitelia horrida, H. calolepis), and wild orchids (Lephantes spp., Stelis spp., Pleurothallis spp., Dichaea spp.), which favor the temperate climate with its high humidity. Fauna includes various endemic species of birds. Climbing La Gran Piedra and horseback are favored activities here. From the highest point of the park it is possible to watch the clouds drift among the mountains in a beautiful contrast of green and blue.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: La Gran Piedra Hotel, Bucanero Hotel, Los Corales Carisol.
  • Other activities: sun and beach, hiking, snorkeling
  • Excursions: El Cobre, Granjita Siboney, Baconao Park.

 

Alejandro de Humboldt National Park

 

This park is situated between Guantánamo and Holguín provinces, in the eastern region of Cuba within the "Cuchillas del Toa" Biosphere Reserve. The Toa River is 90 kilometers long and is the longest one in the area with 71 streams feeding it throughout the year. The mouth of the river is protected by the shadow of lush vegetation in this very humid zone. The river boasts several waterfalls, one of them 17 meters high.

The park comprises an area of 59,770 hectares and is inhabited by more than 100 endemic plant species. Tropical rain forest abounds in the hilly region known as Sagua-Baracoa. Along the northern coast there are grey sand beaches, with little bays formed at the mouths of several rivers. There are also 12 endemic species within the 64 bird types found here such as the carpintero real (Campephilus principalis bairdii) and mammals such as the almiquí (Solenodon cubanus) - both of which are in danger of extinction. A beautiful and colorful shell called the polimita can also be found here.

The most famous mountain in the park is the Baracoa Anvil, which, as its name suggests, looks like an inverted anvil. It is 575 meters high and is thought to have been formed from a plateau that was eroded over the ages. It is now declared a National Monument and the symbol of the city of Baracoa. The park is considered an ecological island because of its natural peculiarities, and of very important historical value because it was the reference point used by Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas. The hills are perfect for excursions and exploration because of their overhangs and shapes.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: Los Galeones Hotel
  • Other activities: hiking, spelaeology


La Mensura National Park

This park is situated on the high plateau of Nipe, near the town of Pinares de Mayarí in the province of Holguín. The area comprises 5,340 hectares with notable endemic tropical plant species such as pine trees and very varied bird species. This high plateau is made up of distorted rocks – the base surrounded by ring-shaped limestone rocks. This hilly structure gave birth to the smaller mountains of Seboruco, Serones, Bitirí, Canapú and many others. The park is attractive for its caves, canyons and cliffs, where archeological clues from the island's indigenous civilization have been discovered. Nature's lovers will enjoy of the beauty of Nipe Bay – Cuba's largest.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: Pinares de Mayarí
  • Other activities:  hiking
  • Excursions: Nipe Bay, "Comandancia del II Frente" (Headquarters of the Second Front during the Revolution).


Pico Cristal National Park


This park is situated in the Crystal Mountains, in the northwestern region of Cuba, and comprises an area of 16,010 hectares. In 1930, it was the first zone in Cuba to be declared a Protected Area. The Crystal Mountains have an elevation of 1,143 meters above sea level, rising dramatically between the Sierra de Nipe and Cuchillas del Toa, made up of limestone and igneous rocks. The area's vegetation is very varied with abundant pine trees and tropical rain forests, making it one of the places with the highest biodiversity in Cuba.

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: Pinares de Mayarí Hotel
  • Other activities: hiking, sun and beach, snorkeling
  • Excursions: La Mensura National Park, Cayo Saetía Natural Park

 

Jardines de la Reina National Park

 

Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) Archipelago is located in the southern key zone of Ciego de Ávila province. It is well known for its large coral barrier, its crystal-clear waters and fine sandy beaches. The beauty of the sea here is the supreme value of this park. Nautical activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving and sport fishing are ideal in this place because of its varied underwater species of marine life. Columbus baptized the archipelago in honor to the Queen of Spain, Elizabeth the Catholic. Keys and small islands are located in the Guacanayabo Gulf, which is the mouth of the Cauto River where the "Gran Bajo de Buena Esperanza" can also be found. Other small islands are located to the west such as the "Laberinto de las Doce Leguas" (Labyrinth of Twelve Leagues), inhabited by tortoises (Eretmochelys imbricata) and turtles (Chelonia spp.).

In this area you will find:

  • Accommodation: The Floating Tortuga Hotel
  • Other activities: scuba diving, snorkeling, marinas, yachting and sailing, sea fishing
  • Excursions: Ciego de Ávila City.