Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean with a population of just over 11 million people, almost a third of which live in the capital, Havana (La Habana). During this trip we will have the opportunity to visit some of the best conserved nature reserves, while we learn about the Cuban culture and enjoy the hospitality of the friendly people of the island.
From strolling along the cobblestone streets of Old Habana to walking the white-sand beaches along the coast, to exploring thick tropical forests, extensive mangroves and productive rice fields of this beautiful country, we will get to experience both the natural and cultural diversity found here. Of course, the extensive wetlands of the Zapata peninsula, one of the most biodiverse regions in Cuba, is just one of the highlights of this trip, as well as the unforgettable experience of meeting with the locals.
DAY 1: HAVANA
Arrive in Havana. Transfer from the airport. After a short briefing we will drive to the National Botanical Gardens. There, we will receive an introduction to the different ecosystems of Cuba, and learn about some of the most relevant species of plants of the country. The garden grounds are, in fact, an excellent place for a birding walk, and we can add the first birds to our list, including Cuban and regional endemics, like Cuban Blackbird, Great Lizard Cuckoo, Cuban Emerald, Antillean Palm-Swift, West Indian Woodecker, La Sagra’s Flycatcher and the endemic subspecies of the Eastern Meadowlark (ssp. hippocrepis), a good candidate for a future split into a full species. We will also have the chance to see our first Cuban Kestrels (Falco sparverius sparverioides). Overnight in casa particular: participants will stay in a local home to experience the family hospitality and share with the locals about their life experiences.
DAY 2,3: VIÑALES
Depart from Havana to Pinar Del Rio Province. On the route we’ll visit Las Terrazas Complex and its community then we’ll continue to Vinales. Viñales is a small town located in the Pinar del Rio Province. It has an economy based on agriculture, mainly tobacco farming, and its soil is considered to be some of the richest in the world. Visit rural family life amidst the tobacco fields and traditional buildings of this region. During these 2 days in the Viñales Valley, another UNESCO World Heritage site, we’ll see mountainous “mogotes”, made of hard limestone left over after millennia of erosion, as well as rural farmland vistas. We will head down into the valley and walk the paths through fields of tobacco and sugar cane, meeting the farmers and talking with them and their families, visiting their homes and farms. We’ll share and discuss with Nils Navarro and extraordinarily talented wildlife artist, illustrator and scientist. Some of the specialities to be found in this area are Gundlach's Hawk, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Green Woodpecker, (Cuban) Northern Flicker, Fernandina's Flicker, Giant Kingbird, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban Bullfinch, Cuban Grassquit, Olive-capped Warbler, a species found only in Bahamas and Cuba, and the superb singer Cuban Solitaire. Overnight in casa particular.
DAY 4, 5, 6: ZAPATA PENINSULA
Today we drive to the South of the island, the Zapata Peninsula, where we will stay three days. The Zapata Peninsula encompasses a national park protecting Cuba’s most important wetland area. It is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve closely resembling the Florida Everglades. There are 900 species of flora, 171 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles and many mammal species calling the Zapata Wetlands home. We’ll search for the world’s smallest bird, the Bee Hummingbird, as well as the local endemics: Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow and Red-shouldered Blackbird. We’ll visit las Salinas de Brito to see some of the local birds, like Fernandina’s Flicker, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Snail Kite, Cuban Trogon, and Cuban Tody. Visit to Hondones and exchange with the local community. On the Bay of Pigs, we’ll discuss the importance of the wetlands with a local environmentalist. In los Sábalos we will focus on the observation of ground doves, such as Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Gray-fronted Quail-Dove and Key West Quail-Dove. Once it’s dark we will look for Cuban Nightjar, Stygian Owl, Cuban Pygmy-Owl and Bare-legged Owl. Overnight in casa particular and exchange with private sector entrepreneurs linked to tourism in the Community.
DAY 7: ZAPATA TO BANAO
After breakfast, we will leave Playa Larga and head East towards Trinidad. On our way we will stop near the town of Bermejas, to look for the Red-shouldered Blackbird. Then, we will start heading to Banao, making a stop in the Botanical Garden of Cienfuegos. This is also a good place to try for West Indian Woodpecker and Cuban Pygmy-Owl. On our way we will also explore a few locations in order to find Cuban Crow, and Giant Kingbird. Once in Banao we will visit the ecological center and the Visitors Reception Center, where park rangers will give an overview of the natural preserve and an introduction to conservation efforts and projects. We will we take a walk next to the river and look for Ruddy Quail-Dove, as well as many endemic and regional endemics. The Giant Kingbird is also possible here. A night walk around the reserve can produce interesting findings: The Cuban subspecies of the Greater Antillean Nightjar (considered by some authorities as a full species - Cuban Nightjar), Cuban Pygmy-Owl and Bare-legged Owl. Overnight in Banao.
DAY 8: TUNAS DE ZAZA TO CAYO COCO
In the morning we will visit the wetland of Tunas de Zaza, which is another highlight of this trip because of the impressive numbers of waterbirds, including hundreds of American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and American Flamingos. Other birds that we can add to our list here are Merlin and Forster’s Tern. After having lunch in very pleasant company at the station, we will drive to Cayo Coco for the last part of the trip.
DAY 9: CAYO COCO
Though Cayo Coco attracts many visitors for some of the finest beaches and jade-colored water in all of Cuba, our purpose is to interact with local environmentalists, learning from each other and observing wildlife together. We meet our new Cuban friends at the Cuban Center for Coastal Ecosystem Studies to discuss conservation efforts on these islands and to share our perspectives on similar conservation issues in the USA. Next we move west to a protected area within El Baga National Park, where we join with other naturalists exploring Cayo Coco and neighboring islands. In addition to finding Greater Flamingo, we search for Oriente Warbler, Cuban Gnatcatcher, and the only breeding population of Thick-billed Vireo on Cayo Paredon Grande. We also seek out other elusive species like Bahama Mockingbird on Cayo Guillermo before returning to our hotel, with time to visit local artists in their studios. Our local contacts give us background information on the area, and we experience the special nature of the region, first-hand. Overnight at Melia Cayo Coco Hotel.
DAY 10, 11 - CAYO COCO TO HAVANA
We will drive our long way back to Havana while making strategic stops on our way. Upon arriving to Havana and some rest, we will take a walk in the old part of the city and enjoy our last dinner in Cuba. In our last morning in Cuba we will drop you off at the Jose Martí International Airport where the tour will conclude.