Close to Nature holidays in Cuba – World Meanderings (n°6)
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Thanks to its many natural attractions and to strong preservation politics Cuba is said to be the best ecotourism destination in the Caribbean Islands. With 6 national parks designated Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO Cuba intends to become a major green tourism land. By contrast with the Cuban beaches these areas are still quiet places away from the hordes of tourists and will allow you to discover wonderful landscapes and a rich variety of wildlife.
In spite of centuries of deforestation and of hunting causing the disappearance of many animal and botanical species the Cuban wildlife is still amazing. After joining the CITES (the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) Cuba has set up new laws to reinforce the preservation of the environment. This allows us to discover many living species among which many are not to be seen anywhere else on earth.
Cuba is a paradise for bird lovers: there are 354 bird species including 25 endemic ones, meaning these birds only live on the island of Cuba. Among them you will be able to see the “tocororo” the national bird adorned with white, blue and red feathers just like the colours of the Cuban flag. If lucky you will hear the bird call of the “fermina”, and maybe see a “zunzuncito” better known as the humming bird whose hovering flight allows it to drink the nectar of flowers or admire the “cartacuba” looking like a small multicoloured soft toy! Once endangered, colonies of parrots, crane or flamingos now inhabit the forests or the lagoons giving us wonderful and colourful shows.
The smallest frog on earth lives in Cuba: called the “ranita” it is only 1 cm long and could hold on the nail of your thumb! There are also many snake species, such as the “Maja de Santa Maria” a 4 meters long python, but none of them is poisonous. The Cuban crocodile that was hunted for decades was saved from extinction because of its valuable skin and is now living in breeding farms. So you will hardly come face to face with a wild one!
The Cuban flora is the most varied one in all of the Caribbean Islands. There are 6700 botanical species including more than 3000 endemic ones! Flamboyant, “mariposa” or “jaguey” trees as well as tree ferns make incredible forests. Not to forget the hundreds of different orchids flowering in the shade of the tall trees.
FIT Cuba 2014, the yearly Cuban International Travel Fair, got us the opportunity to go off to explore the Pinar del Rio province where there are two Biosphere Reserves. It is only a 2 hours drive from Havana the capital city of Cuba and truly is a wonder of nature. There are many ways to discover this beautiful area: walking tours, bike rides, pony trekking, jeep safaris…
The village of Las Terrazas is an ideal starting point for these tours. This mountain village was created during the 1960’s by a community of organic farmers and artists whose creations are on sale in a covered market. You can stay at “La Moka” a surprisingly comfortable hotel for such a remote place. At the reception you can book a tour on one of the numerous hiking trails that will take you through the forest. Along the trail your guide will show you spectacular waterfalls, flowers and birds so make sure you get your camera with you.
The “Gran Caverna de San Tomas” is the largest network of caves in Cuba: 46 km of tunnels and caves await potholers to discover the Cuban underground world together with bats and other cave-dwelling animals!
Pinar del Rio is famous for the “Vinales National Park” and its “mogotes”: these are conical mounts scattered on the plain looking like sugar loafs. They are made of coral sedimentary rocks and covered with sparse vegetation. Although they are considered as dangerous, rock-climbers from all over the world come to Cuba to tempt an ascent. Vinales is one of the best areas in Cuba to grow tobacco. Don’t miss to visit a cigar factory and admire the “savoir-faire” needed to make a perfect cigar!
Going east you will reach “Soroa” a peaceful and beautiful area. Going up a small path through a forest you will get to a 20 m high waterfall called “Arcoiris”, the Rainbow, tumbling over rocks into a small pound where you will feel like diving to! If you keep on climbing up the path you will get to “El Castillo de las Nubes”, The Castle in the Clouds, a deserted and romantic house from which you’ll get a magnificent view.
Of course Cuban beaches are wonderful for resting holidays but if you are curious enough to leave the seashore and go inland you will discover a preserved nature and the warm people taking care of it.
For more information’s: www.travel2cuba.co.uk
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny