Zapata Swamp

The Natural History of Cuba

Zegrahm Contributor|September 28, 2016|Blog Post

Since Cuba has remained relatively untouched by tourism and most modern industries, expedition travelers are able to explore pristine natural environments ranging from coral reefs and white-sand beaches to flourishing wetlands and tropical forests. A few natural sites not to be missed:


Zapata Wetlands

Comprising five separate protected areas spread across more than 1,600 square miles, Zapata’s mangroves, tidal pools, coastal lagoons, and forests support a dizzying array of flora and fauna. A bird lover’s paradise, the swamp is home to half of the island’s 346 known bird species, including the endemic Zapata wren and Zapata sparrow.


Topes de Collantes

This protected area, located some 2,600 feet up in the Guamuhaya Mountains, once provided strategic cover for Che Guevara. Its thick forests of mahogany trees, mosses, and enormous ferns now offer refuge for numerous avian species including Cuba’s national bird, the Cuban trogon.


Cuevas de Bellamar

Just outside the city of Matanzas lies this easily accessible cave system, its lichen-lined corridors and caverns stretching for nearly half a mile some 150 feet underground.


Guanayara National Park

Hiking trails through this verdant parkland near Trinidad teem with native plants, many of which are still used for medicinal purposes. The 65-foot-high Salto El Rocio waterfall drops into a crystalline pool, perfect for a cool dip.


Viñales Valley

Peppered by mogotes or karst outcroppings that reach up to 1,000 feet high, this fertile valley in western Cuba is noted for its traditional farming methods, particularly tobacco. Along the outskirts lie numerous caves, many featuring rock art.


Coral Reef System

Cuba’s diverse coral reefs, which span 1,000 square miles, comprise a full third of the reef system surrounding the Caribbean’s islands. Dubbed the “crown jewel” of Cuba’s reef system, Jardines de La Reina, “The Queen’s Gardens,” offers the best shark diving in the entire region.


While many of Cuba’s natural treasures are under both environmental and economic threats, progressive conservation policies, grassroots education, and international outreach efforts have, so far, maintained these unspoiled landscapes for expedition travelers to enjoy.


For more information on our upcoming trips to Cuba, visit our Cuba Destination Page. 

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