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2017 CUBA NATURE TOUR
Friday 17 February – Tuesday 28 February, 2017
An Exploration of Cuba’s Nature and Culture, Specially Designed for Ontario Naturalists
We will donate $150 to Nature’s Calling Environmental Education
I am very excited to announce the “2017 Cuba Nature Tour” tour exclusively for Ontario naturalists. We have combined the very best of our nature, birding and biosphere tours into an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime eco-adventure! For good measure we have mixed in a healthy dose of Cuban heritage and culture.
As you’ll see in the tour highlights below we will be visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves, mountains, ecological reserves and the Caribbean ocean. We’ll explore lush forests, palm savannas, mogotes, caves, waterfalls, marshes and rivers. We’ll see a good proportion of Cuban’s endemic bird species including the Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, and Bee Hummingbird – as well as other wildlife.
It’s a jam-packed 10 days that I promise you will provide wonderful photographic opportunities, add unique species to your life list, result in a trunk full of memories and leave you yearning for a next visit to this beautiful paradise!
Join myself and expert Cuban nature and birding guides on the “natural” vacation of a lifetime.
Yours in Nature,
Bernie Solymár, Nature Tours Director and Tour Leader
P.S. Note that for every participant on this tour Authentic Cuba Travel will generously donate $150 to Nature’s Calling Environmental Education www.naturescalling.ca, a charitable organization in Ontario whose mission it is to connect youth and families with nature and the outdoors, to raise awareness and appreciation for our natural world, and to foster a strong environmental ethic through community-based education and engagement.
Add to your bird watching life-list 21 endemic Cuban bird species!
Take A Sneak Peak at the Cuban Destinations You Will Visit Outside Havana
Endemic bird species include the Cuban Tody (Todus multicolor), the Cuban Green Woodpecker (Xiphidiopicus percussus),
the Cuban Parakeet (Aratinga euops), the Blue-headed Quail-dove (Starnoenas cyanocephala), the Cuban Gnatcatcher
(Polioptila lembeyei), the Zapata Wren (Ferminia cerverai), the Zapata Sparrow (Torreornis inexpectata), the Cuban
Crab Hawk (Buteogallus gundlachii), the Bare-legged Owl or Cuban Screech-owl (Gymnoglaux lawrencii) and the Zapata
Rail (Cyanolimnas cerverai).
Please, check the day-by-day itinerary below. Welcome Aboard!
2017 Cuba Nature Tour Highlights:
Guided walking tour of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Guided walking tour of Cienfuegos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Guided walking tour of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tour UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Valley of the Sugar Mills.
Explore UNESCO Cultural Landscape Heritage Site, Vinales Valley.
Explore UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Peninsula de Zapata National Park.
Traverse Topes de Collantes, Cuba's second highest mountain range.
Traverse Cueva de Santo Tomas, Cuba's largest cave system.
Visit to Reserva Ecologica Alturas de Banao.
Visit to Soroa’s Orchid Garden, created by Cuban naturalist Tomás Camacho.
Visit to Guama Cuban Crocodile Breeding Farm.
Visit to the Museum of Natural History located at The University of Havana.
Presentation on Cuban endemic birds by professor from University of Havana.
Enjoy a boat ride in Hatiguanico River for observation of typical flora and fauna.
Bird watching in Zapata Swamp Natural Reserve and Las Salinas Wildlife Refuge.
Relax by the beach of Cayo Jutias (Jutias Keys).
Time to go swimming in the warm Caribbean Ocean.
Cuba's nature displays the smallest of a number of
animals, as we will see in our Cuba tours such as the tiny frog Monte Iberia Dwarf Eleuth (Eleutherodactylus iberia) only 0.3 inches
long and exclusively found in some mountainous regions of eastern Cuba; the butterfly bat (Natalus
lepidus), which is only 7 inches from wingtips and weighs just a couple of grams; and the endangered
zunzuncito or bee humming bird (Mellisuga helenae) roughly 3 inches long. There is also a dwarf scorpion
(Microtityus fundorai) between 0.3 and 0.7 inches long among males.
Soroa is located in Sierra del Rosario mountain range, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It boasts a unique flora and fauna, plenty of natural trails, horseback riding, hiking and bird watching tours under the guidance of local expert guides. The ruins of 19th Century French coffee plantations can also be found in the regions, among other attractions that made this a unique destination for nature enthusiasts. Soroa also offers rivers like Manantiales and Bayate showcasing abundant natural baths and the world famous Soroa Waterfall.
The Soroa orchid garden features hundreds of varieties of orchids (about 20,000 orchid plants).
What separates Authentic Cuba Travel from other nature and bird watching Cuba tour providers, it is the opportunity to visit places like Alturas de Banao Ecological Reserve, which features pristine mountain valleys, rivers, waterfalls and domed karst peaks. More than 900 species of plants have been reported in this area, and many botanists come here to collect species of Cuban flora— more than 150 of which, including several kinds of banana plants, are endemic to Cuba. This is a reserve for the endemic and rare Cuban parakeets.
Peninsula de Zapata Biosphere Reserve contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean with blue-water beaches, forests, rivers, lakes, flooded caverns. Natural habitat to the Cuban crocodile, the jutia and 175 bird species. Considered by birders as the premium bird watching spot in the Caribbean region, we will explore it extensively during our Cuba tours.
Las Salinas Wildlife Refuge, unique Cuban site for bird watching where two continental
corridors of migratory birds coincide. Natural habitat to several bird species such as Roseate Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis),
Roseate, Yellow-headed Warbler (Teretistris fernandinae), Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris), Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) and many others.
Topes de Collantes National Park in the
Escambray mountains in Central Cuba. A perfect place for encountering the Cuban Emerald (Chlorostilbon ricordii),
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus), Fernandina’s Flicker
(Colaptes fernandinae), Cuban Parrot (Amazono leucocephala), and others which makes it a must visit for any bird watching Cuba travel.
The Guama Crocodile Breeding Farm has successfully bred one of the largest reptiles of Cuba since 1974. The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodrylus rhombifer Cuvier) is an endangered species that can be found at the Zapata Swamps and Lanier Swamps only. The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodrylus rhombifer Cuvier) is one of the two most aggressive species of crocodiles in the world and endemic to Cuba.
Cueva de Santo Tomas is Cuba's largest cave system. The cave is spectacular, especially where the roof has collapsed and you walk into a green jungle paradise sunk into a mountaintop.
Several cave rooms are connected over an area of 45 kilometers in length, extend over seven levels. The rooms bear names like "Salón del Caos" (Chaos Saloon), "Increíble" (incredible), "Tinieblas" (darkness), ect. Solid footwear and clothing are recommended.
Discovering the authentic Cuba that coexists in tandem with major Cuban tourist hubs is a mandate of our nature tours to Cuba. Cienfuegos city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Southern Caribbean coast of Central Cuba that we will explore during our Cuba travels. The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 in the Spanish territory but was initially settled by immigrants of French origin. It soon became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee because of its position on the Caribbean coast of southern-central Cuba at the heart of the country’s sugar cane, tobacco and coffee production area.
For those looking to immerse in the authentic Cuba that lies beyond popular beach resorts, travel to Trinidad City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and early Spanish colony should be a top priority. Renowned for its incredible preservation of both colonial buildings and streets, the historical centre of Trinidad is one of the few remaining places in the entire Latin America where the 20th century has left only a minimal visual impact on its townscape.
This authentic Cuba tour will introduce foreign visitors to Cuba to local peasants in the Vinales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, who have been growing the finest tobacco in the world for centuries. In fact, Pinar del Rio’s tobacco accounts for almost 70% of all tobacco produced in the Caribbean island. Ask any Cuban cigar connoisseur and they all agree it is the best quality too.
Day 1. Friday 17 February 2017. Hello Cuba
Arrival at "Jose Marti" International Airport in Cuba's capital city.
Breakfast is complimentary from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
For bird watchers, Cuba is by far the most important island in the Caribbean and it is much the best place from which to build a knowledge of the Cuban Birds.
Day 2. Saturday 18 February 2017. Havana
Morning: visit to the Museum of Natural History located at University of Havana. The museum displays the collection on endemic species brought together by eminent Cuban scientist Felipe Poey during the 19th century. The exhibit includes specimens of the world’s smallest bird, an extinct pigeon and indigenous Cuban birds!
Presentation on Cuban Birds by professor from University of Havana.
There’s a new wave of private restaurants that has swept the Cuban capital offering exciting cuisine in atmospheric surroundings. This evening we’ll enjoy a welcome dinner at ‘Cafe Laurent’, a family-run restaurant located in the penthouse atop a small 1950s apartment building.
Afternoon: Guided walking tour of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visit to San Francisco Square, one of the oldest in the historical quarter.
Visit to Plaza Vieja, the only civic square of colonial times. Notice it doesn't have a church or government building around. Here we will visit important institution for visual arts.
Visit to Square of Arms, ancient military parade ground for Spanish soldiers and surrounded by impressive buildings such as:
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales was the former seat of colonial government. Today the building houses the Museum of the City.
Palacio del Segundo Cabo, the seat of the second authority of the island.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza. The second oldest fortress built by the Spaniards in the West Indies. The castle was recently renovated and reopened in June 2008 to hold the impressive maritime museum. Well laid out exhibits chart Spain and Cuba's naval history.
Visit to the Cathedral Square, the most beautiful and private 18th century colonial plaza of Cuba, named after the masterpiece of Cuban baroque architecture: the Cathedral of Havana built by the Jesuit order.
Evening: tonight we have a Cuban band playing for us! You'll learn to dance to Salsa, Son, Rumba, and other popular Cuban rhythms with instruction from bandleaders.
Day 3. Sunday 19 February 2017. Havana- Cienfuegos- Trinidad
Morning: Departure to Cienfuegos, in Central Cuba. Cienfuegos is the first, and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.
The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 in the Spanish territory but was initially settled by immigrants of French origin. It soon became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee because of its position on the Caribbean coast of southern-central Cuba at the heart of the country’s sugar cane, mango, tobacco and coffee production area.
Visit to Palacio de Valle upon arrival.
The eclectic building was erected at a cost of a million and half pesos. French, Arabic, Italian and Cuban artisans worked with marble, alabaster, brass, glass and ceramic imported from Spain, Italy and United States. The entrance is primitive Gothic style and leads to a dining room of Mudejar influence, which imitates the famous Patio of the Lions, of Alhambra, in Granada. Lunch at Palacio del Valle restaurant.
Afternoon: Guided walking tour of Cienfuegos Historical Center, UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will visit neoclassical buildings around Paseo del Prado and the main Square Jose Marti such as the Tomas Terry Theatre completed in 1895; the Casa de la Cultura, home of another wealthy sugar baron, stunning mansion in neoclassical style.
The Cathedral built with the donation of wealthy families like the Lebrancs, the Albis, the Terrys. Inside you find the reproductions of the 12 Apostles in stained glass imported from
Paris. Also the original machinery of the clock tower was built in France. Still in place and working.
We'll also visit the elegant art gallery Galería de Arte Maroya and review its impressively displayed collection of paintings, sculptures and antiques.
Now we journey on to the historic city of Trinidad and check in at all-inclusive Costa Sur Resort. You'll have time for dinner and a swim in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea!
Day 4. Monday 20 February 2017. Alturas de Banao
Morning: Visit to Reserva Ecologica Alturas de Banao, which features beautiful mountain valleys, rivers, waterfalls and domed karst peaks. More than 900 species of plants have been reported in this area, and many botanists come here to collect species of Cuban flora—more than 150 of which, including several kinds of banana plants, are endemic to Cuba. This is a preserve for rare Cuban parakeets. Lunch included in site.
On the way back to our hotel we will stop at a mirador (lookout) over the Sugar Mill Valley, where the sugar barons used to have their countryside mansions and mills. This site is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Afternoon: guided walking tour of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trinidad’s Historical Center, a perfect relic of the early days of the Spanish colony with beautifully preserved streets and buildings with hardly a trace of the 20th century anywhere.
Trinidad is well known for its pottery makers. We meet with a family that has been passing the tradition for generations: the Santanders.
Time to go swimming in the warm Caribbean Ocean.
Day 5. Tuesday 21 February 2017. Topes de Collantes
Morning: we will board former Russian army trucks for Topes de Collantes in the Escambray Mountain Range, Cuba's second highest mountain range- reaching 3,700 feet atop Pico San Juan. The mountains are home to small mountain villages and are a delight for birders and walkers alike. Slopes are swathed in Caribbean pines, ancient tree ferns, bamboo, and eucalyptus.
Explore Parque Codina. Our guide will discuss the vegetation found in this beautiful park. Several trails lead to La Batata, a subterranean river at the foot of a lush green valley where we can bathe in the cool waters of the cave.
Lunch at Hacienda Codina, an old Spanish Hacienda, once part of a large Spanish coffee plantation.
Afternoon: Further exploration of Topes de Collantes and afternoon swim in pools formed by La Batata waterfall.
Possible stop on way back at Casa del Café for coffee.
Evening: Optional dinner and dancing in Trinidad.
Day 6 Wednesday 22 February 2017. Trinidad- Peninsula de Zapata
Visit to Bermajos Reserve, a palm savanna, also known as “quail tracks,” , is a great location to view many of Cuba's endemic species, including Blue-headed Quail-dove, Gray-fronted Quail-dove, Fernandina's Flicker, Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Screech-owl, Cuban Pygmy-owl, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon and Cuban Vireo. The series of trails made for an interesting morning of birding.
Late lunch at restaurant by La Cueva de los Peces Cenote, a geological formation that is formed when the roof of an underground river collapse leaving a pool of salt water connected to the sea by a system of immersed tunnels. In the cenotes of La Cueva de los Peces live a wide variety of flora and fauna characteristic only of this region.
Visit to Guama Crocodile Breeding Farm, that has successfully bred one of the largest reptiles of Cuba since 1974. The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodrylus rhombifer Cuvier) is considered an endangered species that can be found at the Zapata Swamps and Lanier Swamps only. The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodrylus rhombifer Cuvier) is one of the two most aggressive species of crocodiles in the world and endemic to Cuba.
Day 7. Thursday 23 February 2017. Hatiguanico River & Las Salina
Morning: early breakfast and enjoy a boat ride in Hatiguanico River for observation of typical flora and fauna. Birding expedition to Hatos de Jicarita.
Afternoon: Zapata Swamp Natural Reserve and Las Salinas Wildlife Refuge.
The swamp is not only known for its size but also for being the best preserved wetlands in all of the Antilles, designated as a "Wetland of International Importance" by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1971.
We will be looking for the Roseate Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), Sand hill Crane (Grus canadensis), Yellow-headed Warbler (Teretistris fernandinae), Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris), Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) and others.
Day 8. Friday 24 February 2017. Peninsula de Zapata- Soroa- Vinales
Morning: early departure to Soroa, often called "the rainbow of Cuba" because at certain hours, it is possible to observe a small Rainbow at the waterfall as the sunlight defuses through the mist.
Late lunch at Soroa Waterfall over arrival. Followed by free time to visit the Waterfalls.
Afternoon: guided visit to Soroa’s Orchid Garden, created by Cuban naturalist and lawyer Tomás Felipe Camacho.
The Garden features a collection of 250 orchids endemic of the Island, and over 700 from around the world, along with numerous species of exotic plants that thrive here thanks to the local climate. Today, there is also an Orchid Research Center belonging to the University of Pinar del Río.
Continue on bus ride to UNESCO World Cultural Landscape Heritage Site, Vinales Valley.
Day 9. Saturday 25 February 2017. Exploration of Viñales Valley
“Early bird” birding on hotel grounds.
Exploration of Viñales Valley, containing the most spectacular scenery in Cuba and some of the most interesting and varied geological formations on the island. The valley is particularly famous for its great freestanding rock formations called mogotes.
Meet with local farmers that have been passing from generation to generation the secrets of growing the best tobacco in the world.
Visit to Mural de la Prehistoria, a huge painting on the side of a Mogote. Lunch in Viñales
Explore town of Viñales at your leisure: its open-air craft market, Parque Marti, town church, and other interesting sites of this charming colonial hamlet.
Day 10. Sunday 26 February 2017. Exploration of Santo Tomas Caves
Morning: visit Cueva de Santo Tomas, Cuba's largest cave system. The cave is spectacular, especially where the roof has collapsed and you walk into a green jungle paradise sunk into a mountaintop.
Several cave rooms are connected over an area of 45 kilometers in length, extend over seven levels. The rooms bear names such as "Salón del Caos" (Chaos Saloon), "Increíble" (incredible) or "Tinieblas" (darkness). Solid footwear and clothing are recommended.
Lunch on your own.
Afternoon: Relax by the pool or optional horse riding tour or visit to Cuban farm family under the guidance of local guides.
Day 11. Monday 27 February 2017. Excursion to Cayo Jutias
Morning: transfer to Cayo Jutia. Beach time.
Lunch at Restaurant in Cayo Jutías.
Afternoon free to explore the beach at Cayo Jutias.
Retunr to hotel Los Jazmines.
Evening group debriefing over Cuban rum drinks.
Day 12. Tuesday 28 February 2017. Departure
Transfer to Havana International Airport for departure.
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Authentic Cuba Travel
Bird Watching & Nature
Cuba Journeys Highlights
Travel to Topes de Collantes. A must-explore in any nature and eco Cuba tour.
Slopes are swathed in Caribbean pines, ancient tree-ferns, bamboo, and eucalyptus.
Bird watching lovers, watch out for the Cuban parrot.
Tour of Zapata Park, natural habitat to over 160 bird species, 900 plant species
and a stop for thousands of migratory birds! The swamp is also the natural home
to the Cuban Crocodile. A paradise for bird watching, nature and eco Cuba tour lovers!
Travel to La Guira National Park with picturesque valleys and hidden caves. Cuba's nature at its best!
Bird watching endemic bird species such as the Cuban Trogon, Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Bullfinch...
Tour Viñales Valley, famous for its great free standing rock formations called mogotes. Nature, eco
tourism and bird watching are among the main draws of the region.
Tour a Farm for the Breeding of Cuban Crocodile, an endangered species that can be found at the Zapata and
Lanier Swamps only.
Tour of the Manjuari (alligator gar fish) Breeding Farm. Opportunity for eco tour and nature enthusiasts to
talk to Cuban naturalist.
Travel to Soroa, a site of breathtaking natural beauty, with a 22-meter waterfall. A must-see for bird watching, nature and eco tour lovers alike!
Tour of the Wildlife Breeding Centre where the endangered jutia (Capromys) and other mammals are bred.
Travel to Cenote La Cueva de los Peces, natural habitat of a wide variety of native flora and fauna.
Tour the Orchid Garden of Soroa, featuring a collec-tion of 250 orchids endemic of Cuba, and over 700 from around the world. Meet with nature conservation specialist at the Orchid Research Center.
Boat ride in Hatiguanico River for observation of typical flora and fauna. Birding expedition to Hatos de Jicarita. We will encounter the Zapata Rail, Zapata Sparrow, Zapata Wren…
Tour of Las Salinas Wildlife Refuge, unique Cuban site for bird watching. We will be in search for the Roseate Flamingo, Sand hill Crane, Yellow-headed Warbler...
Hello! I’m Bernie Solymar, and I kindly invite you to join our Cuba nature tours, an odyssey of the country's
culture, agriculture, ecology and beautiful nature. We'll explore the historic cities of Havana and Trinidad,
visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves, tour organopónicos and visit with Cuban farmers,
explore forests, caves and mountains, swim in mountain rivers, meet and talk with numerous Cuban experts
in the fields of permaculture and conservation, partake in traditional local food dishes, enjoy some Cuban
music, rum, and camaraderie, and much, much more. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions!