Caribbean Paradise: Exploring Cuba’s Beautiful National Parks

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When you think of Cuba, the first images that normally come to mind are of old, colourful streets filled with people and classic cars. Many think of the crumbling, colonial-era buildings of Havana, or the country’s white sandy beaches. But did you know there’s another, perhaps more spectacular, side to Cuba? Beyond the bustling city hubs, you’ll find a slice of paradise – staggering mountains, lush rainforests, pristine natural pools, impressive canyons and a variety of exotic creatures.

Cuba is home to several beautiful national parks, which include biosphere reserves and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Many of these places remain largely well-preserved and untouched by mass tourism, so if you want to explore Cuba’s natural wonders, you‘re spoilt for choice.

El Nicho National Park

Environmental Conservation in Cuba

Cubans are very proud of their country’s natural beauty, and environmental conservation is one of Cuba’s main priorities. During the Batista regime, large swathes of the country’s wilderness suffered extensive deforestation. When Castro came to power in 1959, his government initiated a variety of green initiatives to restore and conserve the forests. One of these projects focused on an area that is now known as Las Terrazas, where six million trees were planted to create 5,000 hectares of forest.

The protection of national parks is enshrined in Cuba’s constitution. It is only recently that some of these national parks become accessible to visitors. However, conservation remains important to Cubans – most of these parks have an entrance fee, visitor numbers are limited and you can only visit as part of a guided tour.

Las Terrazas, Cuba

National Parks in Cuba

Alejandro de Humboldt National Park

Named after a German scientist who visited Cuba in 1800, this national park in the country’s eastern province is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It boasts a rich biodiversity and is home to many endemic plant species and fauna. Some of the animal species you might be able to spot here include the hummingbird, various types of parrots, the painted snail, and the Cuban solenodon (a rat-like animal with a long snout).

Turquino National Park

Also known as the Sierra Maestra National Park, this stunning mountain range in the Santiago de Cuba Province is one of the most beautiful places in Cuba. The park is named after Pico Turquino, which is the highest peak in Cuba. The landscape is characterised by different types of forests, from tropical to Cuban pine forests.

Desembarco del Granma National Park

This national park in south eastern Cuba is named after the spot where Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries landed on the island after escaping from Mexico by boat in 1956. Its pristine waterfalls and sea cliffs earned it the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cienaga de Zapata

Cienaga de Zapata is a wetland located in the Zapata Peninsula (Matanzas Province) known for being one of the best preserved of its kind in the Caribbean. This swamp is also home to the Cuban crocodile and other endemic species, including the bee hummingbird and the Zapata sparrow.

Laguna Guanaroca

Guanahacabibes Peninsula

Guanahacabibes Peninsula is the westernmost point of Cuba and one of the country’s largest nature reserves. This national park is known for its large field of silica sand and well-preserved coral reefs. It is inhabited by over 170 species of birds and some species of marine turtles.

Caguanes National Park

This beautiful park in the Sancti Spiritus Province overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is characterised by spectacular caves (over 70 of them!) and naturally formed arches. The area is inhabited by around 200 species, including Mariposa bats.

Jardines de la Reina

This archipelago in southern Cuba is a marine reserve and a national park. It is also a popular diving and fishing spot due to its rich marine life, which include lobsters, the Caribbean conch and reef sharks. The reef is characterised by canyons and underwater caves. Mangroves grow along the reef – a great place to spot crocodiles!

Cienaga de Lanier

Located on Isla de la Juventud, this wetland region is important because of its rich diversity of flora and fauna, and endemic species of freshwater fish. The swamp and mangroves of Cienage de Lanier are also the perfect habitat for the Cuban crocodile, while sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches in this area.

Sierra Cristal National Park

Created in 1930, Sierra Cristal in the region of Holguin is Cuba’s first national park and one of the highest mountain ranges in the country. Beautiful pine forests stretch across the mountains and harbour over 100 endemic plants. The park is also home to the endangered Cuban solenodon and a mountain research centre.

 


 

If you love getting out into the natural world and would like to explore the unique biodiversity of Cuba’s national parks; we can tailor make an itinerary to suit you!
Get in touch with us on info@caledoniaworldwide.com or 0131 621 7721 to discuss your trip further.

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About the Author
Daniela Frendo is a travel blogger based in Scotland. She studied social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and works as a freelance writer. Besides writing about the beautiful places that she visits, she also enjoys discovering new coffee shops and reading her way around the world with her ever-growing collection of travel books.