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Zapata Peninsula

Cuba -Cienega de Zapata - Playa Giron - hummingbird.jpg

The vast Zapata Peninsula juts out into pristine azure Caribbean waters on Cuba’s southern central coast. This untouched natural haven of uninhabited mangroves, lagoons, rivers and deserted beaches is a huge draw for birdwatchers, fishermen, scuba divers and lovers of the wilderness.

This is arguably Cuba’s top birding spot, with 18 of the 24 endemic species calling Zapata home, such as the tiny bee hummingbird. As it is so sparsely populated, it has made the region a haven for migratory birds who are left undisturbed in the main by only a small number of visitors. Thankfully this pristine natural wilderness is protected as the Cienega de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, habitat for rare birds, crocodiles and a wide variety of ecosystems.


Within the Reserve lies the Cienega de Zapata National Park – look out for the Tocororo (Cuban Trogon), the national bird, iguanas or mammals such as jutia. Laguna de las Salinas is a perfect place to spot vast flocks of thousands of pink flamingos on the salty lagoons between December and April. You may also sight sandhill crane, Cuban parakeet, magnificent frigates, night hawks and pied billed grebe.


Hotels here are rather characterless as well as being very few in number so we think it is definitely better to consider a homestay here and enjoy local hospitality in this wonderful region for wildlife lovers. One of our favourites is not so much about the décor but about the fabulous hearty home cooking and the wonderful hosts who will also be the ones to guide you out in the stunning marine reserves when you go snorkelling or diving.


Some of Cuba’s best diving can be found off Playa Larga and Playa Giron, just to the eastern edge of the Peninsula, as the area is sponge and coral rich with deep drop-offs. It’s warm and unpolluted waters, especially at Caleta Buena, mean that you will be able to explore healthy and spectacular coral reefs in amazing visibility and surrounded by a stunning variety of marine life. After hosting you at his home, our local dive master guide, Ronel, will be delighted to show you his favourite parts of the coast both underwater and on shore.


Fishing is huge here too, with many aficionados returning here time and again to catch bass, trout, tilapia, bonefish and more in the mangroves and saltwater flats, the rivers and lagoon. The Bocas or outlying islands of Salinas offer superb bonefishing as well as fishing for permit or tarpon and Laguna del Tesoro is another favourite spot for catch and release fly fishing. This vast body of fresh water some 16 sq km in area offers some superb trout and bass fishing.


At the eastern perimeter of the Peninsula is a more historic attraction at Bahia de Cochinos, more infamously known as the Bay of Pigs. This area was once one of the very poorest parts of Cuba and received much investment by the Castro government following the Revolution. So quite naturally the locals are fiercely proud of this part of their history. This region holds a crucial place in the national consciousness as the site of the failed USA-backed invasion of Cuba. Check out the small museum in Giron which houses tank wrecks and a fallen US plane.

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