Why Cuba is the best ecotourism destination in the Caribbean?
Cuba’s bounty of natural attractions, paired with its meticulous conservation practices, makes it the best ecotourism destination in the Caribbean. It is home to 263 protected areas, covering approximately 22% of the total land. This includes six UNESCO biospheres that range from the coastal scrublands of Península de Guanahacabibes in Pinar del Río to the untouched rainforests of Cuchillas del Toa in Guantánamo. The abundance of carefully guarded land protects over 350 species of birds as well as endangered species such as the Cuban crocodile, the jutía and the ivory-billed woodpecker.
The province of Pinar del Río is particularly well-endowed when it comes to natural attractions: it boasts two UNESCO biospheres and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the sprawling Valley of Vinales. Pinar del Río’s Las Terrazas is an ideal base for ecotours: it was Cuba’s first sustainable resort community. Other noteworthy ecotourism destinations include the pristine area surrounding Baracao on Cuba’s eastern coast, and the Peninsula de Zapata to the south, which contains the Caribbean’s largest swamp.
Cuba boasts a wide selection of activities for ecotourists, including hiking along one of over 100 nature trails, cycling, horseback riding, spelunking, nature observation, photo tourism and speleo-scuba diving. Many of the country’s hotels, like the Hotel La Moka in Pinar del Rio, are sustainable and have been designed to blend harmoniously with their picturesque natural surroundings.
Forests in Cuba’s first biosphere reserve, recognized in 1985. Watch out for one of the world’s smallest frogs and the colourful, pocket-sized reptile, the chipojo.
Take a guided hike through the tropical forests in Cuba’s first biosphere reserve, recognized in 1985. Watch out for one of the world’s smallest frogs and the colourful, pocket-sized reptile, the chipojo. This sprawling reserve covers 121,572 hectares, including the Guanahacabibes National Park. Its diverse vegetation comprises mangroves, marsh grasslands, coastal scrublands and forests. Wildlife includes 40 bird species, as well as an abundance of local jutía and iguanas.
This picturesque valley was named a UNESCO World Cultural and Landscape Site in 1999, thanks to bucolic farms and villages set against the region's iconic limestone mogotes.
Enjoy a boat ride on the underground river that runs through this huge cavern. It is illuminated, so you can get a good look at the inside of a mogote.
Watch ox-drawn ploughs make their way through the beautiful valleys that grow Cuba’s best tobacco.
Study the various stalagmites and stalactites in this 100-foot-high cavern, which now houses a museum.
This mountain community of artists and organic farmers is Cuba’s first sustainable village. There are hiking trails to stunning waterfalls, sparkling mineral springs and lush coffee farms. Stay at the Hotel La Moka, which specializes in eco-excursions.
Take a guided tour of Cuba’s largest cave system. Spread out over eight levels, the 46-km cave system is home to bats, underground pools and a replica of an ancient mural.
Hike to the spectacular El Salto waterfall, or climb atop Mirador de Venus for panoramic views. Botanical experts have identified 1,000 species of exotic plants here; one hillside garden boasts 750 different types of orchids alone.
This spacious area located in Lenin Park contains everything from a Japanese garden to greenhouses bursting with cacti and tropical vegetation.
Wander through 670 hectares of parkland encircling a large artificial lake. An amphitheatre, aquarium, art gallery and botanical garden are just some of the attractions. Dine at Don Cuba, which sits atop a tower with a great view.
One of Cuba's six UNESCO biospheres, the Zapata reserve contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, and one of its most diverse ecosystems. Bring your binoculars: the world's smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, makes its home here. The Zapata Peninsula Biosphere reserve was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2001. It contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean. Here you will see flamingos, manatee, crocodiles and the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, thriving in their natural habitat.
Located on the outskirts of Matanzas, these caves are among the Caribbean’s largest and most beautiful underground formations. Josone's Oasis
Established in 1962, this crocodile breeding farm has successfully saved two endangered species of crocodiles from extinction.
Head down a 5-km canal to reach this scenic lagoon located east of Boca de Guamá. A lifelike recreation of a Taíno village spans across several small islands. Row your boat, ride the minitrain or wander at will through lush tropical vegetation in the gardens, groves and lagoons of this public park.
Covering about 30 per cent of the total area of the Hicacos Peninsula, this park contains the Cueva de Musalmanes, remarkable for its 2,500-year-old human remains and giant cactus.
This stunning 300-metre cave is a well-preserved archeological site featuring approximately 47 pre-Columbian drawings.
Row your boat, ride the minitrain or wander at will through lush tropical vegetation in the gardens, groves and lagoons of this public park.
See the world’s tallest stalagmite, which stands 67 metres high, inside this cave located in the Valle de Yaganabo, 56 km east of Cienfuegos.
You could easily spend a day in this 94-hectare botanical garden that holds 2,000 species of plants. It was established in 1901 by sugar baron Edwin F. Atkins, who originally planned to use the land to study sugarcane, but instead filled it with exotic tropical trees from around the world.
Encompassing 11 core areas, spanning across 313,502 hectares, this UNESCO-recognized biosphere protects ecosystems including mangroves, coral reefs, active dune zones, keys and vital reproductive zones for aquatic birds. Caves within the reserve hold historically significant paintings.
The 1.5 km hike to reach this scenic waterfall is well worth the effort. Cool off with a dip in the pool.
Explore this picturesque reservoir framed by a lush tropical forest.
Explore the local flora and fauna – including colourful parrots and the Tocororo, Cuba’s national bird – at this park, deep within the Escambray Mountains. Be sure to stop by the towering Salto de Caburni waterfall.
What was once an airfield on Cayo Coco’s has been converted into a 769-hectare nature park filled with lakes, mangroves, juniper forest and over 130 species of birds. Take a tour along winding trails to see the netted butterfly garden and crocodile enclosure.
This causeway offers plenty of bird-watching opportunities. Watch out for wading birds like herons, pelicans and roseate spoonbills just off of this road connecting Cayo Coco to the mainland.
You’re certain to see a flock of pink flamingos flying overhead here at sunrise and dusk. Prime flamingo-watching season is April to November, when they congregate at the Laguna de los Flamencos.
Explore this protected area by foot, Jeep or horseback. The park, located 36 km southeast of Camagüey, houses La Belén, a ranch that has been converted to a bird reserve where you’ll find rare species like the Cuban parakeet and the giant kingbird. For more bird-watching opportunities, head to the park’s bird trail where you’ll find birds like the blue heron, sparrow hawk, quail and zunzún. The park also contains a petrified forest, featuring fossilized tree stumps that are over three million years old.
One the refuge of pirates, this key has intimate beaches tucked into beautiful coastal scenery. The centre of the tiny island, practically untouched by man, is home to abundant wildlife, including butterflies, tree rats and wild boar.
Escape to this gorgeous, unspoiled coral key lined with mangroves, marshes and lagoons and watch clouds of butterflies flutter above the lush landscape. Be sure to spend an afternoon at Playa Los Pinos, a standout amid the key’s many beaches, located 22 km from the town of Nuevitas.
Sail along the Santa Lucía coastline to visit a flamingo colony south of Cayo Sabinal. You’re sure to see hundreds of the pretty pink birds, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a dolphin in Nuevitas Bay.
Visit this beautiful ecological reserve to explore the caverns, isles and leafy trails.
Escape to this peaceful protected area to see the world’s biggest crocodile breeding farm, and observe multitudes of birds fluttering in the trees and gliding over the water.
Cuba’s oldest national park, established in 1930, is home to Holguín’s highest peak, the Pico de Cristal.
Inhale the rich pine scent in this heavily forested 5,300-hectare park south of Mayari. Stop by the mountain research centre of Pinares de Mayarí (Minari Pinegroves), which was modeled after an Alpine mountain hut. You can also hike to the foot of Cuba’s tallest waterfall, Salto del Guayabo.
The Parque Nacional Monumento Bariay was erected in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival at this spot in Holguín. This multi-purpose park also houses an archeological museum, models of huts and a 19th century Spanish fort.
Gaze up at Cuba’s highest waterfall, which cascades from its 100-metre perch in the Sierra del Cristal. Take a guided tour through the surrounding forest to see the abundance of native plants that thrive in this alpine microclimate.
Ride a steam train through this majestic, mogote-lined mountain range northeast of the city of Holguín.
This winding trail near Playa Esmeralda takes you past 14 endemic plant species and leads to a spectacular bluff with a picturesque lighthouse.
See the most pristine coastal cliffs in the Americas in this National Park, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its significance as the site of Castro’s landing with rebel forces in 1956. Highlights of the park include Cabo Cruz, an incredibly well-preserved marine terrace; and the Sendero Arqueológico Natural El Guafe, an archeological site within underground caverns featuring pre-Columbian artifacts.
This gorgeous park is located in the heart of the stunning Sierra Maestra mountain range, and contains Pico Turquino, Cuba’s highest peak. You’ll find an array of endemic species here, including Sabicu (a West Indian tree commonly used for shipbuilding), and birds such as Carta Cuba, Tocororo and Zunzun. This park contains many sites of historical interest, such as La Plata, which served as Fidel Castro’s headquarters in the late 1950s.
Explore the caverns spread across the Parque Nacional Desembarco del Granma. Don’t miss the noted Ídolo del Agua, which pre-Columbian Indians carved out of stalagmites inside one of the caverns.
There are great bird-watching opportunities at the charming nature reserve El Yarey Villa in Jiguani. You’ll see plenty of endemic and migratory birds here.
See many of Granma’s native flora flourishing at this expansive botanical garden located just outside of Bayamo. You’ll find 74 types of palms, various cacti, beautiful orchids and a selection of endangered plants spread over 104 hectares.
This expansive 84,985-hectare UNESCO-recognized biosphere is home to 1,800 plant species that are of interest for their medicinal, industrial and religious properties. There are a reported 939 indigenous species of wildlife living here, too, including butterflies, mammals, reptiles and the endangered hot-cave bat. The rugged Sierra Maestra mountain range is protected within the Baconao biosphere, as is the Archeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Climb 1,974 metres to reach Cuba’s highest peak atop this mountain in the Sierra Maestra mountains. The journey takes about two days. Santiago de Cuba.
Climb the 454-step staircase for an unrivalled view of Santiago atop this 70,000-ton boulder teetering over the ridge of the Sierra Baconao, 1,000 metres above sea level.
Discover spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea from one of Cuba’s most bio-diverse mountain ranges. The area supports many endemic species of flora and fauna (including the endangered hot-cave bat) as well as the historic ruins of French coffee settlements.
Escape to this scenic mountain resort that serves as a great base for eco-tourism excursions, bird watching treks and hikes to local waterfalls.
Spend an afternoon at this UNESCO biosphere reserve. As one of the world’s last untouched rainforests, it boasts a large number of endangered plant and animal species, including the Cuban land snail, which is about two inches in diametre with striking spirals of colour.
Bring your bathing suit: this cave contains a cool, freshwater lagoon. After you take a dip, you can make your way up the hillside to an archaeological trail that boasts great ocean views, as well as more caves.
No visit to Baracoa is complete without a visit to the region’s famous tabletop mountain covered in rich vegetation. It rises 575 metres above sea level and is situated between the banks of the Duaba and Toa rivers.
Stop by Salto Fino to see the Caribbean’s highest waterfall. At 305 metres high, it’s the 20th highest water chute in the world, propelled by a sudden drop in the Arroyo del Infierno (Hell’s Stream).
Cactus lovers, unite. This huge garden grows 2,000 cacti in this semi-arid southern region along the Guantánamo-Baracoa highway.
Go bird watching along Cuba’s third-largest river that serves as an important plant and bird habitat.
Walk along the aromatic cocoa trail surrounding this farm that houses a rachon-style restaurant.