Cuba’s Best Birdwatching
With more than 350 bird species, Cuba is an ornithologist’s paradise. Birders flock to spy the isle’s 21 endemic species found nowhere else, among them the world’s smallest bird—the thimble-sized zunzuncito hummingbird. The following 10-day tour covers sufficiently diverse terrain to check off a vast list of avian fauna.
You’ll want an experienced guide, prearranged through Cuba’s EcoTur, S.A. (Av. Independencia #116, esq. Santa Catalina, Cerro, Havana, tel. 07/641-0306, www.ecoturcuba.co.cu) tour agency.
Meet your guide and head west to Las Terrazas, an eco-resort in Reserva Sierra del Rosario, Cuba’s first biosphere reserve. The trill of Cuban green woodpeckers and the haunting song of the endemic Cuban solitaire accompany you on the trails. Overnight at Hotel La Moka (tel. 048/57-8600, alojamiento [at] hotel [dot] terraz [dot] co [dot] cu, CUC50 s, CUC64 d low season; CUC80 s, CUC110 d high season).
After a morning hike at Las Terrazas, continue west to Parque Nacional Viñales, and your base at Hotel Horizontes Rancho San Vicente (tel. 048/79-6201, reserva [at] vinales [dot] hor [dot] tur [dot] cu, CUC40 s, CUC50 d low season; CUC56 s, CUC70 d high season, including breakfast). Exploring the Sierra de los Órganos grants a chance to spot the Cuban parrot, the yellow-headed warbler, and the minuscule bee hummingbird.
Head east to the wetlands of the Península de Zapata to search for the Zapata wren, the Zapata rail, and other endemic species. Arrive in time for an afternoon hike in the deciduous forests near Bermejas, where endangered Fernandina’s flickers are often seen. An afternoon swim in the cenote at Cueva de los Peces precedes an overnight at Horizontes Playa Larga (tel. 045/98-7212, www.hotelescubanacan.com, CUC37 a, CUC46 d low season, CUC38 s, CUC44 d high season, including breakfast).
Drive to the tidal flats at La Salina, world-famous for its waders and water fowl, including flamingos. Look en route for such endemics as the Cuban martin and Gundlach’s hawk. Then depart Zapata via the Museo Playa Girón (tel. 045/98-4122, daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m., entrance CUC2, guide CUC1, cameras CUC1, videos CUC5), recalling the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. After a late-afternoon lunch in Cienfuegos, continue to the Sierra Escambray for a night at Topes de Collantes.
Plan an early morning departure by Russian truck or jeep to Parque El Nicho, with time to swim at the base of the cascades. After hiking Sendero El Reino de las Aguas, enjoy a rustic lunch before continuing to Trinidad to savor this colonial city. Tonight, enjoy dinner at Restaurante El Jigüe and traditional music and dance at the Casa de la Trova.
Passing through Sancti Spíritus, take the Carretera Central east to Camagüey, then south to the Finca La Belén, where denizens of the semideciduous woodland and tropical montane forest include Cuban parrots, the endangered giant kingbird, and tocororos, or Cuban trogons.
Spend the morning hiking the trails of the Belén reserve before departing for Cayo Coco, with its fabulous beaches and bird-filled lagoons. Time your arrival to coincide with the flamingo flyover at dusk.
Roseate spoonbills, egrets, piping plovers, and Oriente warblers are among the birds to look for as you explore Parque Nacional El Bagá and nearby Cayo Guillermo. You’ll want to relax this afternoon with a sunset catamaran cruise.
Return to Havana via the Circuito Norte or Autopista.
It would be sacrilege to visit Cuba without exploring Havana, so spend the next day on an all-day, hop-on/hop-off HabanaBusTour. Tonight, celebrate your birding skills with a cocktail at the Hotel Nacional followed, perhaps, by a night at the Cabaret Parisien. In the morning, transfer to the airport for your departure flight.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition