Captivating Cuba: Nature Meets Culture

(May 30 – June 9, 2018)

Join C. Colston (Cole) Burrell, in partnership with the Caribbean Conservation Trust (CCT), for an exclusive U.S.- led and managed cultural and natural history excursion to Cuba! The program is coordinated under U.S. government authorization through Connecticut-based CCT, which is proud of its 22-year history managing bird conservation and natural history programs in Cuba.

In addition to Cole, our team includes a bilingual Cuban tour leader as well as local professionals who are experts in their respective fields in Cuba. This customized, multi-faceted program features natural history (birds, plants, and habitat exploration), gardens, sustainable agriculture, arts, and architecture. We will explore a range of habitats that include submontane seasonal rainforest, pine forest, tropical karstic forest, coastal forest, mangrove, wetlands, and beaches. We will also spend significant time in Havana (4 nights).

Our program begins and ends in Havana, an unrivalled colonial city of the Americas. In Havana, we will meet with a curator from Cuba’s National Museum of Natural History for a presentation and discussion of Cuba’s unique biodiversity and natural history. This presentation will cover Cuba’s evolutionary history in the region, provide examples of Cuba’s strikingly high degree of endemism in terms of flora and fauna, and serve as an introduction to Cuba’s diverse ecosystems and the
abundant life within them. We will also include a visit to the National Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of Havana. Here we will meet a local expert who will provide an interpretive tour of the endemic forest, as well as various other living exhibits of native and exotic flora. In addition, we will explore a diversity of public and private gardens, farms that practice sustainable agriculture, and the Soroa Orchidarium.

More About this Trip

The cultural aspects of the trip focus primarily on visual arts and architecture. An orientation to ‘modern’ Havana and a walking tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the city’s historic colonial center are featured. On additional days in Havana, we will visit art museums, private studios and galleries, and meet Cuban artists who are part of Cuba’s recent arts revival. Habana Vieja was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The old city abounds with historic sites, museums, and art galleries that underscore a cultural heritage and recently resurgent energy and verve that is uniquely Cuban. We will also include a day that focuses on a sampling of Havana’s fabled architecture, which spans 5 centuries. Live music, as well as an eclectic range of street performances, and high-quality dining venues exemplify the very energetic response of Habaneros to recent liberal policy changes there.

While in Havana, following introductions by our local experts you will have time to safely explore on your own. Our guides will acquaint us with Cuba’s education and healthcare systems, housing, transportation, education, employment, and other topics that will help enhance a better understanding of how ordinary Cubans go about their daily lives.

Your escort Cole Burrell is an acclaimed international lecturer, garden designer and the author of 12 gardening books. He has escorted garden and nature tours throughout the United States as well as to Canada, Europe and the Americas. His one-of-a-kind tours focus on the best private and public gardens, and the most ecologically diverse natural areas, to create

The Nature of Cuba

This unique tour combines natural history and ecology of regions we visit as well as immersion in the richness of Cuban culture, architecture, and history. At different intervals throughout the program, we will hear from Cuban experts about the natural relationship of Cuban species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, as well as arachnids (spiders ) and insects and other invertebrates such as mollusks and butterflies. We will enjoy opportunities to swim and snorkel as well, and perhaps encounter some of Cuba’s interesting marine life in a safe, natural habitat.

We will also indulge in informal discussions that expose the main problems of conservation in the Cuban Archipelago. Throughout the program, our Cuban guide will answer your questions and offer explanations that reflect Cuban history, politics, as well as topics related to daily living in Cuba.

Where We Travel

Havana

Arrival by midday in Havana. Orientation meeting and lecture on Cuba’s evolutionary history and biodiversity.  Accommodation in Havana ( 4 nights).

The ensuing 3 full days in Havana will include a guided tour of Havana, including historic Old Havana, one of the best preserved colonial cities in the Americas. This UNESCO World Heritage site is loaded with a variety of museums, a thriving arts scene, and a full range of architectural examples of both renovated and neglected structures, many opulent or otherwise unique, representing 5 centuries of human habitation. We will have full days devoted to botanical and urban gardens, arts, architecture, with various visits to art museums & galleries, to notable and obscure buildings representing different architectural styles & periods, and to sites such a Ernest Hemingway’s former estate, Finca Vigia, as well as one of Latin America’s largest and most intact coastal fortresses. We will visit Cuba’s National Botanical Gardens for a guided interpretive tour of various parts of the expansive 1500 (acre complex, with the focus on plants and habitat. The gardens feature more than 4,000 plant species native to tropical areas of the world. The gardens emphasize flora native to Cuba, but also feature groupings of cacti and other desert, semi-desert, and tropical rainforest plants from around the region and the world. We will benefit from discussions and presentations by some of Cuba’s leading professionals in the fields of architecture, visual arts, and horticulture.

Leaving Havana

Once outside of Havana, we will explore two very distinct geographic regions of the country chosen for their diverse ecological systems and natural beauty. In these distinct locations, we will visit Cuba’s pristine national parks, remote biosphere reserves, and unique natural areas. We will interact with local scientists and naturalists who work in research and conservation and explore terrain exclusively selected for us by local insiders.

Cuba’s Western Mountains

Cuba’s Western Mountains include two of the country’s most diverse and dramatic ranges: the Sierra de la Rosario, and Sierra de los Organos. We will explore an area common to both ranges in search of western range endemic species of birds and other fauna. The Western Mountains includes habitat unique to much of the world that is often captured in photos and paintings of rural Cuba. Here we will encounter submontane seasonal rainforest, pine forest, and tropical karstic forest. A highlight of the trip, we will visit the magical, unusually beautiful karstic landscape of mogotes– the towering, lushly vegetated, flattop limestone monoliths that dominate the Organos Mountains.

This is the only region in which we will likely see the Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Grassquit, Giant Kingbird, & Olive-capped Warbler. Other potential endemic species for western Cuba include Cuban Oriole, Cuban Blackbird, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Pewee, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Vireo, & Yellow-headed Warbler.

Zapata Peninsula - Bay of Pigs

We will also explore the diverse wetland region of the Zapata Peninsula, Cuba’s richest and most important birding destination, located in the historic Bay of Pigs. The peninsula is a Ramsar Convention-designated site (the Ramsar Convention is an international conservation treaty) and among the most important wetlands in the West Indies. Here the best local guides will lead us through protected areas in Cienaga de Zapata National Park and other natural sites off the beaten track.

The Zapata Peninsula covers more than 2,800 square miles and features easily accessible, Everglades-like ecology and habitat. Framed by the pristine Caribbean coastal environment of the Bay of Pigs, the peninsula features vast open swampland, low coastal forests, sparkling white sand beaches, healthy and accessible coral reefs, and refreshing natural limestone pools called cenotes. Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Black Hawk, Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow, Fernandina’s Flicker, Bare-legged Owl, Blue-headed and Grey-fronted Quail-Doves, and Tawny-shouldered and Red-shouldered Blackbirds are among the many birds we will hope to find (3 nights).

Registration & Trip Costs

Land costs for the 10 day program are $ 4,850.00 per person for shared accommodations. Single supplements are an additional $650.00 per person. Trip costs are based on 14 fully paying participants. A lower number of participants may result in a modest small group supplement.

A deposit payment of $ 800.00 per person accompanied by a reservation form guarantees space on this trip. Registration can be done online with a wire transfer or Paypal deposit), or via USPS (payable by check).

X