Western Cuba Birding & Natural History 2020

Guantanamo Province

Trip Details

Western Cuba Birding & Natural History 2020

April 4, 2020 – April 12, 2020

The Caribbean Conservation Trust (CCT) is offering an exclusive U.S.-led and managed herpetology and natural history excursion to Cuba. The program is coordinated under U.S. government authorization through Connecticut-based CCT, which is proud of its 23 year history managing bird conservation / travel programs in Cuba. Along with CCT Founder and Executive Director, Gary Markowski and Cuban Biologist Dr. Giraldo Alayon, our team will include a bilingual Cuban tour guide, and an additional regionally located Cuban naturalist. They will guide you through a variety of natural areas in Cuba, the Caribbean’s largest and most ecologically diverse island nation.

The Nature of Cuba

While this is designed primarily as an exploration of Cuba’s reptiles and amphibians, there will be opportunities for birding on this trip, as well as opportunities to visits some of Cuba’s most fascinating natural areas. Our focus expands to include a range of Cuban fauna and flora, and the ecology and history of regions we visit. 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 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. These discussions may include information about the Cuban education and health care systems, housing, transportation, education, employment, and other topics that will help enhance a better understanding of how ordinary Cubans go about their daily lives.

Where We Travel

Our program begins in Havana, an unrivaled colonial city of the Americas. Our time in Havana will include a visit to the home and private collection of Cuban fauna of Orlando Garrido, Cuba’s most prolific living naturalist, and author of The Field Guide To the Birds of Cuba., and dozens of papers related to herpetology in the region. This presentation will provide an introduction to some of the species you may encounter, and serve as an introduction to Cuba’s diverse ecosystems and the abundant life within them.

At the end of the tour, we provide the option of a tour of Havana, including a guided walking tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the city’s historic colonial center, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Havana abounds with historic sites, diverse architecture, museums, art galleries that underscore a cultural heritage and recently resurgent energy and verve that is uniquely Cuban. Following our private tour and lunch, you will have time to explore on your own or head back to our accommodations or quiet spot to reflect on your Cuban experience. A visit to Cuba’s National Museum of Natural History is avaialble as well.

We will venture from Havana to explore three very distinct geographic regions of the country chosen for their diverse ecological systems and natural beauty. In these distinct locations, you 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 you by local insiders.

 The Guanahacabibes Peninsula, located at the far western tip of the island, is one of the last remaining wild places in the Caribbean. A major migratory corridor and world class diving and snorkel destination, this peninsula lies parallel to the Yucatan Peninsula in eastern Mexico, and adjacent to the Palancar Reef, the largest contiguous coral reef in the northern hemisphere, second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef.  The peninsula is home to many important aboriginal archaeological sites. In Arawak, the name of the area translates to “place of the Iguana”. The peninsula was Cuba’s first significant protected area following the triumph of the revolution in 1959, and in 1987 declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The endemic Cuban Rock Iguana, Cuban Boa, American Crocodile, and possibly 2 species of marine turtles are found here. Bee Hummingbird (world’s smallest bird), Cuban Parrot, and numerous other birds and reptiles will be sought here (2 nights).

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 rain forest, 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, flat-top limestone monoliths that dominate the Organos Mountains and Vinales Valley.

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.  This peninsula is a Ramsar Convention (international conservation treaty) designated site, and is 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 2800 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 swamp land, low coastal forests, sparkling white sand beaches, healthy and accessible coral reefs, and refreshing natural limestone pools called cenotes.  Cuban Black Hawk, Fernandina’s Flicker, Bare-legged Owl, Tawny- shouldered and Red-shouldered Blackbird are among the many birds we will hope to find (2 nights).      

Registration & Trip Costs

Land costs for the 9 day program are $ 3,450.00 per person for shared accommodations. Single supplements are an additional $ 350.00 per person. The optional 1 day/night Havana extension is $245.00 per person sharing, with an additional $ 55.00 single supplement and includes all meals, guide services, ground transportation. Trip costs are based on 10 fully paying participants. A lower number of participants may result in a small group supplement.