Cuba Birding Program 11 Days
Day 1. Arrive at Havana airport. Transport by taxi (20 minutes) to old, historical section of Havana, where participants will be lodged in a hotel or in a comfortable private house (“casa Particular”), depending on the client’s preference and group size.
La Havana was founded in 1514 named after the daughter of a famous Taíno chief. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are there. Waves crashing against a mildewed see wall, a young couple cavorting in the dark, dilapidated alley, guitar and voices harmonizing over a syncopated drum rhythm.
No one could have invented Havana. It’s to audacious, too contradictory, and despite 50 years of withering neglect to damned beautiful.
Don’t come here looking for answers. Just arrive with an open mind and prepare yourself for a long and slow seduction. (LP60)
Old Havana and the Fortification System was Declared a World Heritage Site by UNSCO on 1982.
Day 2. After breakfast, depart for Guanahacabibes National Park. This is a beautiful reserve with nice beaches. The main habitat is a semi-deciduous forest, and sandy coastal vegetation: Target species: Bee Hummingbird and other endemic birds, such as: Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon, Blue-headed Quail-Dove, among others.
Guanahacabibes Peninsula: As the island gets narrow at its western end, you fall upon the low-lying and ecologically rich Peninsula de Guanahacabibes. One of Cuba’s most isolated enclaves, it once provided shelter for earliest inhabitants the Guanahatabeys. A five hours drive form Havana, this region lacks mayor tourist infrastructure, meaning it feels far more isolated than it is.
In 1987 was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO – one of only six in Cuba. The reasons for the protection measures were manifold. First the reserve’s submerged coastline features a wide variety of landscapes including broad mangrove swamps, low scrubs thicket vegetation and an uplifted shelf of alternating white sand and coral rock. Second, the area’s distinctive limestone karst formation are home to a plethora of unique flora and fauna including 172 species of birds, 700 species of plants, 35 types of reptiles among others. (LP159)
Day 3. Breakfast at 7:00 am. Birding in the Guanahacabibes region, looking for endemic species and Nearctic migrants. Lunch at the hotel. After 3:30 pm, resume birding in the area.
Day 4. After breakfast, depart for Viñales, Pinar del Rio province, birding along the way. Lunch in Viñales. Overnight in Viñales in one of the local hotels (or casa Particular) of the region.
Viñales, about 93 miles (150 km) west of Havana, is situated in Sierra de los Organos and is a delightful small town in a beautiful valley with a distinctive landscape of steep-sided limestone “mogotes,”. About 100 bird species have been reported from the area. Target species: Cuban Grassquit, Cuban Solitaire, Olive-capped warbler, and other endemics.
Day 5. After breakfast, depart to Zapata Peninsula. Lunch on the way. Dinner in Zapata. Overnight in the nicest house in Zapata, “Casa Luis,” or Playa Larga Resort, depending on group size. In the afternoon, birding at Soplillar. Target species: endemic quail-doves and owls; also we will be looking for Neartic migrants, such as Swainson’s Warbler and Worm-eating Warbler.
Zapata Peninsula is, undoubtedly, the best bird watching area in Cuba, and possibly the entire Caribbean region. It supports all but three of Cuba’s 23 avian endemics, as well as many other native species, both winter residents and transients, along with several summer and spring visitors (which breed in Cuba but return south in fall). Over 270 species have been reported in the area.
Day 6. Breakfast at 5:30 am, then Depart to Bermeja (a fauna refuge with National Significance), an open area with royal and cabbage palms, brush, and shrubbery, 7 miles (12 km) north of Playa Girón. This is the place to look for Fernandina’s Flicker. Cuba’s two endemic owls (Cuban Pygmy-Owl and Bare-legged Owl), Cuban Nightjar, Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, and all four quail-dove species (the two rarest species are frequently encountered) can also be seen here, as well as many Nearctic warblers. Lunch in the resort or house select for overnighting. Resume birding in the afternoon in Bermeja area. Birding at night as well.
Day 7. Breakfast at 5:30 am. Depart for La Turba. This is a marsh habitat, where we will be looking for Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow, and Red-shouldered Blackbird. Lunch at Caleta Buena (optional), or our lodging place after 3:00 pm, birding in La Salina in Zapata. This area has ideal feeding conditions for many waterbirds (flamingos, egrets, ducks, shorebirds), which come to feast on the fishes, crustaceans, and other invertebrates.
Day 8. We will be doing birding in Zapata this morning, looking for species that we may have missed, after lunch we will drive to Cienfuegos City. Lodging in a nice house or hotel
Bienvenue to Cienfuegos, Cuba’s Gallic heart, which sits in the shadow of the crinkled Sierra del Escambray like a displaced piece of Paris on Cuba’s untamed southern coastline. French rather than Spanish colonizers were the pioneers in the region, arriving in 1819 and bringing with them the ideas of European Enlightenment. The result today is a dazzling treasure box on 19th century architectural.
Day 9. Travel day! Breakfast at 6:30 am, and then clients will have two choices for the mourning, we can either visit Laguna Guanaroca (1) or Botanical Garden (2). After Lunch we will start driving to Trinidad city. Arrival around 5:30 pm. Lodging in a nice house or hotel.
1 – Laguna Guanaroca:
The representation of the moon on earth according to the local Siboney legend, the shimmering Laguna Guanaroca is a mangrove-rimmed saline lake southeast of Cienfuegos. Its second only to Las Salinas on the Zapata Peninsula as a bird magnet and is the province’s only natural protected area. Trails leads to a viewing platform where Flamingos, Pelicans, Cuban Trogons, Cuban Todies and many others are regular visitors. Tours take 2-3 hours and includes a boat trip to the far side of the lake.
2 – Botanical Garden:
The Botanical Garden was founded in 1901 by US sugar baron Edwin F Atkins, who initially intended to use it to study different varieties of sugar cane, but instead began to plant exotic tropical trees for around the globe. Later Harvard University assumed control under a 99-year lease, and a general collection making up one of the tropical world’s finest botanical gardens was amassed.
It’s one of Cuba’s biggest gardens. It houses 2000 species of plants, including 23 types of bamboo, 65 types of fig and 280 different palms (purportedly the greatest variety in one place anywhere in the world).
The first sound in the morning is the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the cobbled streets followed by the cries of old men selling bread from bicycles. Trinidad is one-of-a-kind, a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement where the clocks stopped ticking in the 1850.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNSCO in 1988, Trinidad is one of the best places in Cuba to appreciate the life Cuban music. (LP 2015)
Day 10. Breakfast at 7:00 am, birding in the morning on the National park of Topes de Collantes, bird targets here will be White-collared Swift, Black Swift, Cuban Parrots, Scally-naped Pigeon etc.. and after lunch depart to Camagüey city. Arrival around 6:00 pm. Lodging in a nice house or hotel (depending on clients’ preferences).
Welcome to the the maze. Camaguey’s odd labyrinthine layout is the by-product off two centuries spent fighting of musket-toting pirates like Henry Morgan: Tumultuous times led the fledgling settlement to develop a peculiar street pattern designed to confuse pillaging invaders and provide cover for its long-suffering residence (Or so legend has it).
In 2008 its well preserved historical center was made Cuba’s ninth UNESCO World Heritage Site. (LP 2015)
Located about 42 miles (70 km) southeast of Camagüey city, Najasa is a protected area of open country with many palm groves, and a mixture of semi-deciduous woods in the low foothills. About 120 species of birds have been reported, including several of special interest for the group: Plain Pigeon, Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Parrot (also known as Rose-throated Parrot), Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Pygmy-owl, Cuban Palm Crow, three species of woodpecker, and Giant Kingbird.
Day 11. Breakfast at 5:30 am. Depart for Najasa at 6:00 am. Lunch in La Belen reserve. Birding in the reserve. Among the birds that can be observed in the area are Nothern Caracara, Limpkin, Northern Jacana, and many endemics, including the elusive Gundlach’s Hawk. After lunch, depart for Cayo Coco. Overnight in an all-inclusive Hotel in Cayo Coco.
Cayo Coco is the second-largest key in Cuba (recently connected to the mainland by a rock-fill road). Located 42 miles (70 km) northwest of Morón, it is mostly covered by semideciduous forests; there are also mangroves, coastal shrub, patches of grass, and lagoons. A total of over 200 species has been reported, including many Cuban rarities with several new birds to add to our list: Cuban Gnatcatcher, a race of Zapata Sparrow, and Oriente Warbler. Also, other birds will be sought, including Western Spindalis and Cuban Bullfinch. There are many waders and one of the largest populations of American Flamingo in the Caribbean. In fall Merlin and Peregrine Falcon are not uncommon. Piping Plover is a winter resident on these keys.
Cayo Paredón Grande
Your destination will soon become recognizable in the distance due to its black-and-yellow painted lighthouse. The main habitats of Cayo Paredón Grande are sandy-coast vegetation and mangroves. Well over 100 species have been reported in the area, including Thick-billed Vireo (a described endemic subspecies cubensis) and Bahama Mockingbird (very rare in this area), among them. There is a lighthouse where, during the fall migration, many North American warblers can be spotted. It is also an excellent area for Mangrove Cuckoo, Cuban Gnatcatcher, and Oriente Warbler.
Day 12. Breakfast at 7:00 am. Depart to Cayo Paredon Grande, about a 45 minutes drive from Cayo Coco. Lunch and dinner at the hotel. Depart in the afternoon at 3:00pm to Cayo Guillermo.
Cayo Guillermo is situated 20 miles (34 km) northwest of Cayo Coco. This is a sandy key with xerophitic vegetation and lots of palms (Coccothrinax sp.). Over 80 species have been reported in this area. In this habitat is found the Bahama Mockingbird. Also, shorebirds, egrets, ducks, and rails can be observed at the internal lagoons.
Day 13. Breakfast at 7:30 am. Slowly start driving back toward Havana, with a few birding stops along the way. Overnight in Havana.
Day 14. Departure and transfer to the airport.