español / english local weather today
23 September 2019
One of Cuba's six UNESCO biospheres, the Zapata reserve (also classified a Ramsar Site and a national park) contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, and not surprisingly, one of its most diverse ecosystems and best preserved green areas of the island.
With an approximate area of 300 thousand hectares, it covers 175 km between Punta Gorda and Jagua, and reaches at points a width of 58 km. It has the most complex karst drainage system of the island of Cuba.
Moreover, its landscape with lowlands, wetlands, natural savannah vegetation, the catchment area of the Hatiguanico River, the Laguna del Tesoro as well as the nearby beaches, Playa Larga and Playa Giron, makes it one of the most beautiful and amazing places, offering a huge variety of spectacular sights....
One of Cuba's six UNESCO biospheres, the Zapata reserve (also classified a Ramsar Site and a national park) contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, and not surprisingly, one of its most diverse ecosystems and best preserved green areas of the island.
With an approximate area of 300 thousand hectares, it covers 175 km between Punta Gorda and Jagua, and reaches at points a width of 58 km. It has the most complex karst drainage system of the island of Cuba.
Moreover, its landscape with lowlands, wetlands, natural savannah vegetation, the catchment area of the Hatiguanico River, the Laguna del Tesoro as well as the nearby beaches, Playa Larga and Playa Giron, makes it one of the most beautiful and amazing places, offering a huge variety of spectacular sights.
Almost 56% of the wetlands are covered by forests, and it's calculated that some 900 diverse floral species grow here, many of which are autoctonous. Among the endemic vertebrates there is one that needs special attention: the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer), the one with the most restricted habitat in the world, for whose protection and development a scientific breeding centre has been opened in the area.
There is also an important presence of some 109 forms of fauna with 12 mammiferous species, 160 bird species, 31 reptiles, and a large variety of amphibious and invertebrates. Most of the biosphere´s wildlife is concentrated in the part called the Gran Parque Natural Montemar (formerly Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata). This part also contains the Laguna de las Salinas, a wildlife sanctuary with flats where the flamingos live a protected life and where from October to March 65 species of birds visit during their migration pattern.
Before Columbus arrival the wetlands were inhabited by the siboney Indian tribes. During the colonial period it became almost depopulated and was mostly used by pirates using the area as refuge. During the republican era the area attracted new inhabitants: coal miners and fishermen living in extreme poverty. It was only after the Cuban Revolution that steps were taken to revive the area and to convert it into a destination for responsible tourism.
There are several trails in the Zapata which allow for careful interaction with nature, while appreciating its spectacular and diverse beauty. Whilst walking in the bio-reserve you can observe different forest formations and landforms as well as the cave-system that has developed along the coastline with fascinating sinkholes and diverse fauna that populate them. Every now and again (the Zapata is sparsely populated when compared to the rest of Cuba) you will see some local farmers and observe their crops, livestock and lifestyle. There are several organized hikes, some including visits to the nearby historical Palmar Bonito site (This is where in 1895 the Cubans took up arms against Spanish colonialism and for the independence of the country. Even though the uprising failed, it remained an important milestone in the history of Cuba.), the former Australia sugar mill complex (once a productive sugar mill, but now closed down and converted into a museum), or flooded caves where you can enjoy a swim in natural wells. The area is also a mecca for bird-watchers, naturalists, and anglers with possibility to fish the flats, the little islands and the river Hatiguanico, known as the Cuban Amazon.
To visit the park must go to its offices located in Playa Larga. You get there taking the National Highway, getting off the road at the Central Australia juntion at Km 142, where you´ll see a signpost for the entrance to the Reserve.
 
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