Birding, Nature, and Culture
Birding, Nature, and Culture: a Blended Cuban Experience!
Feb 1 – Feb 13, 2024
Interact with Cuban nature, support Cuban conservationists and discover Cuban birds!
This 13-day adventure is uniquely designed for curious conservationists, interested birders, and amateur ecologists who want to interact meaningfully with a variety of Cuban nature specialists, archaeologists, biologists, historians and artists and give support to Cuban civil society. Conservation and conversation come together to deepen our understanding of Cuba and the Cuban people.
Join Cuba’s national campaign to protect the environment while visiting uniquely beautiful natural and protected areas. Emphasis is on gaining an appreciation of birds, nature, conservation, creative eco-tourism, and the work that Cuban naturalists are doing to protect and nourish the environment in Cuba. We will engage in light hiking in protected areas with our Cuban friends who work in the private sector of conservation and avian research. We will also sample the new trends in creole and international cuisine with Cuba’s growing “cuentapropistas” (small, independent businesses).
The delegation will visit the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves of Las Terrazas; the beautiful Viñales Valley and National Park, with its unique hiking and birding opportunities; the Ciénaga de Zapata, an immense swamp and nature habitat; the lovely Escambray Mountains; and, of course, Old Havana with its fascinating urban ecology.
We should encounter about 115 species of birds, including about 20 of the island’s 26 endemics and even more West Indian endemics.
Because Cuba is currently in the midst of economic difficulties, all dates, activities, and even costs are subject to change.
Purpose and goals:
This delegation is in support of the Cuban people as permitted by the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). We have an intense itinerary with a strong focus on meaningful interaction with our Cuban counterparts through formal and informal meetings. Each participant is obligated to keep records for possible review by the US Treasury Dept.
Our goal is to help you understand more about conservation in Cuba, especially with regard to the environment, endangered species, birds, and nature in general, while offering support to Cuban civil society. Another goal is to assist our independent Cuban naturalist colleagues in their work; the delegation will bring optics, feeders, books, and educational materials to Cuba.
Feb 1, Day 1:
Find your way to Ft. Lauderdale. Overnight in designated motel. Briefing meeting with
U.S. tour leaders, Paul Baicich and Soledad Pagliuca.
Feb 2, Day 2:
Early morning shuttle to airport and flight to Havana.
Our Cuban ornithologist, Maikel Cañizares, and our Cuban driver Ronel Gamboa, will meet us in Havana with a comfortable, medium-sized, air-conditioned bus. We will head for Las Terrazas (51 Km), part of the Sierra del Rosario UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Birding stops along the way. Visit the open-air museum ruins of Angerona Coffee Plantation. Check in to the iconic Hotel Moka or Cuban-style B&Bs. Sunset nature stroll and bird watching around the hotel. Dinner at El Romero Vegetarian Restaurant followed by an optional informal meeting with local artists.
Feb. 3, Day 3:
Breakfast, check out and take an easy morning hike in the Reserve at Johan’s home in the woods, looking for birds, lizards, and the like. Continue on to Viñales (123 km.). Light lunch on the road. Check into B&Bs. Dinner at a private restaurant and conversation with Nils Navarro, leading Cuban ornithologist, artist, and author of The Endemic Birds of Cuba.
Feb 4, Day 4:
Very early drive to the Sendero de las Maravillas to observe some of Cuba’s endemic birds, palms, lizards, and snails (easy hike). Lunch at the Finca Agroecológica Paraiso. Afternoon visit to a tobacco growing farm. Evening, explore the colorful downtown Viñales for dinner together or on your own.
Feb 5, Day 5:
Check out early and drive to Ciénaga de Zapata National Park (366 km, 5 hours) where we will meet local Cuban bird expert, Adrián Cobas, who will accompany us for the Zapata part of the trip. In Playa Larga visit the Patio de Adrián in Ana’s backyard for unique birding opportunities such as the endemic Zunzuncito (Bee Hummingbird). Check in to our individual B&Bs, (very near each other) with Cuban families. Dinner at Tiki restaurant with Rosendo Martínez, outstanding biologist, conservationist, and conversationalist, who will give us an overview of the National Park System in Cuba.
Feb 6, Day 6:
Early morning drive to Bermejas. Search for endemic species: Bee Hummingbird, Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Grey-fronted Quail-Dove and others. Visit to the Finca Agroecológica Los Cocos in Bermejas for lunch. Then hike the Enigma de las Rocas to study the unique geologic formations and cool off with a swim in a beautiful limestone sinkhole (cenote). On to Playa Girón, site of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Visit the small, but informative museum. Return to Playa Larga for dinner at the home of one of our gracious hosts.
Feb 7, Day 7:
Early breakfast and then morning excursion to Santo Tomás to visit some of the Zapata Swamp’s exquisite tributaries by small pole boats and search for the elusive Zapata Wren and the Zapata Sparrow among other birds. We will bring school supplies to the tiny, rural school and meet with the teacher and students. Sunset visit to Las Salinas with Adrián who will help us spot long-legged waders, raptors, shorebirds and crocodiles.
Feb 8, Day 8:
Breakfast at home. Choice of meaningful interaction with local fishermen or meet with community cooperatives working in the arts, gardening, and conservation. Afternoon free. Evening good-bye dinner with our local Cuban friends.
Feb 9, Day 9:
Very early breakfast and check out. Leave for Topes de Collantes in the Escambray Mountain range (187 Km, 3 hours). Afternoon hike in the pleasant micro climate of the hills among rock formations, streams, falls, natural pools and more, along with interesting vegetation. Dinner in private restaurant.
Feb 10, Day 10:
Early morning bird watching opportunities in different nature-reserve locations and exploration throughout the day. Lunch in the field. Overnight on site.
Feb 11, Day 11:
Leave early for Havana (320 Km, 4.5 hours). Lunch on the way. Visit to the Havana Botanical Gardens and stroll the grounds. Chance for Eastern (Cuban) Meadowlark. Stop briefly at the University of Havana to visit the small natural history museum with biologists, Lourdes Mugica and Alieny González, Cuban ornithologists and professors at the University.
Sunset cocktails at Hotel Nacional. Check in to our apartments in La Habana Vieja, with great views of the fort, entrance to the bay, and the famous bay promenade, the Malecón. Dinner at Brújula restaurant.
Feb 12, Day 12:
Breakfast at Cinco Esquinas. Walking tour of Old Havana with historian and Martí scholar, Rubén Javier Pérez. Visit Plaza de Armas; Government House; San Geronimo University; Cathedral Plaza; visit Julio Larramendi art gallery; Plaza San Francisco; and.
Lunch at Lamparilla #361. Afternoon guided visit at The National Museum of Cuban art. Visit
Kamyl Bullaudy’s art studio. Dinner at Beirut middle eastern restaurant.
Feb 13, Day 13:
Breakfast and final look around Havana. Flight out of Cuba. Time and airports to be determined. ¡Hasta pronto!
Trip Leaders: Along with our encounters with impressive Cuban colleagues throughout the trip, you will be assisted every day by Soledad Pagliuca, experienced traveler, cultural interlocutor, and bilingual tour leader from The Friendship Association, and Paul Baicich, bird conservationist, author, and seasoned bird guide. Both have led delegations to Cuba multiple times, with an abundance of varied experience.
Payments, Cancellations, and Refunds (final payment by November 15, 2023)
Cost: $3,800 (per person, double occupancy) Add $450 for single supplement (if available). Limited to a maximum of 10 participants.
Included: membership in the Friendship Association; air transportation to and from Cuba from Ft. Lauderdale or Miami; Cuban visa; medical insurance in Cuba; all transportation within Cuba; all hotels and bed and breakfasts; all group meals in Cuba; restaurant tips; entrance fees; and tour guides. Since people’s drinking habits vary greatly, to be fair, participants are responsible for all their own drinks, except bottled water.
Not included: transportation within the U.S.; personal tips such as those for Cuban guides, drivers, housekeepers, and porters; drinks other than water; extra suitcases and overweight; travel insurance.