As a travel destination, Cuba is well-known for its amazing culture, charming colonial villages, highly regarded atmosphere and immaculate "playas" But travelers, who are environmentally conscious vacationists, can find more than clichés in Cuba. You can explore the largest Caribbean island which can offer more than any other island in the whole Caribbean Sea by its sources of biodiversity. Home to 263 protected areas and six Unesco biosphere, Cuba has a lot to offer ecotourists.
Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve
Declared an UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1985.
The Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve is situated at the on the east side of the mountain range of Guaniguanico, enclosed by Pinar del Rio and Havana’s provinces of Cuba, where both northern and southern coasts can be observed. It covers an area of 26,686 hectares. This asset shows a complex geological structure, with a great diversity of stones that create diverse and particular soils, which partly, define flora endemism in its scenery. One can come across the little orchid Bletia purpurea, known as a symbol of this reservation. A few parts of the chain have revelations of Serpentine rock, and here, rather of forest, there is grassland and prickly xeromorphic bushes. Still with peculiar features intact, re-creating natural systems, and ecological field station, even if the original forest cover of Sierra del Rosario has been touched, we still can find semidecidous forests, ’cuabales‘, hummocks ’mogotes‘ and secondary forest regeneration species, as the royal palm tree, and ’yagruma‘. Around 6000 people live in this reserve, primarly engaged in agriculture, stock-raising, crafting and afforestation. Local and foreign scientists are drawed into researching and monitoring at the Institute of Ecology and Systematic. They made progress in tropical reforestation, agriculture, local ecotechnology and also advocate the use of non-conventional energy as solar panels. Maybe one of the more fascinating features of the biosphere reserve is its connection with coffee. This area was the the first major plantation in the New World. There is a historical (19th century) coffee drying area at Buenavista, where the techniques and machinery are singularly well conserved.
- To visit: Las Terrazas and Soroa
- In this reserve you can find over 100 bird species f.ex: tocororos (national bird), humming birds,mockingbirds, woodpeckers, tomeguín, cartacubas, nightingales, ducks,mockingbirds..
Cuchillas del Toa Biosphere Reserve
Declared an UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1987
The Cuchillas del Toa Biosphere Reserve, is situated at the Greater Antilles, in the eastern part of Cuba, and most of the reserve is located in the Alexander de Humboldt National Park, which is a Natural Heritage of Humanity. It extends along 208,305 hectares, of which 6,013 belongs to the marine area. The karstic system of the great cave of Moa Head lands is one of the five natural monuments in the country and one of the great cave systems in eastern Cuba. Cuchillas del Toa is recognized as one of the main centers of biodiversity and endemism in Cuba and the insular Caribbean with pouring mountain forests, fog forests and sarcocaule matorral (alluvial plains, hills, canyons, gullies,slopes) to compound seaside vegetation with coral reefs and mangroves.There are around 900 endemic species reported f.ex the caguarero sparrow hawk (Chondrohierax wilsoni), the almiqui (Solenodon cubanus), Podocarpus and Dracaena’botanic jewels‘, Vertebrates as the royal carpenter (Campephilus principalis).A part of the world’s smallest mammal species are discovered in the reserve and includes endemic species f.ex: the polymite - a colorful snail, ivory-billed woodpecker, royal woodpecker. In 498 communities, around 18,300 residents, live in the reserve. Mainly working in traditional agriculture, reforestation and ecotourism, they also collaborate in mining explorations (nickel, chromo, iron,cobalt ). Another exciting feature of this biosphere reserve is its history as battleground for liberty. In the 18th and 19th centuries, black slave people conficts got start of the 20th century Cuban revolution.
Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve
Located on the southern coast of Cuba at Matanzas province, the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve covers 628,171 hectares. It is one of the biggest and most relevant fens in the Caribbean zone with a marine southern limit. Ciénaga de Zapata was indicated as Ramsar site in 2001. This area is a batch biosphere reserve with numerous main zones, precious for its preservation in the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park. This reservation presents a great variety of environment and special soil types f.ex: forests as evergreen coastal and sub-coastal, semi-deciduous, Ciénaga, mangrove etc., grasslands and its coastline is surrounded by smaller islands and lagoons within large, relatively unspoiled coral reefs. The reserve supports the main populations of the Cuban crocodile (Cocodrilus rhombifer) which is highly endangered
and American crocodile (C. acutus) besides birds, there are over 175 species of birds, as the great flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), Zapata Wren, Zapata Rail, and the Zapata Sparrow. Around 9,000 people, mainly of Spanish origin, live in the reservation. The population working in agriculture, tourism, silviculture,apiculture, fisheries and handicraft. Tourism is one of the most important activites, around 800,000 people visit the area annualy, for the welfare of the local communities. As this biosphere reserve includes a whole catchment area and entire protected zones, all long-term projects for conservation, improvement of sustainable land-use actions is met. The Biosphere Reserve has been proclaimed a Special region for sustainable progress.
Buenavista Biosphere Reserve
The Buenavista Biosphere Reserve is located on the northern coast of Cuba, in parts of the Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus and Diego de Avila provinces, it extends along 313,502 hectares.
The Buenavista Biosphere Reserve in two National Parks: Caguanes and Santa Maria Key, has eleven nucleus areas which protect the country's abundance of flora and fauna and contian exeptional cultural and historical values as 35 archaeological sites and caves with rural art and wall paintings. 25,524 permanent residents conduct their life in the biosphere reserve. Mostly working in tourism, pisciculture, agriculture, fisheries, forestry. Tourism has a significant improvement potential, as it brings nearly 7,000 tourists to the area each year. Lots of ecological education programmes are succed in the reservation helping to generate future employment for local people and in the meantime making a low impact on the environment and on local culture trying to reserve their cultural identity. UNESCO is giving assistance to research project on mangroves. Different national and international scientific projects are ongoing and current research activities (hydro-meteorological parameters, possible exploitation of water and therapeutic mud on small islands).
Baconao Biosphere Reserve
Declared an UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1987
The Baconao Biosphere Reserve is located in the Neotropics Province of greater Antilles, at the south-eastern region of Cuba, between Santiago de Cuba and the province of Guantanamo with a total surface of 848.57 km2 It includes different kind of forest as evergreen mesophyl sub-mountain forest,fog forest, the rainy mountain forests and evergreen microphyl coastal and sub-coastal xeromorphic bush forests, with pine forests and column cacti. A beautiful area with picturesque sceneries as its seaside with rocky and sandy habitats, mangroves and cave ecosystems in which we can meet with endemic species as bats (the Funnel Eared Batm, Bulldog Bat,the Pallid Bat and the Cuban Fruit Eating Bat), spiders and insects. Over 38,000 inhabitatns living in this area, mainly engaged in tourism, forestry, cattle raising and in agro-ecosystems with coffee, fruits and ornamental flowers. The fascinating area attracts around 96,000 local and 280,000 foreigners every year. Tourism is benefiting nearly the hole population of the reserve. Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the biosphere is its important archaeological site that defined three ancient native cultures: ‘Siboney’ ‘Protoagricultor’ and ‘agricultor’. It was the place of ancient newcommer coffee plantations (Haitian and French) that also affected local habits on bringing in different kinds of plants for curative, feed and decorative intents. National and international researchers have cooperated in research and monitoring activities, the most important is the ‘Centro Oriental de Ecosistemas y Biodiversidad' (BIOECO).
Penísula de Guanahacabibes
Declared an UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1987.
The Penísula de Guanahacabibes is situated in the southwestern tip of Cuba and it covers an area of 101250 hectar. By its western extremity location in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico makes it unprotected to hurricanes and it was brusquely damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Wilma in 2005. This reserve one of the country's largest natural reserves and is divided from the remains of the island by white-sand plains where one of Cuba's chiefest lakeside areas lies. It holds some 100 lakes, as well as the largest and purest fields of silica sand, which is 99.8% pure. This reserve shows a great diversity of land cover types as semi-deciduous forest with Byrsonima roigii, Callicarpa roigii, Eugenia roigii etc., evergreen forest, mangrove, marshland, pasture land and includes over 665 plants. Its seaside has coastal scrublands, rocky habitats, sand dunes, coral reefs and marine habitats. Its agroecosystems is rich in tobacco and fruits. The penísula de Guanahacabibes is sporadically populated. Nature tourism is a major attraction in the National Park, which includes 191 species of birds including zunzunito hummingbird – the world's smallest bird and 4 of the 7 species of marine turtles as the hawksbill (carey),the loggerhead (caguama) and the green turtle, living on the planet have survived in the Guanahacabibes Peninsula.The peninsula was one of the last refuges of indigenous escaping from the Spanish conquistadors and also holds some 140 archeological sites connected to the life of indigenous. Perhaps one of the more interesting historical aspects of this biosphere that this was the site of Cuba's first forced labor camp, started at the end of 1960.