Vira Natura

Cuba - Jewel of the Caribbean

21 January - 6 February 2023
From $5,850.00 per person
The largest island in the Caribbean, with a culture that continues to live at its own tempo, with its own distinctive style and resounding with iconic music. It is also a land of richly varied landscapes, which nurture a diverse and surprising flora, from architectural palms, to sweet-scented frangipangi, and mighty cacti to lush forests filled with tree ferns. This tour takes a thorough look into the diverse tropical flora and stunning terrain it lives in. There will also be time given to the birdlife of Cuba, which contains many endemic species. And, there is time to soak up some culture and the atmosphere of this singular nation. Who could resist a night out in unique old Havana to the sound of that music and a couple of Bacardi rums?
 

 

Day 1     Arrive in Havana (21 January)

Transport to the famed historical quarter of the city for the night. La Havana was founded in 1515 and named after the daughter of a famous Taíno chief. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine - waves lap against a weathered, mildewed sea wall, a young couple cavort in the dark, whilst in a dilapidated alley a guitar and voices harmonize over a drum rhythm. Nobody could have invented Havana. It’s too audacious, too contradictory, and despite 50 years of withering neglect too damned beautiful. Don’t come here looking for answers. Just arrive with an open mind and prepare yourself for a long and slow seduction. 

Day 2     Fly to Holguin

In the afternoon we will visit Roca Azul and Las Guanas trails, on the north coast through semi-deciduous woods and montane serpentine cuabal, as well as a strip of mangrove forest. Plants include Hildelgardia cubensis, the large cactus Dendrocereus arboreus as well as other other striking cacti which are well represented in the drier ecosystems of Cuba. Among bird species: Cuban Blackbird, Cuban Oriole, Greater Antillean Grackle and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird and others.

Day 3     Pinares de Mayarí.

We will ascend La Bandera hill to Sierra de
Nipe Plateau through areas of Cuban Pine (Pinus cubensis), up to montane serpentine charrascal and other relict forest patches. This area has a rich diversity of threatened native and range-restricted endemic species such as Agave shaferi, Euphorbia podocarpifolia, Plumeria nipensis and Coccothinax orientalis, Guettarda ferruginea, G. monocarpa, G. sciaphila, pink Hibiscus maculatus subsp. nipensis, also several species of the showy woody genera Tabebuia, Psychotria and Psidium. Among birds are the diminutive Bee Hummingbird (the smallest in the world), Cuban Pygmy Owl, Stygian Owl Cuban Green woodpecker, Northern Flicker (with reddish tone), Cuban Tody, Giant Kingbird, Cuban Vireo, Oriente Warbler West Indian Woodpecker and Cuban Solitaire. Overnight in Mayarí.

Day 4     Salto del Río Guayabo & Baracoa.

Today we experience humid Cuban forest with a walk to the impressive Rio Guayabo waterfall, passing through lusher vegetation, pine and riparian forest, with endemic species, such as Spathelia cubensis, orchids, ferns and bromeliads. After lunch, we will depart for Baracoa via Moa, where we can see: Hemithrinax rivularis and Coccothrinax moaensis and at Cayo Guam, we will look for Cubanola daphnoides, Cameraria orientalis and sweet scented Plumeria ekmanii near the large river. Another stop in Yamanigüey, finds Dracaena cubensis, Schmidtottia shaferi (or three-day flower), Spathelia splendens, a native blue Jacaranda arborea, as well as very attractive landscapes with various habitats.  Baracoa was one of the first places the Europeans reached in the New World. In 1490 Christopher Columbus recognized the value of the harbour here and christened the town Porto Santo. Thankfully, despite their best efforts, the Spanish never wiped out the indigenous population completely meaning there are direct descendants living here, which adds to the town’s diversity and pride. Overnight Baracoa.

Day 5     Yunque de Baracoa.

Today we will hike up through evergreen and submontane rain forests to an area of mogotes on eastern karst limestone, that has many endemic species and rare species with cycads such as Zamia erosa, beautiful pink Passiflora cubensis scrambles through the shrubs and other plants include Erythroxylum baracoense, Croton yunquesis, Ekmania lepidota, Talauma oblongata, bromeliads and the ancient conifer Podocarpus victorinianus. Important birds to watch out for include Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Parrot, Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Crow, Oriente Warbler, Gundlach Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk (local subspecies, possibly a full endemic species), and you will be in the area of Cuban Kite. Overnight Baracoa.

 

Day 6     Humboldt National Park.

Here we can see lowland rainforests and riparian forest on the Taco river. Surprising plants such as Magnolia minor grow here, but this genus is actually widespread from North America to northern South America (and Asia). On the way to the trail we can see, Coccothrinax alexandri and jata palm Copernicia rigida one of the distinctive Cuban palms that retain large ‘skirts’ of old leaves are are much used in tropical landscape schemes. Among birds can be observed are Cuban Tody, Cuban Vireo, Red-legged Thrush, Cuban Crow and Oriente Warbler. Overnight Baracoa.

Day 7     To Santiago de Cuba.

In Alto de Cotilla we will see exuberant pine forests, evergreen forests and some submontane rainforests, with new palm species such as Coccothrinax bermudezii and C. baracoensis and very attractive mountain landscapes. In various locations en route we will see interesting coastal xerophytic flora and exceptional, evergreen microphyllous forest. There is an abundance of Cactaceae and the stand out species here is probably Melocactus hardlowii, with distinctive topknots with pink flowers. Columnar species include Pilosocereus, Stenocereus, Consolea, Harrisia, and there are impressive rosettes of Agave albescens and Agave underwoodii, together with the slender palm Coccothrinax muñizii and other palms in this palm-rich country; Coccothrinax alexandri subsp. nitida and Sabal domingensis. Several species of birds can be observed: Cuba Gnatcatcher, Zapata Sparrow and Cuban Grassquit among others. Santiago de Cuba was founded in 1514 by Diego Velázquez, first governor of Cuba; it served as the capital of Cuba until 1553. Overnight Santiago de Cuba

Day 8     La Gran Piedra (Great Stone).

There are magnificent views of the coast and surrounding mountains from Gran Piedra, a colossal rock that was formed during the Paleocene volcanism, along with the rest of the Sierra Maestra. It has a calculated weight of 63,000 tons and resides on the summit of a 4020-foot mountain. It is known across the Caribbean.and is a natural watch tower from where the whole mountain range of the Sierra Maestra can be observed as well as, almost the entire southeastern coast. Among its’ spectacular mountain landscapes it harbours rain forests, and pine forests, and with fabulous tree ferns such as Cyathea strigillosa and Alsophila boytelii. Flowering plants include fragrant Magnolia cubensis, silvery Tabebuia hypoleuca, Prestoea acuminata var. montana, Iliciun cubense, a type of avocado; Ocotea cuneata and a native holly Ilex macfadyeni. At Baconao lagoon is mangrove forest with cacti such as Dendrocereus nudiflorus, Pilosocereus polygonus, the extraordinary complex flowers of Passiflora santiagana together with the cycad Zamia angustifolia. Of the various birds we'll hope to see Cuban Emerald, Western Spindalis, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Cuban Bullfinch. Evening flight to Havana and overnight in the city.
 

Day 9     To Pinar del Río

A visit to the viewpoint of the Buenavista coffee plantation ruins allows us to see landscapes of evergreen and semi-deciduous mountain forests, with palm groves of magnificent Roystonea regia (royal palm), one of the finest palms in the world and a mainstay of tropical landscape schemes. There is a diversity of native species associated with them such as; tar gum tree Clusia minor, lancewood Nectandra coriacea, bastard willow Matayba oppositifolia and black lancewood Oxandra lanceolata. At Las Terrazas (Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve) there are interesting ultramontane natural landscapes punctuated with palm groves and pine forests that also hold turpentine tree Bursera simaruba and kapok; Ceiba pentandra (ceiba). Here in the west, such as at La Güira and Cuevas Los Portales, we have switched from Cuban to Caribbean pine Pinus caribaea, and these grow with mountain trumpet Schefflera morototoni, the dwarf cycad Zamia pygmaea, and its larger cousin Zamia erosa, vanilla orchids and the ever present humid-loving Tillandsia bromeliads. Birding is rich in thios area and we'll try for Cuban Pygmy Owl, Stygian Owl, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon, Fernandina’s Flicker, West Indian Woodpecker, Broad-winged Hawk, Giant Kingbird, Yellow-head Warbler, Cuban Grassquit, Cuban Bullfinch, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Western Spindalis, Olive-capped Warbler, Cuban Oriole, Tawny-shouldered Blackbird. Overnight in the lovely Viñales Valley.

Day 10    Reserve de Mil Cumbres

We will follow the Sendero del Cuabal to experience the lowland serpentine cuabal and pine forest, home to wedge-leaf flower Phyllanthus orbicularis, Panama-rose Rondeletia odorata, Plumeria sericifolia (súcheli, lirio), century plant Agave cajalbanensis (maguey), wonderfully named crowned beggarsticks Phyllomelia coronata, the delicate fans of Cuban palm Copernicia glabrescens, Erythroxylum minutifolium (cubanicu), Coccoloba coriacea, as well as orchids such as pink Bletia purpurea and Encyclia spp. (San Pedro flower, chocolate flower). There are also interesting hemiparasites belonging to the genera Phoradendron and Dendropemum. Later in the afternoon on the Jurassic journey trail you can see the wonderful cycad; Microcycas calocoma, the mature ones with
slender trunks. Birdlife includes Cuban Vireo, American Kestrel (Cuban subspecies), White-winged Dove, White-crowned Pigeon and Scaly-naped Pigeon. Overnight Viñales Valley (UNESCO).

Day 11    Viñales Valley

We will explore more of this beautiful valley beginning with the Las Maravillas trail. Viñales National Park protects rich diversity within its exceptional mogotes vegetation complex and varied karstic topography, There are some, spectacular views of their famous Mogotes too. Among the most attractive plant species that you can observe on the Microcycas calocoma, Gaussia princeps, Leucothrinax morrissi, Tabebuia calcicola, the heart-leaved aroids; Anthurium cubense and Anthurium venosum, intense red-flowered Jatropha interregima among other novelties. Overnight Viñales Valley.

Day 12    To Zapata Swamp

Who could resist stop on the way to see the Bee Hummingbird - the smallest bird in the World! Zapata (UNESCO Biosphere Reserve & Ramsar) is the largest wetland in the Caribbean with a high diversity of plants and animals and where most of Cuban endemic birds can be found. Some include Cuban Pygmy Owl, Cuban Oriole and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird. It has more than 900 species of native plants. Arriving in the afternoon tour we will visit the Cueva de los Peces and El enigma de las Rocas trail to look at microphyllous evergreen forest and coastal habitats on limestone, with connected lagoons or cenotes. Flora includes Phlebotaenia cuneata, Ovieda calcicola, Diospyros grisebachii, Ficus crassinervia, Tabebuia myrtifolia, Pilosocereus robinii and various orchids of the genera Encyclia, Tolumnea, VanillaCyrtopodium and Trichrocentrum (flor de flor de San Pedro). Overnight in Zapata.

Day 13    Zapata Swamp

After a beautiful sunrise over Zapata and breakfast we will journey from Caletón-Santo Tomás various forest types including swamp forest and evergreen mesophyllous forest with the bull thatch palms Sabal maritima and S. japa. In addition, temporary lagoons have unusual plant communities with native willow Salix carolineana, waterlilies Nymphaea spp., the large fern; Osmunda regalis, insectivorous Utricularia and orchids such as Bletia purpurea (candelaria). In the afternoon we will depart for Cienfuegos- Trinidad with a brief stop in Babineyes to see palm groves and flooded savannas landscapes. There is a visit to Cienfuegos Botanical Garden(National Monument), to enjoy the collection of palms, where you will be able to see cultivated specimens of many native palms. Stopping in Guajimico there are landscapes of dry coast vegetation combined with cliffs and mangrove strips. A huge cactus stands out here; Dendrocereus arboreus. We can see the distant Escambray mountains and if we have time, we will continue on towards the Ancón Peninsula to see Copernicia macroglossa in a natural environment. Hopefully, we'll also find Zapata Sparrow, Zapata Wren and Gray-fronted Quail Dove. Trinidad is one of the oldest colonial town in Cuba and was founded in 1514 and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Trinidad was the town from where Hernán Cortés recruited men to start his expedition to conquest Mexico. A city tour will include the most important sites of the town. A very active and musical place, where many local musicians play every single night. Overnight Trinidad.
 

Day 14    Topes de Collantes

Today we climb the Topes de Collantes passing through different vegetation bands as we ascend. The submontane rain forests have Cordia valenzuelana, wild avocado Ocotea, abundant ferns and impressive tree ferns such as Cyathea arborea and C. aspera, Alsophila balanocarpaA. cubensis, Cnemidaria horrida; together with orchids of the genera Encyclia, Epidendrum, Bletia, Lepanthes, the very large genus Pleurothallis and the spineless epiphytic cactus Rhipsalis baccifera. Also a place to look out for White-collared Swift, Black-Swift, Cuban Parrot, Cuban Trogon, and Gundlach’s Hawk. Overnight in Trinidad.

Day 15    To Havana

City tour in the morning in Trinidad. Departure to Havana after we finish the city
tour. Arrival in Havana late in the afternoon. The group will meet at dinner at 6:30 pm with a Tropicana Cabaret at night with Cuban music.
 

Day 16    Havana city.

A city tour during the morning and afternoon in order to enjoy the beauty of the city and its music along the street walk. Its 16th-century Spanish colonial architecture includes the Morro Castle at the entrance of Havana Bay and built initially in 1589, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a fort and maritime museum, the baroque Cathedral of San Cristobal constructed between 1748-1777 and Plaza Vieja. The National Capitol building is an iconic 1920s landmark and may other places of great interest and many other highlights in the city.

Day 17    Departure to Havana airport.

International departure flights 6 February.


 



 



TOUR DATES

21 January - 6 February 2023


TOUR COST

Per person: 5995 USD

Single supplement: 750 USD

Included:

  • 16 nights of accommodation
  • All food
  • All transport (inc. Domestic flights)
  • Guiding

Not included:

  • International Flights
  • Travel/Medical Insurance
  • Alcoholic and soft drinks
  • Personal expenses

GROUP SIZE

Minimum number of participants 8; maximum 14.  

Our Cuban guide team

Ramona Oviedo is our highly experienced botanical guide. Born in Villa Clara , Cuba (1953), she is a PHD botanist and currently president of the Cuban Herbarium and main Curator and researcher at the Institute of Ecology and Systematic. She has published an impressive total of 108 papers in national and international Journals and has had an important role in several books. She has collected 35 species new to science and three new records for Cuba and worked in the description of 10 new species. In recognition to his life work a total of 4 plant species have been named to her: Thelypteris oviedoae Eugenia ramonae, Magnolia virginiana subsp. oviedoae and Anastraphia oviedoae as well as a genus, Ramonadoxa cubensis


Birding is in safe hands too with Arturo Kirkconnell Páez (born in Havana, 1959) a biologist who has studied at the Institute of Ecology and Systematic, and the National Museum of Natural History) as well as courses in Ornithology, Malacology, Ecology, Animal Behaviour, and Evolution, in Havana University and the various institutes in the US. He was Curator of the Ornithology Department at National Museum of Natural History in Cuba between 1988 to 2017. He has published several important books including; A field Guide to the Birds of Cuba (2000); A birdwatchers’ Guide to: Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Caymans (2010), Birds of Cuba A photographic Guide. (2020) and the forthcoming A New Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba together with new fewer than 90 papers.



Similar Tours

For more information on our tours

Turkey: +90 535 4125286 | UK: +44 (0)795 854 6807

or click here to send us an email enquiry