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  • You will enjoy the advantage of all the attention you get in a small group, for the same price or perhaps even less, than you will pay if you travel with the large tour groups from other countries
  • Remember, the next time you travel, you do not have to miss the birdwatching if your partner or travel companions are non birders; a local guide is flexible, and will easily accommodate other needs too
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Birdwatching in Cuba

With more than 350 species of birds including 22 endemics Cuba is well worth a visit if you are a birder. Cuba with it’s many small islands and keys is the largest tropical island in the Caribbean, and with approximately 20% forest area and wetland, you will find plenty of opportunities for excellent birding especially if you are guided by an experienced Birdingpal guide, who not only know the local hotspots, but offer an opportunity to experience the culture and it’s people.

"Cuban Trogon the National Bird"

Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve, the Zapata Swamp area, Turquino National Park, Desembaco del Granma National Park, Caguanes National Park and the tropical rainforests of Alexander von Humboldt National Park shows Cuba’s diversity and beauty and you will not forget your birdwatching here for a long time.

Electronic map of Cuba

Tour I

8 day birdwatching tour to Cuba

Day 1 - Arrive to Havana.
Arrive in Havana Airport. Welcome by our English speaking birdwatching guide/driver. Transfer to Accommodation (35 min).
Dinner. Overnight Habana Bed & Breankfast.

"Female Bee Hummingbird"

Day 2 - Viñales Valley.
Early in the morning we will drive to Viñales Valley (2hrs from Havana) and we will visit the Maravillas de Viñales, a wonderful trail with lots of interesting birds.
Here we will see the Cork Palm (Microcycas calocoma) considered a living fossil and the Cuban Trogon, the national bird.
There is a good opportunity to see the Cuban Grassquit, with a marvelous coloration. The Cuban Pygmy Owl is one of the most interesting birds during the journey. We will find many Cuban Toddies calling everywhere in the forest, tiny jewels that Combines wonderful colours. The Black-throated Warbler is a colourful migrant, usually easy to find in trees. The Red-legged Honey Creeper is a noisy bird that moves in flocks looking for food in flowers and ripe fruits; males have a beautiful combination of blue, black, white and red. The Indigo Bunting is rare, but possible to see on the trail. The nice coloured Stripe-header Tanager is quite common. The White-eye Vireo is usually found after hearing its melodious call. The Key West Quail Dove is a rare bird but possible to find. Zenaida Doves are very easy to observe in flocks along the cultured fields.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Overnight Viñales Bed & Breankfast.

"Blue-headed Quial-dove"

Day 3 - La Güira National Park.
7:00 am in the morning transfer to La Güira National Park (1hrs from Viñales). In the beautiful park-like setting the Great Lizard Cuckoos scuttle along the branches, looking for lizards and tree frogs. This former estate still has some standing colonial buildings, and its woodland trails echo with the cooing song of the beautiful Cuban Trogon, Cuba’s National bird, so chosen because it has all the colours of the Cuban flag in its plumage. We will also visit Cueva de los Portales. This limestone cave was headquarter of Che Guevara during the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960s and became a national monument being interesting from both a geological and an historical point of view. Around the cave it is possible to hear the beautiful voice of the Cuban Solitaire.
Breakfast, picnic lunch and dinner. Overnight Soroa Bed & Breankfast.

"Stygin Owl"

Day 4 - Ciénaga de Zapata.
In the morning we will take the Highway from San Diego de los Baños to Playa Larga (5hrs from San Diego), but we will bird during the drive. Our destination is the fabled Zapata Swamp. This area was declared a biosphere preserve in 2000 and Ramsar site in 2001. It covers an area of 628,171 hectares and is the largest and best-conserved wetland in Cuba. In the afternoon we wioll bird Zapata (Bermejas and Soplillar areas).
Breakfast, picnic lunch and dinner. Overnight Soroa Bed & Breankfast.

"Bee Hummingbird"

Day 5 - Ciénaga de Zapata.
Today we will explore Las Salinas part of the Zapata Peninsula. To get to Las Salinas del Brito Fauna Reserve on the peninsula, we will travel along a road that makes its way through savannahs, mangrove thickets and sub-tropical forests.
This 91 000 acre salt marsh in one of the most important migratory flyways in the northern Caribbean. The mudflats support large numbers of Great Flamingos, Egrets, Whistling Ducks, the Cuban Black Hawk, the Capper Rail and Osprey.
In the afternoon we will bird the Palpite zone, where it is possible to observe many forest birds and some interesting shorebirds.
Breakfast, picnic lunch and dinner. Overnight Playa Larga hotel.
Day 6 - Cayo Coco.
Early in the morning we will drive to Cayo Coco (5hrs from Playa Larga), and visit several localities to looks for Zapata Sparrow (even easier to observe here than in Zapata Swamp), Oriente Warbler, Cuban Gnatcatcher, Piping Plover, Black-bellied Plover and Sanderling.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Overnight Cayo Coco hotel.

"Cuban Parakeet"

Day 7 - La Belen Farm.
Early in the morning we drive to La Belen Farm. (3hrs from Cayo Coco). This area is famous for birdwatching, because is the best place to see very rare birds such as: Palm Crow, Giant Kingbird, Plain Pigeon, Cuban Grassquit, Fernandina’s Flicker, Gundlach’s Hawk, Whislink Duck and many wintering warblers.
Breakfast, picnic lunch and dinner. Overnight Belen Bed & Breankfast.
Day 8 - Departure Day.
7:00am transfer to Airport Havana or hotel for extension of holidays. This is an 8hrs drive from Camaguey with stop for lunch in Santa Clara.


7 Day tour price is: for more information about pricing or anything else, please contact me. Regards Chino Zapata
Single supplement: US$425

50% deposit when booking and balance 1 month prior to departure. If less than 1 month to departure full payment.

Due to currency fluctuations and fuel cost we reserve the right to adjust any pricing prior to departure.

Convert your tour cost into your currency of choice.

Included:
Lodging, food, transportation, entrance fees to parks, guide fees.
Excluded:
Alcoholic drinks, any items of a personal nature, travel insurance, international airfare.


Should you only need a guide for a day please contact Orestes or Angel.   

Note: The internet in Cuba is often very slow, so please have a little patience for us to reply. Thank you.

Birding guide Orestes Martinez (El chino de Zapata), your local Birdingpal guide.
Chino is a biologist, a naturalist and native of the Zapata Swamp with 40 years of experience as a natural history guide specialising in birds. He has published several articles relating to endangered species the Journal of Caribbean Ornithology and in “Ciencias Biológicas de la Universidad de la Habana”, a journal of the University of Havana. He has been guiding for more than 40 years for thousands of ornithologists and scientists who have visited Cuba.
He has completed a diploma in environmental education for sustainable development of the island of Cuba and has taken postgraduate courses in conservation and the study of birds as well as participating in several international meetings on ornithology in different countries. He has also received recognition from various international conservation organizations: National Wildlife Federation, WWF and national recognition by the Scientific Council due to his work on the conservation of flora and fauna of the Zapata Swamp and other parts of Cuba. He is currently an environmental education project leader for children from the schools of the Zapata area.


Birding guide Angel Martinez, your local Birdingpal guide.
Angel is a trained forest protection officer and native of the Zapata Swamp who currently works as a specialist guide in the Zapata National Park. He has been guiding for 30 years and has shown the birdlife of Zapata to hundreds of birdwatchers who have visited the region. He has completed several postgraduate studies of the conservation of birds, as well as ecotourism courses and also presented work in different specialized publications. He has worked with the National Museum of Natural Sciences of Cuba as well as on a voluntary basis in environmental education work in schools of the Zapata area and has several awards for his dedication to nature conservation.

Testimonials.
My daughter and I visited Cuba in March. Orestes Martinez Garcia (el Chino de Zapata) was our guide for a week, and what a marvellous guide he was! We combed the countryside for endemic species and spring migrants (lots of warblers). We managed to see all the endemics present in the western half of the country except those currently nesting, and were delighted with that. Chino did his utmost to accommodate our interests. In addition to birding, we visited several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, lots of lovely beaches, went scuba diving once and out to hear traditional music one evening. The casas partculares we stayed in were very comfortable, with gracious hosts and delicious food. Fresh fruit with every meal was a welcome winter treat! I highly reccommend a birding trip with Chino. You will be in very capable hands! J. Hamilton, Toronto
I just got back from an 11 day one-on-one birding trip to Cuba with El Chino of Zapata as a birding guide. What an interesting experience that has turned out to be! El Chino is a fabulous guide and really knows his birds. Looking for that elusive Cuban Solitaire wasn't easy but we persevered and were rewarded by having it sing it's beautiful melodious song over and over within 15-20 feet of us - and I was able to film it as well. Also the beautiful Cuban Trogon and the little jewel, the Cuban Tody. Even the very hard to find Bee Hummingbirds showed themselves to us (a few pairs of males and females) within about 20 feet of us and I watched and filmed them for a long time - what "eye candy"! There were many more birds and I have made a terrific video of them. If you are interested, my email is (froeseev(AT)telus.net). El Chino placed me in the Cuban B&B's and I got to know the Cuban people much better this time than when I went with a larger group a few years ago and we stayed in hotels. The food was also great and I never got sick even though I drank tap water and ate a lot of fresh salads and vast amounts of their fresh fruits. All in all it was a once in a lifetime experience and I feel fortunate to have had it! Thanks Chino!!! Eva Froese, Grand Forks, B.C.
Over the course of the last 24 years I have worked with both Chino and Angel as guides with groups of birders, as well as working with them on conservation projects in the Zapata Swamp. They are both superb bird guides who work hard to find the specialities of the area. When I arrive there with a group, I know that they will already have found the best place to see Bee Hummingbird, where the Stygian Owl is roosting and which is the best trail to find quail-doves. I always send individual birders to them because I know that no-one will be disappointed.
Essentially, you must (by law) have a guide to bird in the forests and swamps of Zapata and if you want to get the best from your visit, then use Chino or Angel because they are the best – you may even get to see the Zapata Rail although I haven’t… yet!
Feel free to contact me about employing Chino or Angel for your trip and also about the rest of your Cuba tour. I arrange tours for groups and individuals. I agree an itinerary with you and then get a price for the services required – accommodation, flights (from UK only), car hire, local guides, reserve entrances in any combination – from Havanatour UK, a subsidiary of a Cuban tour operator. These services are then booked for you by Havanatour UK who are ATOL bonded for your security. I provide information on finding birds, driving in Cuba, comprehensive directions using Google Earth and any other information you may require. You do not pay for my services as I work on commission for Havanatour. Contact me with no obligation at andy@witsend.freeserve.co.uk
Just a note to tell you that we used the services of "el chino" last week for a day in Cuba and were extremely satisfied with his expertise. I wish we'd been able to spend more time with him, and indeed hope to return to Cuba in the near future and do just that. Thanks for a great website. Regards, Mary and Dave Lord, Canada.
Angel Martinez, our local guide in Caleta Buena, is an experienced birdwatching guide and led birding trips every day to see the Blue Headed Quail Dove among with other extraordinary birds. His brother, El Chino, also helped with accomodations in a bed and breakfast that were excellent and right on the beach. I couldn't have asked for a better guide and service. We had a wonderful time in the Bosque de Zapata on the south side of the island of Cuba. It was very easy to get to from Havana where we rented a car.
Elena Espinosa


Notes:
All the date of itineraries include arrival and departure dates.
All trips are available year round, but prices may be adjusted around special holidays.
Minimum lead time 1 month.
To check availability for tours on short notice, fill out “Request for Quote” form with desirable dates.
Birding season: Best from November to May.
Fitness:
Our routes are relatively easy walking over short distances. Slightly more challenging trails can be walked with fitter groups. If you have any concerns regarding levels of fitness required, please ask for more details.
Equipment: Clothing - Dress for hot and humid tropical weather and be prepare for rain. Light clothing is recommended: cotton shirts and t-shirts (earth colors preferable), long and short pants, closed shoes or trainers (not sandals), hat, insect repellent and sun block.
Gear - Binoculars, scope and camera.
Travel insurance: strongly recommended.

Some facts about Cuba.

History: It was discovered by Christopher Columbus on October 27th, 1492. Conquest and colonization brought about the extermination of the aboriginal inhabitants, and then they brought blacks from Africa as slaves. This mixture defined Cuban population and culture. On October 10th, 1868 began the struggle for independence against Spain, whose domination was kept for four centuries. The United States intervened in the conflict and established a pseudo republic in 1902 until January 1st, 1959, when the Revolution led by Fidel Castro triumphed, bringing in essential transformations for the country.
State and Government: The National Assembly of People´s Power (Parliament) is the State’s supreme power, represented by the Council of State, between session periods; and with representation at provincial, municipal and circumscription levels. The Council of Ministers is the supreme executive and administrative organ and constitutes the government of the Republic of Cuba.
Political-Administrative Division and Main cities: The country is divided into 14 provinces and a special municipality. The most important cities according to their economic development and population are: Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara, Holguín, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Pinar del Río, Ciego de Ávila, Bayamo and Guantánamo.
National Symbols: The Flag - It was first raised in the city of Cárdenas (Matanzas Province), when in 1850 a group of insurrectionist took up arms against the Spanish colonial power. The three blue stripes represent the departments that the Island was divided into at that time. The two white stripes evoke the purity in the intentions for independence of our people. The equilateral triangle stands for freedom, equality and fraternity. Its red colour is the announcement of the blood that would be necessary to shed in order to achieve our independence. The white and lone star is the symbol of absolute freedom. When the War of Independence started on October 10th, 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes ordered another flag with a different design; that one now stands next to the national emblem during sessions of the Cuban Parliament. The Coat of Arms It is shaped like an oval shield. Its upper section portrays a golden key that symbolizes Cuba’s key position between the two Americas, therefore the name “The Key to the Gulf”. The rising sun stands for the emergence of a new nation. The three blue stripes, separated by two white ones, represent the departments that Cuba was divided into, during the colonial period. The Royal Palm that appears in the third space or quarter represents the noble and serene firmness of the Cuban people. National Anthem - It was the patriot Perucho Figueredo who composed, in 1867, the music of the Anthem. Later, in 1868, when the independence forces seized the city of Bayamo (Granma Province), Figueredo himself wrote the lyrics: People of Bayamo, up on arms to go into battle for the Homeland contemplates you with proud Fear not a glorious death, for dying for the Homeland is like living. To remain in chains is to live in dishonour and vile subjugation O, hark to the call of your nation take up arms, all ye brave sons, The National Flower The White Mariposa or Butterfly Lily (Hedychium Coronarium Koenig). An endemic jasmine species used by the Cuban women in the wars of independence to pass messages on to the battlefields. It symbolizes purity, rebelliousness and independence. It grows in humid places as river banks and lagoons, but it is also cultivated in yards and gardens of many Cuban houses. National Tree - It is the Royal Palm. Although it is not indigenous of Cuba, it is present in the country’s whole landscape.
Cuban archipelago extends itself on the north of the central and west Caribbean Sea and closes the great Antilles arch. Due to its high biological diversity and endemic flora and fauna, besides its high historical and patrimonial values, 35 protected areas, seven national parks, six Ramsar wetland sites, six world Biosphere Reserves and nine sites that have been proclaimed World Heritage are worth mentioning.
Climate: In relation to its geographical position and location, in Cuba a tropical climate with humid maritime influence is predominant. Average annual temperature is 25,4º C and 26º C in the eastern region.
Flora and fauna: In the Cuban archipelago there are not dangerous animals or plants. It is considered a real habitat mosaic that allows the development of a great biodiversity, among the best varied, preserved and attractive in the Caribbean. Among the many species registered there are 963 fish, 1100 crustaceans, 350 birds and 1468 mollusks. Some species, very-well known for their small size are also registered; among them we have the Cuban little frog (eleutherodactylus iberia), the butterfly bat (Matalus lepidus) and the world´s smallest hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae). Cuban flora is considered one of the richest insular floras in the world, with 4% of all the species reported on the planet.
Population: More than eleven million inhabitants make up Cuban population, in a peculiar Spanish, African and Asian race mixture.
Language: Spanish is the official language.
Currency: Peso is the national currency, with the equivalence of 100 cents. There are 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos notes in circulation. There are 1 and 3 pesos coins and 1, 2, 5 and 20 cents coins. There is also the Peso Cubano Convertible (CUC) in circulation, which is exchanged for foreign currencies according to the officially established exchange rates.
We recommend
   Eyewitness Travel Guide Cuba

More facts about Cuba.

Field Guide books and CD’s recommended:

Bird Songs Cuba – George B. Reynard, Cornell, Ithaca.
Garrido, O.H. and A Kirkonnell. 2000. Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba. Cornell University Pres, Ithaca.

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Last update 20/02/2014