April 11 to April 26, 2012

Cuba Map

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Woke up at 4:30 AM and left the Miami Airport Sheraton Hotel at 5:15 AM for airport terminal. Departed from Miami airport at 9:00 AM

Havana Bound

and arrived in Havana, Cuba at approximately 10:00 AM. Boarded a bus in Havana at 11:15 AM and met our Cuban Ministry of Tourism guide Alex.


Drove to Hotel National de Cuba to exchange money to CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos).

Hotel National de Cuba

Lunch at El Patio Resturant in Havana's city center.
El Patio Restaurant - Havana El Patio Restaurant - Menu
Our Cuban leader was ornithologist Alejandro from the Instituto de Ecologia y Sistematica.

Alejandro Llanes

After lunch we drove to San Diego de los Baños and La Güira National Park, Pinar Del Rio. We had a restroom break at La Chorrera Campismo. Picked up Cesar, our local guide, and headed to the national park for late afternoon birding (5:00-7:00 PM).
San Diego de los Banos San Diego de los Banos
Dinner was at our hotel, the Hotel Islazul Mirador (AKA Hotel Islazul San Diego de los Baños) at 7:30 PM,.

Hotel Mirador - our room

Enjoyed lobster and the musical entertainment. We were in bed by 10:00 PM.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Woke up at 5:00 AM with breakfast at 5:45. Drove to Cueva de Los Portales in Pinar del Rio Province (11 km west of Parque La Güira) at 6:30 AM to bird and visit the cave where Ernesto 'Che' Guevara had his headquarters during the October, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Che's Cave - sign Che's Cave - sign detail
Che's Cave Che's Cave - Che's bed
At 9:15 we drove to City of Crossroads. Cesar left us, and we continued on to Las Terrazas, designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1984.

Las Terrazas

Las Terrazas is a small community and nature reserve in Pinar del Río province and is located in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range. This ecotourism center is situated in an area of around 5,000 hectares, in which a project of a sustainable rural economy is being developed, based on the rational use of its natural resources for tourism. The nearby ruins of French coffee plantations from the 19th century are tourist attractions and a source of income for the locals.

Conservation Exchange:
At 11:00 AM we met with Fidel Figuero, director of Sierra Rosario Biosphere Reserve
(Click this line to view or hide the discussion)

Guide Leonardo joined our group, and we had a pre-lunch cocktail and entertainment at the outdoor bar overlooking the lake at Las Terrazas followed by lunch from 12:30-1:30 PM at Casa del Campesino (Las Terrazas). Enjoyable outdoor local dining.
Las Terrazas - Entertainment Las Terrazas - Bar
Took a tour of Las Terrazas, a community of 1,000 people, with Leonardo. At 2:05 we sampled coffee grown on the property (yum) at a coffee house's balcony overlooking the water. Birded the property and finished off the afternoon with a visit to an art studio.
Estudio Aloma Estudio Aloma - Art

Drove to Cañada del Infierno for additional birding. Drove back to our hotel, Ambos Mundos (a must for Hemingway fans) in old Havana.
Hotel Ambos Mundos - Entrance Hotel Ambos Mundos - Our Room
Hotel Ambos Mundos - Lobby
Dinner at Café La Mina located on the Plaza de Armas in old Havana. The food was adequate.
La Mina Restaurant - Havana La Mina Restaurant - Havana

  • Observation: I saw roaming cats (5-6) in the restaurant. The caged Cuban parakeets were a turn-off.
    Bed at 10:00.PM.

    Friday, April 13, 2012

    Up at 6:00 AM and breakfast at 7:00 on the rooftop with outdoor service and seating. Provided a nice view of Havana. Left the hotel at 8:15 and drove to next conservation exchange.

    Conservation Exchange:
    Met in Aula Ecologica of the Quinta de los Molinos with the Foundation for Patrimony, Community and Environment presided by Ana Lourdes Soto. Also met with Raul Acosta with the project Aves de la Ciudad (City birds).
    (Click this line to view or hide the discussion)

    At 11:05 AM we visited Revolution Square

    Revolution Plaza - Havana

    and at 11:30 had a Havana city tour. Lunch at Doña Eutimia restaurant was at noon,

    Paladar Doña Eutimia

    a paladar located opposite an artist’s workshop and within a few meters of the large state restaurant, El Patio, on Cathedral Square. Food at this paladar or privately-run restaurant was excellent. At 2:15 PM we drove to the Zapata Peninsula (4 hour drive). We had a restroom break at 4:35 at Finca Campesina. Did some birding there. Sampled some local mango and bought some cappuccino (served with a piece of sugar cane). At 5:05 we picked up our local Zapata guide, Estre. While heading to our hotel, the Hotel Playa Giron, we saw our first land crab explosion (5:30 PM). The roadway and sides of the road were covered with land crabs migrating from the nearby water to the forest. No way to avoid squashing them! Arrive at hotel around 5:40 PM. Had ant swarms in our first room and were able to switch to another room. The second room didn't have hot water--lived with it.
    Hotel Playa Giron Hotel Playa Giron - our room
    Had dinner at 7:30 and went to bed at 10:00 PM.

    Saturday, April 14, 2012

    Up at 5:45 AM with breakfast at 6:30. Left for birding at Bermejas Reserve near Playa Larga, Zapata Peninsula at 6:50.

    Zapata National Park Sign

    Birded there until 9:15 and then drove to a different site on the reserve for more birding. At 10:05 begin birding at a third site and at 11:00 birded a fourth site. Headed to La Casa del Pescador at La Cueva de los Peces (Cave of the Fishes) for lunch at 11:15. The cave is a 201-foot-deep sinkhole filled with multicolored fish that enter through a subterranean passage.

    Cave of the fish

    Cave of the fish

    At 1:25 PM leave for meeting with Zapata area conservationalists.

    Conservation Exchange:
    Órgano CITMA de la Ciénaga de Zapata-Centro de Interpretacion Ambiental
    (Click this line to view or hide the discussion)

    At 2:50 PM stopped at Guama Park (Guamá Complejo turistico). Did some birding there. Relaxed and had a cappuccino. At 4:00 PM birded in the Sopillar region of the reserve. We left the reserve at 6:35 PM, just before heavy rains hit the area. Dinner at 7:30 at our hotel, the Hotel Playa Giron. Got to bet at 10:00 PM..

    Sunday, April 15, 2012

    Woke at 4:10 AM. with breakfast at 5:00 AM. Left for La Turba area at 5:35 to look for the Zapata Wren (successful). At 10:10 we had a rest stop at Guama Park (Guamá Complejo turistico). In Palpite we looked for forest birds. We had a 12:00 lunch at the Hostal Mayito, a palador in a modern style house located thirty meters away from the beach, in Playa Larga. By far, the best food we had in Cuba. The crocodile, shrimp, and lobster were delicious.

    Hostal Mayito

    At 1:50 PM we drove to Salinas and birded along a 21 km road bordered by wetlands and mangrove swamps.

    Conservation Exchange:
    Korimacao Community Project
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    At 7:10 PM stopped at Bay of Pigs Monument for photos.

    Bay of Pigs Memorial

    Dinner was at 8:15 at our hotel, the Hotel Playa Giron, and bed at 11:00 PM..

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Up at 6:20 AM. Had breakfast at 7:00 and left for Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at 8:30 AM. Trinidad is a town located in the province of Sancti Spíritus, in central Cuba. Walked around the city center. Had lunch at the Trinidad Colonial Restaurant.
    Restaurant Trinidad Colonial Restaurant Trinidad Colonial
    Restaurant Trinidad Colonial
    Visited several shops. A 3:15 PM stopped at La Canchanchara for a regional drink, the Canchanchara, and listen to bongo drums.

    Trinidad - Lunch

    Departed for Sancti Spiritus. At 3:46 drove through Sugarmill Valley. Arrived at Trinidad at 5:00.

    Conservation Exchange:
    Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity (FANJ)
    (Click this line to view or hide the discussion)

    Drove to our hotel, the Villa Los Laureles. The view from our balcony to the right.

    Villa los Laureles

    The view from our balcony to the Left.

    Villa los Laureles

    Villa los Laureles

    Had dinner at hotel at 7:30 PM. In bed by 10:00 PM.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

    Up at 6:15 AM and breakfast at 7:15. Depart for Camagüey at 8:30. Birded from the bus along the way. At 10:10 we took a rest stop at Parador Rio de Azul.

    Parador - Rio de Azul

    Birded at the rest stop. Another long drive. Stoped at 12:20 PM for lunch at La Campana de Toledo-Plaza San Juan de Dios in Camagüey.
    La Campana de Toledo - Plaza San Juan de Dios La Campana de Toledo
    La Campana de Toledo - Joanne La Campana de Toledo - Joanne
    At 13:40 we headed to our hotel, the Gran Hotel Camagüey, and

    Camaguey - Gran Hotel Plaza

    at 2:30 we drove to Najasa to bird from 4:00-6:20. Drove back to Camagüey and had dinner at our hotel from 8:15-9:45. Interesting meal: The grilled chicken breast that I ordered morphed into a deep fried leg and thigh. French fries still had ice in them. Recommendation: do not eat here! Bed and some much needed sleep at 11:00 PM.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2012

    Up at 5:15 AM with breakfast at 6:00. Left for Najasa at 6:30 and birded the same area as yesterday afternoon and evening. Done birding at 11:45. Lunch (12:30-1:45) at the lodge on the grounds of Finca La Belén, a working horse ranch located 36 km southeast of Camagüey in the "Sierra del Chorrillo" Managed Resources Protected Area.

    Sierra del Chorrillo

    Brad got ill, probably dehydration from walking in the sun all morning.

    Sierra del Chorrillo - Path

    Drove back to our hotel, the Gran Hotel Camagüey. We had a nap time starting at 3:00 PM. Dinner at 7:15 PM at a local palador. To bed at 11:00 PM.

    Thursday, April 19, 2012

    Woke at 6:00 AM and breakfast at 7:00. Left at 8:30 for Cayo Coco on Cuba's northern coast. Rest stop near Morón at 11:15. Lunch and siesta at our hotel, the Hotel Sol Cayo Coco.

    Cayo Coco - Checking In

    Cayo Coco - Our Room

    Went with local guide Odey for birding around the area from 3:00-6:20 PM (Brad didn't go). Birded Oxidation Lagoon, Cayo Guillermo, and Cayo Paredón. Dinner at 7:30 at our hotel and bed at 11:00 PM.

    Friday, April 20, 2012

    Up early at 5:30 AM. Breakfast at 6:00 and went birding at 7:00. (Brad didn't go.) Birded at Cayo Romano, Paredón and Cayo Guillermo.

    Cayo Guillermo

    Return to our hotel, the Hotel Sol Cayo Coco at 11:25. Lunch at 12:45. Had a free afternoon to browse local shops, sit on our lanai, and relax.

    Cayo Coco

    Dinner at 7:30 and bed at 11:00 PM.

    Saturday, April 21, 2012

    Up at 5:50 AM to finish packing, Breakfast at 7:30. Left the hotel at 8:30 AM for long drive back to Camagüey. Birded from the bus on the way. Lunch in Camagüey at the palador we ate at on the 18th.

    Camaguey - Lunch

    Camaguey Airport and our bus

    Left Camagüey 7:10 PM after a departure delay. Arrive Miami 8:30 PM. At our hotel, the Airport Sheraton, the group ordered pizza (9:45 PM) for our "last supper". Bed at 11:30 PM.

    Sunday, April 22, 2012

    Left Miami at 11:37 AM and arrived in Houston at 1:24 PM.