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Zapata Swamp National Park Areas of Natural Interest, Zapata Swamp. Cuba

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  • Zapata Swamp, Matanzas. Cuba
  • Destination: Zapata Swamp
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The Zapata National Park was declared a world biosphere preserve in 2000 and a Ramsar site in 2001. Located on the peninsula of the same name, the park covers an area of over 1930 square miles (5000 square kilometers) and is the largest, best-preserved wetlands in the Caribbean islands. It is a national, regional and world natural preserve, with fragile ecosystems and important natural resources.

The land is flat and contains the basins of the Hatiguanico and Hanábana Rivers. The Hanábana empties into Laguna del Tesoro, one of the largest lakes in the country, which features a restored Taino Indian village (with life-size statues of the Indians engaging in their everyday activities) on a series of islets. The Tainos were one of the three groups of Indians who lived in Cuba prior to the Spanish Conquest. The coast contains flooded caves and cenotes of extraordinary beauty.

The area is outstanding for the great diversity of its ecosystems, in which more than 1000 species of plants—130 of which are endemic to Cuba and 5 of which are locally endemic—have been identified. Trees that grow in swampy and grassy areas and mangrove thickets predominate.

The fauna includes 37 species of reptiles and 13 kinds of amphibians. The endemic ones include Cuban Crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer), which have the most restricted habitat in the world. An internationally-recognized scientific breeding center here promotes their protection and development.

There are many marine and freshwater fish in the area, including Manjuaríes (Atractosteus tristoechus), which are considered to be living fossils because of the primitive nature of their bodies. However, because of the diversity of ecosystems, birds are the most prolific species in the area. Sixty-five percent (170 species) of the 354 species of birds reported in Cuba can be found here. As a result, bird-watching is extremely popular among tourists.

Such species as Parrots (Amazona leucocephala); Cuban Parakeets (Aratinga euops); Zapata Sparrows (Torreornis inexpectata); and Bee Hummingbirds (Mellisuga helenae), which are an endangered species, build their nests here, as do two locally endemic species: Zapata Rails (Cyanolimnas cerverai) and Zapata Wrens (Ferminia cerverai). You can also see groups of Roseate Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber). Moreover, the Zapata Peninsula is a favorite stopping place for many migratory birds, both land and sea.

Many pre-Columbian archaeological remains have been found on the Zapata Peninsula, and the region’s history also includes the narrow channels that early inhabitants dug to facilitate river travel and the Bay of Pigs Museum at Girón Beach, whose exhibits are related to the 1961 mercenary invasion.

Mapa de Zapata Swamp National Park

Zapata Swamp National Park is located in Zapata Swamp

The Zapata Peninsula, one of the most important ecosystems in Cuba and the largest swamp reserve in the Caribbean, is situated in southern Matanzas. It features exceptional species of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic.

The Montemar Great Natural Park is located in the peninsula. Here, you will find beaches, woods, mangrove swamps, rivers, lakes, flooded caves that open on the sea, natural pools and a seabed of particular beauty. In short, it is an ideal place for day and night scuba diving by both beginners and experienced divers, including the exploration of marine caves., One of the park's main attractions is its cave system, which extends along the coast for 70 km (over 43 miles). The roof of some of these caverns has caved in, turning them into semicircular lakes called "cenotes". The park is also an excellent place to go hiking, horseback riding and boating. In addition, many animals live here, and the international flyways of several kinds of birds go over the park, so you can see both native and migratory species. While in you are in the area, Guamá -a restored Taino Indian village on Laguna del Tesoro (Treasure Lake)-, the crocodile-breeding center and the Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) Museum are musts.

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Review about Areas of Natural Interest: Zapata Swamp National Park
Excellent Ivan

Zapata Swamp
he Zapata swamp, located in the county of Matanzas whose capital is separated for less than 100 kilometers from Havana, is the most extensive municipality and at the same time the less inhabited of Cuba, as a significant contrast; although it possesses 19 populational establishments. Half century behind, a clear image of the life of its residents was the enormous quantity of people who subsisted producing vegetable coal under very unfavorable conditions. The changes are of such a magnitude that the area is presented like one of the tourist attractions in that region. To visit these places constitutes an opportunity to know part of the most recent Cuban history, because places like Playa Girón and Playa Larga are part of the municipality, where happened the facts of the well-known invasion for Bahía de Cochinos in April 1961. There are also very deep caverns near the South coast, whose waters vary from sweet in near areas to the surface until completely salted in the depths. These caverns are the habitat of some species of the marine fauna, including corals and fish. The area presents a humid ecosystem and its lands are constant object of great interest for the environmental protection, because the Zapata Swamp and other coastal areas of the country are true natural laboratories. 30 archaeological places are reported in this area. Besides other tourist places, as the Guamá tourist complex, where the grateful Cuban sculptress Rita Longa sculpted the Taino Village. In Zapata Swamp we can find the biggest wetland in the insular Caribbean, with an approximate area of 300 000 hectares. It has a longitude of 175 kilometers from east to west, among Punta Gorda and Jagua, and a maximum width of 58 Km from north to south. And it holds the most complex calcium drainage system of the country and it is part of the better conserved green regions of the archipelago, a true widespread pride! Near 56 percent of the wetland is covered with forests. In these forests exist 900 floral species, many of them are autochthonous. Besides the presence of 109 kinds of the fauna, with 230 species of birds. (such as Gallinuela de Santo Tomás (Cyanolimnas cerverai) and the Fermina (Ferminia cerverai), considered one of the more restricted birds habitat in the entire world). 12 varieties of mammals, 31 of reptiles and great variety of amphibians and spineless live in the vast area. Also, the biggest center of reproduction of crocodiles is in this municipality (Crocodylus rhombifer), which is endemic of Cuba. This guarantees the continuity of the species besides constituting a tourist attraction. Also the Center of Reproduction of the Cuban parrot (Amazon leucocephala leucocephala), an endemic subspecies was founded. The manjuarí (Atractosteus tristoechus), well-known as the fish crocodile, belonging to the order of the Lepisosteiformes, which constitutes the main objective of the Center of Reproduction of the Indigenous Ictiofauna, where it is also the Cuban turtle of fresh water, well-known as Jicotea Trachemys decussatta. For its treasures, this region was declared with the condition of Reservation of the Biosphere by the UNESCO.

Excellent Lo

The Zapata Swamp, in the Montemar Great Natural Park, is one of the most attractive tourist options in the western Cuban province of Matanzas, in addition to being a paradise par excellence for ecologists. Blue-water beaches, exotic forests, rivers, lakes, flooded caverns, natural ponds, virgin areas and swamp prairies are safe havens for 30 percent of Cuba's autochthonous fauna. Some 171 species of birds stand out, including 18 endemic species, in a territory that has become one of the Island's richest regions to develop ecological tourism. According to experts, the region is inhabited by a variety of crocodile that can only be found in the Cuban archipelago, in addition to manatees, which are considered a treasure of the national fauna. In the geographic center of this region stands out Playa Larga, with its 400 meters of warm water, excellent sand, coral reefs and several natural paths, where vacationers can enjoy the area's almost virgin nature and visit the International Bird-Watching Center. Other attractions in the Zapata Swamp are the Bidos's Salt Mines, where bird watchers can observe up to 165 species of birds, and the Cueva de los Peces (Fish Cave), the largest flooded cavern in the Cuban archipelago and an excellent place for cave diving. One of the largest crocodile farms in the country and the Caribbean region, with nearly 15,000 specimens, is located in the Zapata Swamp. In a natural lagoon, an excellent spot for fishing and excursions on boat, 12 small islands linked by a system of canals and bridges make up the Guamá tourist center, the only one of its kind in the Caribbean, because of its aborigine-style buildings. In Guamá, the famous Cuban sculptor Rita Longa made a life-size replica of a Taino village, where its dwellers - the first inhabitants of the largest Antillean Island - are carrying out their daily chores as if surprised by time. The careful exploitation of the region's resources, with the goal of preserving the natural environment and the animal and plant safe havens, has made the Zapata Swamp a true paradise for ecologists.

Excellent Daniel

Zapata Swamp Park
Ciénaga de Zapata is the largest and most complete karstic drainage system in Cuba, the Cuenca de Zapata. Several hydrological phenomena in this wetland have led to the existence of unique ecosystems, such as the vegetative association of the Ciénaga spring, described for only this wetland and a system of surface drainage characterized by the existence of several rivers, lagoons, swamps, channels and artificial canals of medium to small flow with an important hydrological function. Its flora is represented by about 1000 species with 13 per cent endemism gathered in 16 vegetative associations. However, its importance for the conservation of genetic and ecological diversity is greater because of the large areas of natural vegetation in good conservation status and because of the heavy forest cover of special importance for the island Caribbean. The fauna is characterized by a diversity of birds, primarily resident or migratory waterfowl and by the extent of the important local and national endemic species. Endangered species such as the gallinuela de San Tomás (Cyanolimnas cerverai), the Cuban Boa (Epicrates angulifer), the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) and the jutía enana (Mesocapromys nanus), as well as others considered endangered or vulnerable, such as the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer), the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the ferminia (Ferminia cerverai), the cabrito de la ciénaga (Torreornis inexpectata), the Cuban sandhill crane (Grus canadensis nesiotes) and others with their only population or at least important populations in this wetland. In contrast with the land vertebrates with many species, there are not many species of freshwater vertebrates in the region. Nonetheless, there are larger and more stable populations of one of the most outstanding endemic species in Cuba, the Cuban Gar (Atractosteus tristoechus) (Lepidosteidae), a key species in the ecologic relations of the Cuban wetlands where it is found, considered a living fossil threatened with extinction. This is the only site in Cuba where the eight genera of endemic birds are found and where 23 of the 26 species of endemic birds to Cuba have been recorded. In addition, there are more than four species of endemic local plants. This region has been relatively little affected by man given the low degree of economic assimilation of its ecosystems (with the exception of the forest and forest products although not everywhere) and the presence of large areas of mangroves, flooded savannahs and grasslands. This characteristic makes this wetland an important refuge for conservation of biodiversity in Cuba and the Caribbean. A large number of migratory birds (most of them aquatic) from North America spend the winter months here, forming dense and large communities. Occasionally, rare or atypical species to the Caribbean are reported, such as the cisne blanco (Cygnus columbianus).

Excellent Khole

Zapata Swamp Cuba
Ciénaga de Zapata is one of the largest and best preserved wetlands in the Caribbean Islands, with the largest area of swamps and tidal pools in Cuba and large areas of forest. All the area has been declared a multi-use protected area by Cuban legislation (Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, January 1995) and as a Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO January 2000). Its core is five strictly protected areas, including a national park. It is recognized as a phytogeographic area because of its unique flora. Among the fauna are a diversity of species of birds, primarily migratory species, and local endemic species, which have a limited distribution within the area. There are 19 communities with a total population of 9390 persons in the wetland. The main economic activity is forestry, tourism and fishing. The region of Ciénaga de Zapata was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the West Indies. It is located in Matanzas province, municipalities of Ciénaga de Zapata, Jagüey Grande, Unión de Reyes and Pedro Betancourt, this wetland occupies the entire extreme southern portion of Matanzas province. Its length is 175 kilometres from west to east, between Punta Gorda and Jagua, with a maximum width of 58 kilometres north to south between the town of Torriente and Cayo Miguel. The average width is 14 to 16 kilometres.

Excellent Frank

Top end birdwatching
This trip was mostly centred around sitting on the beech in the tourist trap of Varadero with a limited amount of birding involved. The birding involved around a single mid-morning (09:00 - 12:00) trip to the Zapata peninsula with Orestes Martinez El Chino and few stops along the side of the road when appropriate. Birds around the Varadero area are...

Excellent Daniel

Wild Natural Park
The Peninsula de Zapata, Cuba National Park, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and RAMSAR Convention Site of Importance, is one of the natural areas that must be visited when in Cuba, or even better you should book a week-long trip to it. On the few hotels in the area or in "casas particulares" (hostels) is a delightful experience encompassing a trip seeking...

Very good Terrence M

“Playa Larga ”
Playa Larga on the Peninsula de Zapata is often overlooked on the trek from Vinales to Cienfuegos .Situated in the Bay of Pigs.In the village of Caleton you will find Casa Ki Ki which boasts light and airey rooms with dineing on the waters edge .The long beach is great for walks at sunset or for just laying around on.... More 

Very good Yellebelle

“Leuk - crodile farm and boat trip ”
We enjoyed this outing very much when traveling to Playa Larga. I would recommend to go to the crocodile farm as early as possible. Before the busses of tourists arrive. The boat trip was fun, especially our kids enjoyed this ride.

Very good laviajera498

“Enjoyable visit to Taino village ”
I visited the peninsula de Zapata during may 2013 - our trip included a visit to the Guama Taino village and to the crocodile nursery. our guide was exceptional and gave lots of interesting details of the area, especially about the wildlife and flora. the taino village is well laid out to educate visitors about the lifestyle of the first... More 

Excellent RonWamberal

“Finding the world's smallest bird ”
Hardly my wife?s preferred birding choice, Cuba was not high on her wish list but I was keen on Cuban politics so we had to find something of interest for her. As an appeasement, I googled Cuban birds finding the world?s smallest bird resided in the Zapata swamp forests. She was suddenly interested and the bee hummingbird was not the... More 

Excellent raveroff

take a few hours tour there if you like to watch birds and flamingos in a wild. don't forget to spray yourself against mosquitos :)

Excellent conchesdojump

“La Cueva de los Peces: Nature?s Gift with free admission ”
Although somewhat remote, located en route to Playa Larga, La Cueva de los Peces is a natural wonder worth experiencing. The locale is beautiful, combined with the plants that spring from the volacanic rock, this is definitely a gift from nature. Described as Cuba?s largest natural flooded salt water cave that leads to the ocean, even non divers will appreciate... More 

Excellent Don H

“Birding and Accommodations at Playa Larga/Zapata, Cuba ”
This is a review of birding and accommodations in Zapata National Park/Playa Larga, Cuba. Early February 2014. We stayed one week at an all-inclusive resort in Varadero. A taxi arranged by El Chino de Zapata (Orestes Martinez Garcia) picked up our group of five early one morning and returned us to Varadero the next day. We stayed in El Chino?s... More 

Excellent Kaymann

“Hire a guide ”
We stayed in Varadero at the Bella Costa for a week at the end of January. Had a great time. One of my main agenda items for our trip was to photograph Flamingos. In order to do that we had to make our way to Zapata National Park. We hired a taxista to drive us there for the day -... More 

Excellent otolob

“Highly recommended for visit! ! ”
Highly recommended for visiting, this is a great place for visiting especially for those who want to see bird's, like to fish and wildlife conservation.

Excellent Patricia W

“Worth the trip ”
We received a lecture of the area by the director prior to venturing into the area. Our focus the birds. If you are a birder worth the visit, saw many birds only found in Cuba.

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