After a very eventful week and a half in Cuba, our last full day was spent in the southern part of Cuba's coast at Ciénaga de Zapata, just south of Havana on the Zapata Peninsula. We went to meet with Cuba's national director of ecotourism, who was conducting an international conference at the park that week.
When we arrived, after a little over 2 hours on the road, we were greeted by the park directors and our guide for the day, who joined us in the van as we continued on our way. We were ushered through a gated area into the preserve and started down a very narrow dirt path through the lagoons and marsh areas. During this time, our guide was explaining the different species of animals and plants that are endemic to the peninsula. After a few kilometers down the road, we stopped and climbed up onto a look-out tower to view the marsh.
The park is home to over 65 species of migratory birds and we were there during the peak time of migration. It was really interesting to try and find different types of birds in the water and air. We spotted black coots, great white pelicans (of which our guide said only about 8 have been counted all year, and we saw a group of 5), cranes, herons...
...and of course, the star of the park, the caribbean flamingo, which makes its home in this area between October and March each year. We were told that you can observe the age of a flamingo by how bright pink their feathers have become...the older, the brighter.
We kept stopping along side the road during the drive if we spotted a group of flamingos close. It was always great to see a large group take flight.
At the end of the 9km dirt path, there is an area where rangers live for a couple weeks at the time for researching, guarding, and guiding. There is a small amount of fishing allowed in this area (mainly done in flat-bottomed boats in the shallow marsh), and fly fishing is also quite popular here as well.
After some time milling around a bit more (and I found some sea beans growing on the marsh side which we all enjoyed snacking on), we piled back into the van and started on the trip back out of the park.
As we were leaving the peninsula, we stopped at the Bay of Pigs just to have a look...quite peaceful these days, but it was interesting to see some rusted ships and other wreckage left from the conflict.
The next morning was an early trip to the airport, and a super quick flight up, then down to Miami...we never even reached a cruising altitude. So close...but so so far away in so many aspects.