Characteristics of the Zapata Peninsula
The Zapata Peninsula is one of the most unique sites in Cuba, where several types of marsh ecosystems are grouped, moderately or slightly modified by human action. It has a large and rich wetland where different species of birds, plants, animals, and some endemic to the area live and grow.
The Zapata Peninsula occupies the entire southern end of the province of Matanzas and covers an area of 4 520 km². It has a length of 175 km from east to west. A maximum width of 58 km from north to south, and an average width of 16 km.
On this site, traditional sun and beach offers in Cuban geography, supported by extensive coastal areas of white sands and warm waters, are complemented by the option of nature.
The Zapata Peninsula is one of the most attractive tourist options in the western province of Matanzas, besides being the paradise par excellence for lovers of ecology.
Blue water beaches, exotic forests, rivers, lakes, flooded caverns, natural pools, virgin areas and typical swamp savannahs add up to provide shelter for 30 percent of the native fauna of the Greatest Antilles.
In fact, this territory is qualified as the largest wetland in the Caribbean island region, with tourist attractions related to nature tourism, beach, sport fishing and diving.
In addition, in its geography it hosts 78 species of endemic plants in the island, united to exponents of the fauna like the crocodiles and birds.
Among the species of fish without doubt the most interesting is the Manjuari, practically a living fossil that only inhabits in the Swamp of Zapata.
Meanwhile, 171 varieties of birds – 18 of them endemic to the territory – add to the attractions of the place, coupled with the presence of a unique crocodile type in Cuba, as well as the manatee, considered one of the jewels of the national fauna.
In the area is Larga Beach, with 400 meters of warm water, excellent sands, coral covered bottoms and several natural trails for the full enjoyment of a virtually virgin nature.
Included in the offer are the Bidos Salines, where in winter naturalists can observe up to 165 species of birds, in addition to the Cave of the Fishes, the largest flooded of the archipelago, ideal place for cave diving.
The Swamp of Zapata has the Treasure Lagoon, a natural freshwater reservoir of 900 hectares and four meters deep where lives the golden trout, a species coveted by fishing enthusiasts.
In the middle of this water reservoir is located Villa Guama, reproduced in the image of a Tainan village, with huts built on stilts.
A dozen small islands connected by a system of canals and bridges accommodate Guama Tourist Center, unique of its type in the Caribbean by its type of Aboriginal construction.
In this installation, the work of the famous sculptor Rita Longa carried on a natural scale a replica of a village of Tainos aboriginals, the first inhabitants of the largest of the Antilles, with its inhabitants in full day-to-day functions and with the appearance of being surprised by time in their tasks.
Under these premises, the sustainable development of the tourist activity allows the maximum care of the natural environment, with the consequent benefit for those who opt for programs related to the environment and ecology.
How to Get Zapata Peninsula?
The Zapata Swamp and Montemar Grand Natural Park can be reached from Havana – or Santa Clara, from the East – by the National Highway, turning right at the junction of Central Australia at Km 142, well signposted as the entrance to Swamp, Larga Beach and Playa Beach.
Distances from nearby destinations are:
La Habana – La Boca (at the entrance of Treasure Lagoon): 166 Km.
Varadero – La Boca: 94 Km.
Trinidad – La Boca: 205 Km
Cienfuegos – La Boca: 124 Km.
La Boca – Larga Beach: 11 Km.
La Boca – Giron Beach: 45 Km.
Basically, it is necessary to travel by car, taxi or take an organized excursion that depart from Havana and Varadero, since reliable bus service is not available, the Viazul line, although before entering Playa Giron, does not currently works.
What to see on the Zapata Peninsula?
-The Finca Campesina.
Located almost at the intersection of the Zapata Swamp Road and the National Highway, this site tries to recreate the rural environment of the island to a certain extent, and although it does not accomplish the task, it is a pleasant place to stop and take one of the best espresso and cappuccino coffee you can find in Cuba. Here you can see some manjuaries (species of native fish of the Swamp of Zapata), majaes (species of non venomous snake, of Cuba), jicoteas, some other specimens of the Cuban fauna, as well as several typical examples of the Cuban flora.
– Australia Sugar Factory
Located in the immediate vicinity of Finca Campesina, Australia is an old sugar cane factory, which during the Bay of Pigs invasion served as a command of government troops and militias. The Museum of the Command has a good historical collection and is worth a visit.
Combination of restaurants (La Boca and Colibri), shops, bar, pier to Villa Guama in the heart of the Treasure Lagoon and a kind of crocodile zoo, halfway to Larga Beach in the Bay of Pigs, is a permanent hive of people, buses and cars.
Apart from being a place for lunch and pier for the ferries and boats that make the way to the Taino Village (Villa Guamá), there are also beautiful natural places that surround it, a crocodile farm crossing the road (without tourism programing) and a kind of zoo, a place that can be traversed and observed in a semi-natural environment many specimens of crocodiles, some of a considerable size, as well as jicoteas and manjuaries.
Treasure Lagoon and Taino Village
The Treasure Lagoon is one of the largest bodies of fresh water of the island, has an area of 9.0 km2 and an average depth of 4 meters. Located in the Oriental Zapata Swamp, its crystalline waters are famous for its population of trout, many of them of considerable size, that delight the lovers of fishing, especially in the catch release mode.
The banks, covered with thick forests, and the lagoon itself are the perfect place for lovers of bird watching, for the large population of these that can be seen here, especially in the hours of sunrise and sunset.
Located almost at the south end of the Treasure Lagoon are Taino Village and Villa Guama, built on a group of small islands connected by wooden bridges. Accessible only by boats ( motorboats) through the Laguna Channel, about 4 km long, to which are added about 3 km through the lagoon (total: about 7 km from La Boca) .
The Taino Village is a recreation of a village of the most advanced indigenous culture of pre-Columbian Cuba (Taino), with life-size sculptures of Aboriginal people carrying out the daily activities of their culture (fishing, hunting, domestic chores) .
Through a kind of pre-designed pedestrian circuit runs the entire village in which attempts to show the way of life in a Taino village before the arrival of Christopher Columbus to America.