Cuba - Oldtimer Cars, Unique Birdlife
by Günther Eichhorn
In May/June 2018 I visited Cuba for two weeks. The trip was organized by Cuba4Travel, a German travel agency. The organization was very good, I was happy with that. The trip was planned as a bird watching tour. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate. A tropical storm was sitting over Cuba for the first week. Many of the excursions were rained out. Many roads were flooded, we had to make a wide detour on the drive from Zapata to Cienfuegos because the coastal road was not passable. But I did see quite a lot of birds, including many species endemic to Cuba.
After arriving in Havana late in the evening, my guide picked me up for the drive to the hotel for one night. There was no problem with getting through immigration.
The next morning we headed west to the La Güira National Park. I stayed in San Diego de Los Baños. Bird watching in the afternoon was a bit hampered by rain.
The next morning we drove to Soroa, where I stayed for two nights. It was raining all the time, I didn't get to do any bird watching during this time.
From Soroa we drove across Cuba to the Zapata peninsula and the Bay of Pigs, where I stayed for a couple of nights. It was still raining off and on, but I did get to do a bit of bird watching. I boat tour however was canceled because of weather conditions. Here I saw the Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird on earth.
From Zapata we drove to Cienfuegos and then to Trinidad. Normally you would drive along the south coast of Cuba. The coastal road however was impassable because of flooding, so we had to make a big detour through the interior of Cuba. Fortunately, the storm system was moving away, and the weather got better, so the city tours of Cienfuegos and Trinidad were OK. I stayed in Trinidad for a couple of nights.
We visited the Parque Natural El Cubano on hike of about four hours. I didn't see many birds on that hike through the forest.
From Trinidad we returned to Havana, where I stayed for three nights in a Casa Particular. The Casas Particulares are private residences that rent out a room. Mine did have a separate bath, it worked out quite well.
There was nothing planned for the days in Havana, I was on my own to explore. I managed to find a tour operator for a day tour of Havana, which turned out to be very nice. In the morning of that tour we drove around Havana with my guide. In the afternoon I was dropped off in Old Havana to explore it on foot on my own. In late afternoon the taxi picked me up again and brought me back to my Casa Particular for my last night in Cuba.
Havana is an interesting city. The many 50's era American cars are of course the most noticeable thing in Havana.
I didn't really get in contact with local people, I stayed with my guide in hotels. The weather made it difficult to go off on my own. Everybody seemed friendly, whenever I did meet local people.
What surprised me was the fact that Cuba has two currencies, the local Cuban Peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) for tourists. This somehow separates the tourists from the local people.
Beer in Havana was very expensive, $4.00 for a small bottle of beer. Food was also somewhat expensive in Havana. Away from the capital, it was much less expensive, the small bottle of beer was only $1.50. The food was OK, nothing exceptional.
As far as bird watching is concerned, Cuba has lots to offer. Even with the bad weather I saw 46 species of birds, 11 of them endemic to Cuba. From what I could see, you are free to go anywhere, there are no restrictions apparent.