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UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Peninsula de Zapata

An Overview by Authentic Cuba Travel®

Peninsula de Zapata National Park, declared UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar Site, is located in the southern coast of the island.

It covers an area of 5000 square kilometres of woods and seacoast vegetation, marsh and mangroves. The park is the natural home to over 160 bird species and 900 varieties of higher plant families. It is also a favourite stop for tens of thousands of migratory birds.

This is the habitat of endemic bird species such as the Zapata Rail (Cyanolimnas cerverai), the Zapata Wren (Ferminia cerverai) and Zapata Sparrow (Torreornis inexpectata). The swamp is also the natural habitat of the Cuban Crocodile (Crocodrylus rhombifer Cuvier), considered as a national symbol after its resemblance with the geography of the island.

In the area, there are various Wild Life Breeding & Research Centres for the preservation of local fauna. Worth mentioning:

The Guama Crocodile Breeding Farm that has been successfully breeding one of the largest reptiles of Cuba since 1974: the Cuban Crocodile (Crocodrylus rhombifer Cuvier), considered an endangered species that can be found at the Zapata Swamps and Lanier Swamps only. The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodrylus rhombifer Cuvier) is one of the two most aggressive species of crocodiles in the world and endemic to Cuba.

The Wild Life Breeding Centre (Estacion de Reproduccion de Fauna Silvestre) where the endangered jutia (Capromys) and other mammals are bred.

The Manjuari Breeding Farm (Estacion de Reproduccion de Ictofauna), that breeds the endemic alligator gar fish (manjuari)(Atractosteus tristoechus), considered a living fossil.

Playa Larga Beach can be found in the famous Bay of Pigs, at the Zapata Peninsula, 32 km. from the National Highway. This bay became famous on April 1961 when an army of Cuban exiles invaded the island in order to overthrow Fidel Castro's newly established revolutionary government.

The visitor may take sea baths at Playa Larga, a beach of excellent sand and warm waters located at the bay's end, as well as enjoy nature at Montemar Great Natural Park.

The International Birdwatching Center operates in Playa Larga as a starting point for different sites of day or night time bird watching in the heart of Montemar woods.

Southwest of Playa Larga lies Laguna de las Salinas, now included in the Wildlife Refuge. This is a place where, from November to April, the visitor can see many species of migratory waterfowl.

A more accessible site is the Cueva de los Peces, a flooded tectonic fault about 70 m. deep. These half-rounded lagoons, called cenotes have arisen from the partial caving-in of cave's roofs. Blind fish can also be seen in these caves.

About 200 m. west along the beach from Playa Larga is the International Octopus Club Diving Center, offering full scuba facilities. In these turquoise-blue waters dwell a wide variety of fish, sea fans and huge colonies of crabs, lobsters and barracudas.

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