Over 20% of Cuba’s national territory is protected in 211 diverse land and marine areas.
Pause and reflect on that a moment, and compare that figure to the percentage of protected land/marine areas in other nations. It’s a hugely significant commitment, and not only in terms of implementing protective measures. Commitment to protecting these areas ensures that biodiversity, reforestation, and pure air and water resources are available to future generations. At the same time it’s a daunting task that requires enforcement, human resources, and most importantly implementation of educational programs to ensure visitors and locals alike are fully aware of how to respect the natural elements around them, and the larger significance of those fragile ecosystems to the local and international communities alike. Cuba doesn’t have all the resources it requires to effectively carry out this essential task for such a monumental territory, and it’s why you’ll sometimes see things like illegal extraction of wood from protected woodlots, mindless tourists who divert from designated trails in search of a smart-looking selfie, carelessly discarded trash on nature trails, or parrots and pretty polymita snail shells for sale as you climb La Farola mountain road to Baracoa. Designating the areas for protection is only part of the battle. Educating the public and enforcing their protected status to preserve the priceless natural treasures they contain is the real challenge.
Cuba’s protected areas include:
–14 National Parks: Guanahacabibes, Cayos de San Felipe, Viñales, Punta Frances, Zapata Swamp , Los Caimanes, Caguanes, Jardines de la Reina, Pico Cristal, La Mensura-Pilotos, Desembarco del Granma, Turquino, Pico Bayamesa, Alejandro de Humboldt
–6 Biosphere Reserves: Geographical zones in which human and economic development is balanced with the conservation and protection of the natural environment in which they are located, in Cuba they include the Sierra del Rosario (PRI/ART), Guanahacabibes Peninsula (PRI), Cuchillas del Toa (HOG/GUA), Baconao (SCU/GUA), Zapata Swamp (MTZ) & Buenavista (VCA/SSP/CDA).
–6 Ramsar Sites: Wetlands of international importance, these include the Lanier Swamp & Southern part of the Isle of Youth, Zapata Swamp, Buenavista, Wetlands north of Ciego de Avila, Rio Maximo Wetlands, and Delta del Cauto Wetlands.
–2 Natural World Heritage Sites: This UNESCO designation is bestowed on select world locations that have been nominated and confirmed for inclusion. In Cuba we are honored to showcase the Desembarco del Granma National Park and the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, both in the eastern end of the island.
–28 Areas Important for Bird Conservation: This title is granted by the nonprofit BirdLife International and is designated to areas containing one or more globally threatened species, birds with a restricted distribution range, exclusive of their biome (ecological community), or those that gather in large numbers for reproduction, feeding or migration. The areas include: Mil Cumbres, wetlands south of Pinar del Rio, Sierra del Rosario, Lanier Swamp & South of the the Isle of Youth, Zapata Swamp, Las Picúas-Cayo del Cristo, Cays in the Mid-East of Villa Clara, wetlands south of Sancti Spiritus, Topes de Collantes, Alturas de Banao, great wetlands north of Ciego de Ávila, Sabinal-Ballenatos-Nuevitas Bay Cays, Río Máximo-Cayo Guajaba, Romano-Cruz-Mégano Grande-Paredón Grande Cays, Limones-Tuabaquey (Sierra de Cubitas), Sierra del Chorrillo (Najasa), Turquino-Bayamesa, Desembarco del Granma, Delta del Cauto, Balsas-Cobarrubias coastal region (Gibara), La Mensura, Delta del Mayarí, Pico Cristal, Gran Piedra-Pico Mogote, Siboney-Juticí, Alejandro de Humboldt, Hatibonico-Baitiquirí-Imías
Management of the 211 protected areas is categorized as follows:
–4 Natural Reserves: These are protected areas created to preserve the natural habitat from human actions and maintain it as close as possible to its original state. Services to visitors are not offered at these sites.
–14 National Parks: These are zones for the care, conservation, recovery or preservation of nature. They are land, marine, or a combination of both in natural or semi natural state, with sparse or no human population, designated to protect ecological integrity.
–24 Natural Protected Landscapes: These are areas in natural or semi natural states, managed with goals of protection and maintenance of natural conditions, environmental services and development of sustainable tourism. They do not possess notable value in terms of natural resources, but serve as biological corridors, maintain air quality, water, protect against erosion, and maintain esthetic values, etc. They are generally located in areas of ecological, environmental and touristic interest.
–32 Ecological Reserves: These are ecosystems or important regions or natural scenes, in which animal and plant species, the habitat and geomorphological elements, are of special scientific, educational, recreational and touristic importance.
–45 Fauna Refuges: These are areas where the protection and management of habitats or species are essential for the subsistence of wild fauna populations.
–41 Managed Flora Reserves: These are natural or semi natural areas that require management interventions to ensure the protection and maintenance of natural complexes or ecosystems.
–18 Managed Resource Protected Areas: These are areas in natural or semi natural states, whose management is to guarantee the protection and maintenance of biological diversity. They combine conservation with the sustainable use of natural resources to generate certain services that satisfy local needs.
–33 Outstanding Natural Elements: These are areas with natural elements of great local significance. They are sometimes located within a larger protected area.
The 211 sites are listed by province and referenced with further details on the SNAP (National System for Protected Areas) website en español.
Other links for references and information en español on Cuba’s protected sites include CITMA and EcuRed.
Protected Areas in Cuba (listed by province)
Pinar del Rio
Managed Resource Protected Areas Mil Cumbres, Guanahacabibes Peninsula
Outstanding Natural Elements Banco San Antonio, La Mina Mogote, Sierra del Pesquero – Mina – Sumidero
National Parks Viñales, Guanahacabibes, Cayo San Felipe
Ecological Reserves Los Pretiles, Sierra de la Guira, Gramales – Cabeza – La Peña, Sierra de San Carlos, Sierra de Guane, Paso Real de Guane
Fauna Refuges Lugones Swamp, Humedal Sur de los Palacios Wetland, Cayo Levisa – Corona de San Carlos, Punta Caribe
Managed Flora Reserves Cerro de Cabras, San Ubaldo – Sabanalamar, Sierra de Contadores – Cayo Ratones, Sierra Preluda – Cuabales de Cajálbana
Managed Resource Protected Areas Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve
Outstanding Natural Elements Santa Cruz River Canyon, Pan de Guajaibón, Soroa Mogote
Natural Protected Landscapes Guajaibón, Ariguanabo River
Fauna Refuges Cayos Las Cayamas – Los Guzmanes
Ecological Reserves El Salón
Managed Flora Reserves San Marcos
Natural Reserves Las Peladas, El Mulo
Natural Protected Landscapes Ensenada de Portier – Lamas, Isla Josefina, Tarara River Valley, Tiscornia Cove, Rincón de Guanabo, Laguna de Cobre – Itabo
Ecological Reserves La Coca
Managed Flora Reserves Cojímar River mouth, Cuabal de Minas
Natural Protected Landscapes Escaleras de Jaruco
Fauna Refuges Batabanó Gulf, Southwest of El Inglés
Managed Flora Reserves Galindo, Boca de Canasí, Loma del Grillo
Managed Resource Protected Areas Zapata Peninsula, Yumuri Valley
Outstanding Natural Elements Bellamar Caves, Santa Catalina Cave, Zapata flooded cave system, La Pluma Cave
National Parks Zapata Swamp
Natural Protected Landscapes Varahicacos, Canimar River Valley
Fauna Refuges Cayos de las Cinco Leguas, Sierra Bibanasí, Hanabana Channels, Bermejas, Maya Lake
Ecological Reserves Cayo Mono – Galindo, Bacunayagua
Managed Flora Reserves Tres Ceibas de Clavellinas (home to the Molocactus Matanzanus in the Yumuri Valley)
Outstanding Natural Elements Martín Infierno Cave (houses one of the largest stalagmites in the world, in El Colorado, Cumanayagua), Rancho Luna Cove
Natural Protected Landscapes El Plurial, Guajimico, Aguacata – Boca de Carreras, Yaguanabo Valley
Fauna Refuges Guanaroca – Punta Gavilan
Ecological Reserves Pico San Juan
Outstanding Natural Elements Ojo del Mégano (the deepest underwater cave in Cuba, east-northeast of the Bay of Cadiz)
Natural Protected Landscapes Hanabanilla
National Parks Los Caimanes
Fauna Refuges Cayo Francés, Lanzanillo – Pajonal – Fragoso, Las Picúas – Cayo Cristo, Cayo Santa María, Las Loras
Ecological Reserves Mogotes de Jumagua
Managed Flora Reserves Sabanas de Santa Clara, Monte Ramonal
Managed Resource Protected Areas Buenavista, Jobo Rosado
Outstanding Natural Elements La Chucha, Loma de Tasajera
Natural Protected Landscapes Topes de Collantes
National Parks Caguanes
Fauna Refuges Delta de Agabama, Delta de Higuanojo, Tunas de Zaza
Ecological Reserves Lomas de Banao
Managed Flora Reserves Lomas de Fomento, Arena Sílice de Casilda, Lebrije
Ciego de Avila
Managed Resource Protected Areas Wetlands North of Ciego de Avila
Outstanding Natural Elements Boquerón de Ciego de Avila, Pilar Dunes, Buchillones – Punta Alegre
National Parks Jardines de la Reina
Fauna Refuges Cayos de Ana María, El Venero, Loma de Santa María, Loma de Cunagua, La Lecha – La Laguna Lake System
Ecological Reserves Center and West of Cayo Coco
Managed Resource Protected Areas Cayo Romano Wetlands, Sierra del Chorrillo, Sierra de Cubitas, Cayo Guajaba, Cayo Sabinal
Outstanding Natural Elements Najasa Fossil Forest (forest turned to stone, of paleontological value), Cangilones del Rio Máximo
Natural Protected Landscapes Cerro Cachimbo, Sierra de Najasa
Fauna Refuges Correa, Máximo River, Cayos Los Ballenatos, Mangroves of Nuevitas Bay, Cayo Cruz, Macurije – Santa María
Ecological Reserves Limones – Tuabaguey, Maternillos – Tortuguilla
Managed Flora Reserves Silla de Cayo Romano, Los Orientales, San Felipe Wetlands, Laguna Larga, Sierra de Guaicanamar
Fauna Refuges Malagueta Bay, Ojo de Agua, Cayo Rabihorcado
Ecological Reserves Nuevas Grandes Bay – La Isleta
Managed Flora Reserves San Miguel de Junco, Las Nuevas, Monte Naranjito
Outstanding Natural Elements Bitirí Natural Bridge, Carstic Hills of Maniabón,
Natural Protected Landscapes Naranjo Bay
National Parks Pico Cristal, La Mensura – Pilotos
Fauna Refuges Tanamo Bay & Cays, Balsas de Gibara, Boca de Cananova, Delta de Mayari
Ecological Reserves Caletones
Managed Flora Reserves Loma de Miraflores, Cabo Lucrecia – Punta de Mulas, Matamoros – Dos Ríos, Ceja de Melones, Ramon Peninsula
Natural Reserves Cerro Galano
Outstanding Natural Elements Banco de Buena Esperanza – Manáguano
National Parks Desembarco de Granma, Turquíno, Pico Bayamesa
Fauna Refuges Delta de Cauto, Gua Cove, Manzanillo Cays, Monte Palmarito
Ecological Reserves Pico Caracas, El Gigante, El Macío
Managed Flora Reserves Monte Natural Cupaynicú
Santiago de Cuba
Managed Resource Protected Areas Baconao Biosphere Reserve, Carso de Baire
Outstanding Natural Elements Alcarraza Waterfall
Natural Protected Landscapes Gran Piedra, Estrella – Aguadores
Fauna Refuges San Miguel de Parada
Ecological Reserves Siboney – Justisí, Loma del Gato – Monte Líbano, Pico Mogote
Managed Flora Reserves La Caoba, Monte de Barrancas, Monte Bisse, Charrascales de Micara, Pozo Prieto, Caraquitas
Natural Reserves El Retiro
Managed Resource Protected Areas Cuchillas del Toa
Outstanding Natural Elements Maisi – Caleta, Yunque de Baracoa, Yumurí Canyon, Pan de Azúcar, Pinares de Montecristo, Yara – Majayara, Paso de los Alemanes, Resolladero del Río Cuzco
Natural Protected Landscapes Maisi – Yumurí
National Parks Alejandro de Humboldt
Ecological Reserves Parnaso – Los Montes, Hatibonico, Alto de las Canas, Baitiquirí, Boquerón, Tacre
Managed Flora Reserves Esparto, Monte Verde, Macambo, Pico Galán
Isle of Youth
Managed Resource Protected Areas South of the Isle of Youth, La Cañada
Outstanding Natural Elements Pinar Calizo
Natural Protected Landscapes Sierra de las Casas
National Parks Punta Francés
Fauna Refuges Cayo Campos – Cayo Rosario, Cienaga de Lanier, Cayos los Indios
Ecological Reserves Cayo Largo, Los Indios, Punta del Este
Access to some of the more popular facilities doesn’t (yet) always require advance reservations. For some you can just purchase an excursion locally with transport/guide/entry, or pay directly at the Flora/Fauna gate where prices are established/scaled for visitors and for Cuban residents. But there other guided hikes/visits that are only available if you plan in advance. Some areas have “limited access” (like the Saturn Cave for example, near the Varadero airport, which tops out at 80 visitors/hour). Others (such as the Hoyo de Morlotte in the Desembarco del Granma park) are much further off the beaten path and you’ll only be able to visit and gain access by arranging in advance for an official park guide to meet you there. In our experience, exploring trails in the company of a knowledgeable local guide totally enhances the experience and proffers not only diverse information on local flora & fauna, but sometimes even a little history and local anecdotes as well. WoWCuba can arrange for entrance and official guided visits to many protected areas in Cuba as part of a bespoke WoWCuba travel package.