Color, adventure and even magic are among Cuba's offerings in nature tourism, a specialty with a great deal in its favour for diversifying the travel industry in one of the most beautiful islands of the Caribbean.
This was showcased at TURNAT, the Seventh International Ecotourism Meeting, celebrated in Zapata National Park, Matanzas Province from September 14 through 18, 2009.
The event, held in a different region of the island every two years, was convened this year in the largest wetlands in the Caribbean islands; an ideal place for making presentations and sharing criteria and experiences related to nature tourism and for learning about the new nature products and truly marvelous destinations that Cuba will launch in the coming season.
The Zapata National Park is 142 km southeast of Havana. This best-preserved wetland in the Caribbean islands offers visitors sightings of indisputably important endemic flora and fauna in virginal landscapes.
The Zapata National Park was declared a world biosphere preserve in 2000 and a Ramsar site in 2001.
TURNAT is an interesting meeting, included in the program of tour operators, travel agents, nature tourism managers and specialized journal ists for many reasons, among which is a program dedicating its first day to information on areas to visit and the expectations for this type of tourism in Cuba.
From that point, those attending choose different proposed tours. The venue for all exchanges, debates and dialogues of course was nature itself. The Zapata National Park has a high degree of endemism with four types of mangrove trees, that includes 115 species of endemic flora, 258 species of birds (24 of them endemic), 16 amphibian species and 36 species of reptiles. The result for participants was a program of choice from three trails: Las Salinas, El enigma de las Rocas (Enigma of the Rocks) and Hatiguanico River.
The Las Salinas trip is a harmonious combination of hiking and boating, with preferential bird watching. It is also an opportunity for catch and release fishing to protect the environment and species.
Those who selected the Enigma of the Rocks explored the region's cave-lake system, while a boat ride visiting the best-protected mangroves entertained those on the Hatiguanico River route. Visitors also enjoyed tourist attractions such as a real wedding at the Guama Tourist Complex's 44 islet cabins in Treasure Lagoon. The site recreates a native village and features tours of the surrounding region and the crocodile-breeding center.
Delegates also had the opportunity to learn from Cuban Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero, historical details and tradit ions about the population of an area forgotten until 1959.
The area's important historic significance is at Playa Giron (the Bay of Pigs) where in 1961 Cuban troops defeated a foreign invasion trying to overthrow the Cuban Revolution.
During TURNAT many of the participants spoke with former combatants, visited the Giron Museum and learned details firsthand about the areas involved in the battles.
Nature, history and culture came together in cultural presentations in the Zapata swamp by groups l ike the Korimakao Theatre Group, founded and directed by recognized Cuban actor Manuel Porto.
The Cuban guides themselves were of interest during the week of the event. One of them, 48-year-old biologist Lazaro Cotallo, has had a very interesting 26 years of experience wherein he combines his guide work with nature studies, particularly during the Macabí (bonefish) season.
A moment, a color, a future.
In closing, Minister Marrero pointed out the significance of September 27, International Day of Tourism, and that part of this event's success was that TURNAT was dedicated this year to diversity and the Zapata Natural Park is a splendid example, given its enchanting landscape and the perspective of developing a more profound knowledge of Cuban nature.
Marrero invited all participants to post tour excursions through the center of the island as a preview of TURNAT 2011, which eighth edition "Cuba in the center" will cover tours in the center of the island, including El Nicho, Hanabanilla, Valle de los Ingenios in Trinidad, Topes de Collantes and the Buena Vista Biosphere Reserve in Caguanes National Park.