For nature and beauty in the clean mountain air of western Cuba, there are two places that can’t be missed: Soroa, known as “Cuba’s Rainbow,” and the eco-village of Las Terrazas, both of them part of the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve.
The town of Soroa is located in a lush valley in the Guaniguanico mountain range about 70 kilometres west of Havana, and takes its name from a family of Basque immigrants who settled in the area. The road leading to it features spectacular views of tropical forests that will make visitors feel like they have entered a paradise.
In Soroa, nature lovers can enjoy guided horseback rides and walks, great bird watching, or medicinal baths. Considered a typical rural Cuban area and a quiet and peaceful place to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings, Soroa has two great hilltop lookout points.
One is El Mogote, which stands 375 metres above sealevel, and the other is El Castillo de las Nubes (Castle of Clouds), which is higher, and has great views of the nearby mountain village of Candelaria. El Castillo de las Nubes actually is the site of a small, beautiful castle that was built in 1867, and now houses a restaurant. There is no better place in the area to enjoy the view and a great meal with friends and family.
Soroa’s climate is characterized by frequent rainfall, and the average annual temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Its rainforest includes many types of shrubs and herbaceous palms, together with more than 100 species of ornamental trees.
The main attraction in Soroa is its 22-metre high waterfall, the Salto de Soroa, which can be admired after climbing up and down 280 steps to reach it. Many people enjoy taking a dip here, where the falls flow into a very popular part of the Manantiales River. At a certain time of day, the sun’s rays break up over the falls and create a beautiful rainbow, bringing harmony to the whole setting, and creating a feeling of paradise. From Soroa, one can tour the famous Orchid Garden or take a trip to Las Terrazas village or the small island of Cayo Levisa, all of which are very popular ecotourism destinations for Cubans and international visitors alike.
Soroa’s Orchid Garden is the largest in Cuba. Originally built by wealthy Spanish businessman Tomás Felipe Camacho in 1943, today it is home to more than 500 species of orchids, many of which grow outdoors, some of them under shade canopies. A winding cobblestone trail that climbs the hill to the garden’s main house is lined with native and exotic orchids, and a complete walking visit usually takes approximately one hour. The in-vitro propagation of several endangered species of orchids is carried out at the garden’s research centre, so that the plants can be later returned in larger quantities to wildlife.
Las Terrazas Village
About 20 km northeast of Soroa is the Las Terrazas community, which is also part of the Sierra del Rosario protected area. The village takes its name from its many terraced fields planted with pine trees to lessen the impact of erosion. After the area had become deforested, the original forest was recreated and endemic plants came back to life. The people of Las Terrazas take care of the forest, and children learn from early on about protecting the environment.
This rural village was created in the 1970’s as part of a comprehensive program for the area’s sustainable development, including reforestation and the recovery of its natural, historical and cultural values. Another goal was to develop tourism in this beautiful mountain area as a way of reviving the local economy and improving people’s standard of living.
The village sits in a narrow valley on the banks of the San Juan Lake, forming a harmonious and coherent setting with a pleasant view of the surrounding landscape.
In this community, one can experience firsthand the hospitality of Cuba’s rural folk. A walk along the Callejón de Moka, where you can find restaurants like the Fonda de Mercedes and the Café de María, provides a close-up view of customs and traditions in the Cuban countryside.
With lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, Las Terrazas is a considered a great place for ecotourism lovers. The community’s 1,000 inhabitants include farmers, workers, artists, musicians and craftsmen, whose beautiful white, colourfully-roofed homes are surrounded by ponds and gardens.
A more recent addition is the canopy tour, a sequence of three zip lines over an 800m course, providing a different and exciting way to enjoy the sights of this naturally rich place.