Península de Zapata, the Tranquility of Nature
By: Mercy Ramos / Photos by Prensa Latina
For nature lovers, the Peninsula de Zapata is an ideal destination. Located in the southern region of the central province of Matanzas, the peninsula is home to one of the country's most important ecosystems and also to Playa Larga, Playa Girón and Guamá, three places for spending a great vacation and enjoying the the beach, diving, and the environment in general. One of the world's largest wetlands is located on this peninsula: the Ciénaga de Zapata, which spreads out over 10,499 square kilometres. It was declared a Biosphere Reserve in the year 2000.
The area is full of extensive virgin landscapes, with unique and very well-preserved flora and fauna—including endemic species like the Gallinuela de Santo Tomas (Zapata rail) and the ferminia cerverai (Zapata wren)—lush coastal and wetland vegetation, beaches, natural lakes and lagoons and deep caves.
In fact, more than 100 species of birds make their homes here, including the tiny bee hummingbird, the Cabrerito de la Ciénaga (Torrearnis inexpectata), Gundlach's Hawk, the Cuban parakeet and the green parrot. However, the Ciénaga de Zapata is also a natural refuge for thousands of migratory birds as they make their way from North America.
The swamp's lagoons also provide a habitat for two endangered species of aquatic vertebrates: the manatee and manjuarí, or Cuban gar. At least 16 species of reptiles live in these swampy areas and grasslands, including the Cuban and American crocodiles, which reproduce on the grounds of a special breeding farm. There, visitors can also see iguanas, lizards, different types of frogs, puercos jibaros (wild pigs), deer and two types of Cuban tree rat: the jutía conga and the jutía enana.
The Peninsula de Zapata is also home to the Bahía de Cochinos, also known as the Bay of Pigs, where a U.S.- sponsored mercenary invasion was defeated in 1961, in just 72 hours. The bay is a beach resort area, and has a museum where visitors can learn about those historical events.
In addition to taking in the sun and sea, vacationgoers can enjoy a pleasant boat ride on the Laguna del Tesoro. Motorboats take visitors to Guamá, a tourist center in the middle of the lagoon that features replicas of Cuba's indigenous people, the Taíno, and their way of life. The installations, including cabins and a restaurant, are built on piles over the water.
Various hotels in the region offer accommodations for visitors and restaurants feature different specialties. We would like to recommend two in particular: El Colibrí and La Boca, which specialize in crocodile meat, for those who want to savour that exquisite delicacy.
The Peninsula of Zapata is a place where you can find different options for enjoying a magnificent vacation, far from the hustle and bustle of the city and close to the tranquility of nature.