An underground wonderland
Orchids and ferns, ivory-billed woodpeckers, and an oasis of white and rose marble that forms a natural dyke in the river Moa: It’s the Farallones de Moa sierra, a national monument in Cuba and a Biosphere Reserve. The Yunque de Baracoa, a 575-metre high table mountain, is also well worth a visit,
Nowhere represents this ‘other Cuba’ quite like Baracoa a municipality and city of the same name, located close to the far eastern tip of the island. As well as being the first settlement in Cuba, this was also the nation’s original capital. But, despite this history, it remains relatively untouched by tourism, thanks largely to its relative inaccessibility. Anyone who does make the journey, however, is richly rewarded. Just 20 kilometres outside of Baracoa city lies the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, a protected natural reserve and World Heritage Site. The National Park extends over 700 square kilometres and is home to an estimated 1,200 animal and 1,000 plant species. As UNESCO note, the park is “one of the most biologically diverse island sites on earth”. Just some of the species to be found here are the Cuban parrot, as well as the Cuban parakeet, the lineated woodpecker, and the Cuban kite, as well as mammals such as the Cuban solenodon, the black rat and the wild Cuban pig.
The nature trails in and around the National Park pass through some of Cuba’s finest natural scenery. The most popular paths cross the Cabezas de Jiguani mountains, then over the mighty Toa river, past spectacular waterfalls and lush tropical forests. There’s a scenic viewing point over the river on the climb up, but the very best views are to be enjoyed from the top of the Toldo meseta, making the climb up more than worth the effort. Also just outside of the city of Baracoa is the wild paradise of Taco Bay. Here, mangrove swamps mix with rich rainforest and semi-deserted beaches. But it’s the bay’s most famous resident that’s the real draw. The manatee, or sea cow, can often be seen wallowing in the shallow waters. Since motor engines might harm these quirky marine mammals, guided tours of the bay are given on rowing boats, adding to the sense of tranquility.