>>>The wild side of Cuba
Photo: Tupungato/ Shutterstock

The wild side of Cuba

There’s life outside of Havana and its malecón. It’s in the Bay of Taco and at Baracao on Cuba’s east coast, an invitation to lose yourself in lush greens and deep blues.
E
verything’s been said already, but things always sound new when sincerely expressed.” These words, penned by Jose Marti, one of Cuba’s most illustrious sons, should be remembered by anyone who thinks they’ve seen all the island nation has to offer. For, as well as loud and boisterous downtown Havana, with its malecón, vintage cars and grand buildings, there’s a whole other side to Cuba. It’s a Cuba of mountain ranges, waterfalls and rolling rivers, and of locations that, for their biodiversity and number of unique species, are unmatched in all of the Antilles.
The first expedition, in November 1979, of the ISMM Moa Humboltd Group.
Foto: Instituto Superior Minero Metalúrgico de Moa

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.
The Yunque of Baracoa is a table mountain that can be reached by a 12 kilometre path through cocoa plantations. .
Foto: Paul D Smith / Shutterstock
Similarly free from crowds of visitors, though decreasingly so these days, are the tropical and tranquil Villa Maguana Beach, and Las Tunas, places that have borne witness to both the Cuban Revolution and, more recently, to the emergence of mass tourism. Even though they are now on the tourist trail, they still retain their natural beaut, with the greens and blues as vivid and stunning as ever and the rugged coastline and hidden caves bringing to mind the hideouts from Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Festival Internacional de Cine Pobre Humberto Solás, a festival of low budget films, has been held in Gibara since 2003.
After exploring the wild side of Cuba, it’s a good idea to ease yourself back into the loud, colourful side of the country everybody knows and loves. Take a stroll through Baracoa’s old town, or simply stand on the waterfront and watch the waves crash in. Better still, grab a table with a view, order some freshly-caught fish accompanied by some rice and beans and wash it down with una lechita – an unforgettable mix of coconut milk, tomato, garlic and herbs. You’ll be in seventh heaven and more than a little tempted to put off your return to Havana that little bit longer.

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