Cuban Countryside

The Cuban countryside is one of the major attractions of the island country. It is not only the scenery and natural landscapes that are such attractions, but also the local architecture and cultural landscapes that can be discovered throughout the island. Because the country has a recently developed tourism infrastructure, you will find that much of the countryside and nature reserves are particularly pristine and unspoiled.

Soroa Cuba

Soroa Cuba
Soroa Cuba

The Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra del Rosario is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve located in Soroa Cuba in the Pinar de Rio Province about 55 miles west of Havana. Although the province is a center for tourism, the area around Soroa is a bit off the beaten path, and there are far fewer tourists here than places like the more well known Vinales Valley. The reserve is the world's second largest orchid garden, with more than 700 species. (The largest is in Singapore.)

In addition to the remarkable collection of orchids, Soroa Cuba offers stunning scenery, including a waterfall that is nearly 75 feet high. You can explore the ruins of nineteenth-century coffee plantations, go horseback riding, join nature walks, and enjoy the region's rivers. The main hotel here is the Villa Soroa, with 80 rooms and cottages, a number of restaurants and bars, swimming pool, and live entertainment. The property has a path leading to the orchid garden.

The Vinales Valley

This lovely valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are dramatic mountains and rocky karst outcroppings with numerous caves. Located about 110 miles west of Havana in the fertile Pinar del Rio Province, this is also the location of significant tobacco farming where the finest strains are grown to produce the world's most famous cigars. The agricultural methods practiced here have remained virtually unchanged for centuries, and there are quaint farms and villages that are surrounded by fields still plowed by oxen. This is the most frequently visited area of Cuban countryside with a number of different touring possibilities, including bicycle and hiking tours of the valley.

Sierra del Rosario

Sierra del Rosario
Sierra del Rosario

Also located in the mountains between Havana and the Pinar de Rio Province is Sierra del Rosario, which can refer to either the mountain range or another UNESCO Biosphere of the same name. The main attractions here are naturally the Cuban countryside unique to the mountainous region, including both gentle and rugged hiking. As in Soroa, you can explore the ruins of nineteenth-century coffee plantations, and there is also an exciting zip line through the rainforest canopy.

Tope de Collantes

The Escambray Mountains spread across the provinces of Sancti Spiritus, Cienfuegos, and Villa Clara. The beautiful Parque Natural Tope de Collantes is set in the heart of these mountains, and accessible from the towns of Santa Spiritus, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad. This is area is particularly popular for horseback riding, swimming in secluded lakes and ponds, and hiking to pristine rivers and sparkling waterfalls. There are caves to explore and rainforest with more than 40 species of orchids, several species of ferns (some of which grow to heights of more than 18 and 20 feet), banana trees, numerous colorful tropical flowers, and rare tropical birds.

Mirador de la Loma del Puerto

Mirador de la Loma
Mirador de la Loma

The Valle de los Ingenios is a network of three valleys that stretch for more than 40 miles between Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad. "Ingenios" is the Spanish word for factories, and during the 1800s there were 50 sugar factories here processing the sugar cane from surrounding plantations on which more than 12,000 slaves from Africa labored. As with the fertile Vinales Valley, the Cuban countryside here is quite lush. "Mirador" is Spanish for balcony or viewpoint, and that is what this mountain is used as, since the views over the lush valleys are spectacular.

Cienega de Zapata

The Zapata Swamp is one of the most extensive and important wetlands ecosystems in the Caribbean. It is also the largest, at more than 1 million acres. There are beautiful beaches with sugary white sand and crystal-blue waters, forests, lakes, ponds, swamp prairies, and flooded caverns. There is immense biodiversity in both flora and fauna, with hundreds of plant species, bird species, and more than 30 reptiles, including the rare Cuban crocodile. This crocodile is found only in the Zapata Swamp and the Isle of Youth off Cuba's southwest coast.

La Farola

Highways generally conjure up images of urban blight and heavy traffic, but cycling the La Farola Highway is one of the best ways to enjoy the Cuban countryside in the Guantanamo Province. It is considered one of the top cycling routes in the world. La Farola is a wonderful mountain highway that runs for almost six miles from the Baracoa Mountains down to the south coast. It offers fabulous views of mountains including lookout point where you can see the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south. It's actually not a highway at all, but a viaduct built along sheer cliffs for most of its length—truly an engineering marvel. It is used as one stage of the Velta Ciclista, the Cuban version of the Tour de France. It's possible to book all-inclusive biking tours that pedal this route. These will include accommodations, some meals, and even the bicycle itself because they are an expensive form of transportation to rent and there are high costs associated with bringing your own.

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