by Mark Sutton (click here to contact me) & John Martin
This report covers a trip made by Mark & Linda Sutton, their 7 year old son Brent , John and Janette Martin . It was primarily a birding holiday but also encompassing costal sites suitable for family holiday.
22/04 Arrive at Havana airport at 9.30 in the evening on a BA flight direct from Gatwick. Collected the pre-booked hire car and drove to the Hotel in Soroa, arriving at about 2.30 am.
23/04 Am, spent birding around the Hotel complex; pm, birded the track leading to Mirador
24/04 Am, drove to and birded the Maspoton area; pm, booked in to the hotel at San Diego de Los Banos. Late afternoon and evening was spent in La Guira National Park, primarily around Cabanas Los Pinos
25/04 Am, back into La Guira National Park, again around Cabanas Los Pinos, booking out of the hotel mid morning; pm, booked into the Hotel at Playa Larga. Birded the Zapata swamp in the evening
26/04 Am, La Cueva de Los Peces, returning to the Hotel for breakfast. The rest of the morning was spent around the Crocodile pools at La Bocca; pm, Palpite 'Quail Dove Tracks' (MDS) & Bermejas (JPM)
27/04 The morning and early afternoon was spent with local guide Angel Martinez with whom we visited the following sites: Zapata wren site - Palpite - Bee Hummingbird site (5km E of Hotel Playa Larga) - Beemejas. After dark we birded the roads around Soplillar, for the Nightjar.
28/04 Am, Beemejas - looking for the Parakeet & back to hotel for mid day; pm, Beemejas - looking for the Parakeet (MDS) Palpite, finding bee humming bird nest & La Bocca (JPM)
29/04 Am, Beemejas - looking for the Parakeet & back to hotel for mid day (MDS), La Salinas (JPM); pm, Beemejas - looking for the Parakeet. N.B. John & Janette went to the town of Trinidad, we met them in Camaguey on the1/5
30/04 Am, Palpite & La Boca (MDS), Trinidad (JPM); pm, Salinas (MDS) Escambray Mountains nr Trinidad (JPM)
1/05 Am, Soplillar, left for Camaguey mid morning (MDS) Sierra del Escambray to Camaguey (JPM); pm, The evening was spent at the Giant Kingbird site near Najasa.
2/05 Am, Giant Kingbird site & La Belen N.P.; pm, Camaguey
3/05 Am, Camaguey to Moron; pm, Sandhill crane site & lagoon nr Moron
4/05 All day, Cayo Coco
5/05 Am, Lagoon nr Moron & drove to Playa Larga; pm, Playa Larga
6/05 Am Beemejas; pm, journey to Havana airport for our 23.40 flight to the UK.
You are only allowed to stay in tourist hotels in Cuba, in fact we were refused entry into one hotel in Camaguey which was listed in the Lonely Planet. All hotels were of a good standard, most of which had swimming pools, restaurant & air-con. Prices usually included breakfast. An alternative to this, which we did not do, would be to stay in Casa Particulares, which are local peoples houses & an equivalent to B&B. This would be much cheaper.
Hotel Horizontes Villas Soroa - Saroa. ($38 for a double room) Slightly shabby hotel complex. Several dozen chalets, with showers & aircon. situated in the grounds of the hotel. The swimming pool seemed to develop green algae at an amazing speed & had to be cleaned daily. The grounds offered a good introduction to Cuban birding, including two owl species. We ate in the restaurant & in the local cafe
Hotel Mirador - San Diego de Los Banos. ($36 for a double room) Probably the best hotel we stayed in & only a few miles from the entrance to La Guira National Park. This is an old traditional building situated on the edge of town, with a good restaurant & swimming pool
Hotel Horizontes Playa Larga. ($43 for a chalet for two) We spent the majority of out time at this modern hotel complex. The accommodation comprised of a number of chalets, with air conditioning, situated in the complex grounds. The restaurant was uninspiring, we found some of the local beach restaurants slightly better value. There is a restaurant a few kms down the road towards Playa Giron, (built in the shape of a boat) which served some of the best food of the holiday.
Hotel Horizontes Camaguey Large multi-storey hotel, with air-conditioning, swimming pool, bar & restaurant.
Motel - Parador San Fernando - Moron This motel is situated on the southern edge of Moron besides the roundabout at the start of the town by-pass. There is no pool here but we found this one of the better hotels we stayed in, with reasonable food & friendly staff.
We used the following local guides:
Angel Martinez for 1.5 days around the Zapata area. We contacted him at the forestry office in Playa Larga, the office is situated on the left hand side of the road as you enter the town from the autopista. His brother, Osmane is also recommended. $10 per person per half day, in the park.
A local guide also has to be used to visit the salinas at Playa Larga, this can also be arranged at the forestry office. The guide was of no benefit here.
Pedro Regalado for most of the day at the Giant Kingbird site & La Belen N.P. He was not essential for the Kingbird, Grassquit & Plain Pigeon, but gained us access into the N.P. His local knowledge was very useful & essential for the Whistling-ducks. He can be contacted by writing to : Pedro Regalado, Apartado #161, Camaguey 1, C.P. 70100.
A local birder, Odey Martinez, based in Moron showed us the cranes, Address: Calle Norena (g) #28 Entre 12 Y Final, Moron (Provincia Ciego De Avilla)
We hired two cars between us, which we arranged from the UK via E-mail with Cuba Car E-mail: email@example.com The cost of a Hyundai Accent with air conditioning & unlimited mileage was $77 USD per day including insurance. There was little variation in prices, so we suspect they were state controlled
Dry hot & sunny most days, with 1 day of heavy prolonged showers. May is usually the start of the wet season, so this time of year could be a lot wetter.
I packed the following: Scope & lightweight tripod, Dictaphone with external speaker and microphone, pre recorded tapes of bird calls, a good torch eg maglite.
The only currency was US $. This is the standard tourist currency
Birds of the West Indies by Helm & Peterson's Eastern(US) Birds
Very little problem on this front, apart from on Cayo Coco & Palpite, where mosquitoes were a real nuisance. Plenty of repellent and long sleeved shirts and trousers were required here. Malaria is apparently not a problem, we did not take any anti-malarial treatment.
Food was disappointing - little choice, expensive & very small portions. Most meals were taken in the hotels, a few local (tourist) cafes were also used.
Soroa: Soroa is situated in low hills, about 95 Km west of Havana. The road to Soroa runs north from the autopista (motorway), the road is easy to find as it is accessed along side a petrol station/ cafe. Most birding was done around the hotel and on the forested track leading to Mirador, a rocky crag which apparently gives excellent views of the area.
La Guira N.P.
La Guira National Park is situated in hills, just outside the town of San Diego Los Banos, 130Km sw of Havana. To reach the town turn north off the autopista at km 101, just opposite the turning to Los Palacios and alongside an incomplete bridge.
There is a petrol station on your left, just as you enter the town. If you fork left, missing the town centre & hotel, you pass over a river with an old disused bridge to your right. After a few Kms this road reaches a roundabout which marks the entrance to the park. Keep on this road. ignoring a left turn and head for Cabanos Los Pinos, which is signposted. We birded around this disused cabin resort which is set amongst the conifers.
Maspoton: Maspoton is an area of ditches & wet fields which are good for Herons & Egrets, the area is also supposed to hold Masked Duck, but we failed to locate any. There is a small (holiday?) complex here, consisting of wooden chalets. We did not enter the complex, but from a distance it looked disused.
From the autopista (see above map) head into Los Palacios, where you take the road south to Maspoton, passing through the village of Sierra Maestrao. The ditches & pools are found along this road and around the holiday complex.
This is the best area to see many of Cuba's endemic species. It is situated on the south coast at the famous Bay of Pigs.
Zapata Swamp (Sparrow site)
La Cueva de Los Peses
This is a popular tourist restaurant & lagoon, situated on the coast road, 17Km East of Playa Laga. This is a site for Key West & Blue Headed Qualidoves. We glimpsed one KWQD ion our morning visit, on the rubbish dump, but did not see any BHQD
Giant Kingbird / La Belen N.P. nr Najasa
The best way to bird this area is to enlist the help of Pedro Regaldo, an ornithologist who lives near the Giant Kingbird site (see map). We found Giant Kingbird & Plain Pigeon by ourselves on the evening of 1/5 and spent most of the 2/5 with Pedro. His help was invaluable in arranging entry into La Belen N.P., where he has sites for breeding Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Pygmy-owl & Bare-legged Owl as well as a daytime root site for West Indian Treeduck.