The Zapata Peninsula, which juts out into the Caribbean to the south of the Matanzas Province, is an idyllic playground for ecotourists and scuba divers. Sparsely populated and zealously protected, most of the region lies within the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve (also known as the Gran Parque Natural Montemar), habitat of rare birds, crocodiles and a wide variety of ecosystems. Highlights within the biosphere are the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata and Laguna de las Salinas, known for its concentration of migratory birds.
To the east, the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) offers some of the best cave diving in the Caribbean. A dramatic drop in the seabed has created a huge wall, covered in sponges, gorgonians and coral. No need to book a boat: the area’s spectacular dive sites are easily accessible from shore.
The area’s two main beaches are Playa Larga and Playa Girón. Playa Larga is the headquarters of the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata, and a popular base for ecotours throughout the peninsula. Take an excursion to the settlement of Santo Tomás, the only place where the two tiny bird species (Herminia cerverai and Cyanolimnas cerverai) can be found together. Or travel up the Río Hatiguanico to bait some bass and observe the profusion of wildlife.
Playa Girón, the site of the famous Bay of Pigs invasion, in 1961, has a fascinating museum with aircraft and other artifacts from the historic battle. Visit the town of La Boca, along the Laguna del Tesoro, where you might meet some local carboneros (professional charcoal makers).
The clear waters of the Caribbean, with colourful coral walls and plunging drop-offs, make these quiet beaches along the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) a popular destination among divers and snorkelers.
This beach is also situated on the Bahia de Cochinos, north of Playa Girón. Its central location makes it an ideal base for eco-tours around the Zapata Peninsula.
Enjoy the quiet at this peaceful beach that’s an easy day trip from Varadero, located on the eastern side of the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). Its clear, sparkling waters attract avid snorkelers and scuba divers.
The Bahía de Cochinos is a magnet for scuba divers and snorkelers, with its warm, clear waters and abundant marine life… all easily accessible from shore. Inland, head to the Laguna de las Salinas, a wildlife refuge where you can observe aquatic birds and enjoy an afternoon of fly-fishing.
Boating and sailing
Spend an afternoon sailing along this river and observing the peninsula’s rich local wildlife, including an array of rare birds, turtles and crocodiles.
Gran Parque Natural Montemar
Stop by the National Park Office to arrange a fishing trip in the area. Laguna de las Salinas is perfect for fly-fishing, while the Hatiguanico River is rich with bonefish, tarpon and manjuari.
Scuba diving and snorkeling
See the rich underwater life populating the Bahía de Cochinos, explore the underwater caves at Cenote de los Peces, go snorkeling in the shallow waters at Punta Perdiz or enjoy the calm waters at the quiet Caleta Buena.
The shallow water here is perfect for snorkeling.
Cenote de los Peces
There are underwater caves to explore in these deep blue waters. The cenote is a flooded tectonic fault located inland, midway between Playa Girón and Playa Larga.
Don’t miss this quiet cove located 8km from Playa Girón. Stop by the sales office to book an underwater adventure.
Club Octopus International diving center
This scuba center located just west of Playa Larga also services the vibrant Bahía de Cochinos dive sites.
International scuba center
Book an amazing underwater adventure in the Bahía de Cochinos at this large diving centre located at Villa Playa Girón. Swim through the bay’s spectacular caves and marvel at the array of underwater life, including star coral, sponges and colorful tropical fish.
Take a tour through the region’s lush terrain of marsh grasslands, coastal lagoon vegetation and mangroves, home to an astonishing array of endemic and endangered birds, crocodiles and other wildlife.
The peninsula’s rich ecosystems provide a wealth of bird-watching opportunities.
Convene in the Santo Tomás settlement west of Playa Larga to join a walking or boating tour along a section of the Hatiguanico River.
Observación de Aves
Many species of rare birds make their home at this sanctuary, where knowledgeable staff offer guided tours.
Laguna de las Salinas
Book a guided tour through this wildlife refuge, where you may be treated to the unforgettable sight of thousands of pink flamingos. The swamps and lagoons here are densely populated with aquatic birds and migratory waterfowl.
There is plenty for ecotourists to see in this lush, well-protected region. Discover “Treasure Lake,” observe rare crocodiles at a protective breeding reserve, and explore all that the vast wetlands within this UNESCO-recognized biosphere have to offer.
Zapata Ciénaga Biosphere Reserve
One of Cuba’s six UNESCO biospheres, the Zapata reserve contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, and one of its most diverse ecosystems. Bring your binoculars: the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, makes its home here.
Gran Parque Natural Montemar
The Zapata Peninsula Biosphere reserve was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2001. It contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean. Here you will see flamingos, manatee, crocodiles and the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, thriving in their natural habitat.
Discover the wildlife surrounding “Treasure Lake,” or visit the rare crocodiles saved from extinction at a local crocodile-breeding farm.
Criadero de cocodrilos
Established in 1962, this crocodile breeding farm has successfully saved two endangered species of crocodiles from extinction.
Laguna del Tesoro (Treasure Lake)
Head down a 5-km canal to reach this scenic lagoon located east of Boca de Guamá. A lifelike recreation of a Taíno village spans across several small islands.
Arts and culture
Peruse documents, photographs and artifacts from the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion at the region’s military museums. When you’re in town, watch for the Grupo Cultural Corimacao, a group of artists that travels to locations off the beaten path throughout Cuba.
Fascinating exhibits provide behind-the-scenes details about the Bay of Pigs invasion at these two military museums.
Explore the tanks, weapons and a Cuban air force plane on display at this military museum. It also houses relics of the Bay of Pigs invasion, as well as a photographic collection about the historic event marking the first defeat of Imperialism in Latin America.
See where Fidel Castro set up his headquarters during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. This museum is located in what was once a part of the Central Australia sugar factory.
The whole family will enjoy a fun and educational trip to a crocodile farm.
Visit the Boca de Guamá, Cuba’s largest crocodile breeding farm, where kids can safely get up close and personal with the imposing reptiles.
Weddings and honeymoons
Cubanacán in Villa Guamá
Make sure to inquire about wedding, vows renewals and honey moon packages as you make your trip reservations. What could be more romantic than a wedding in a tropical island?