WORDS & IMAGES: KIM WILKINSON |
Cuba does not seem like an obvious eco-tourism destination. However Cuba was developing eco-initiatives long before it became ‘cool’ to be green. Creating innovative ways to conserve energy was a necessity in Cuba. As most Cubans don’t have cars, they get around by utilising an extensive hitchhiking network. Cubans are also excellent at fixing things and recycling is common place – don’t expect take away containers when you order your pizza from a roadside stall. It will most likely be served up on a scrap of old cardboard!
Las Terrazas, meaning ‘The Terraces’ in Spanish, pioneered eco-tourism in Cuba. In the late 1960s, Cubans were concerned about deforestation in a large area of land in Pinar del Rio. Their response: reforest the land, create a reservoir and build housing on the site to create Las Terrazas, the first eco-village in Cuba. It became part of the Sierra del Rosario UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1994. Las Terrazas is now a must do destination for the eco-conscious traveller visiting Cuba. Only a few hours from Havana, it is a good option for a day trip or an overnight stay, with a number of accommodation options available.
Visitors can choose from range of eco-activities on offer. You can rent a boat from the quirky boathouse, zip-line over the eco community to get a birds-eye view, enjoy a hike or go horse-riding. Visitors can cool off in the Banos del San Juan, natural swimming pools.
Las Terazzas is just one example of Cuban eco-tourism. Cuba has a range of other eco-friendly travel activities, including diving, cycling and hiking.
With its premier location in the Caribbean, divers head to Cuba in flocks. Even Fidel Castro dived when he was younger. Punta Frances and Maria la Gorda both offer excellent diving. You can also dive in the historic Bahia de Cochinos, the Bay of Pigs, which has an impressive coral wall close to the shore. Some divers base themselves in Varadero, where a number of dive and snorkelling trips depart each day. However this can be a bit too touristy for some.
Cuba is also a popular destination for cyclists. As there are few cars on the road, the roads are reasonably safe for cyclists. You can hire bikes in most Cuban towns, however it is advised that if you are a serious cyclist you should consider bringing your own bike, as many of the Cuban hire bikes can be a bit worse for wear. A patch kit is also a good idea.
Cuba also has some stellar hikes. If you are an avid hiker, you might like to test yourself on Pico Turquino, Cuba’s highest peak at 1972 metres. This hike may cost you an arm and a leg, but the views are certainly worth it. The hike can be done over a number of days and gives visitors the opportunity to see some Cuban wildlife as well as the Comandancia la Plata. The Comandancia la Plata was Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s revolutionary headquarters and is an absolutely fascinating site to visit.
Be prepared for a tough hike, as the ascent up Pico Turquino is very steep. It may be wise to take extra food, such as snacks and ‘trail mix’ because you will need the extra energy.
When travelling in Cuba, visitors can try and ensure that they travel responsibly by making their tourist dollars count. The Cuban government has made staying in a private residence, referred to as “casa particulares”, legal. This is a great way to ensure that your tourist dollars reach everyday Cubans. As a bonus, the service is usually better than that in hotels and staying in Cuban homes gives you an insight into the real Cuba!
To help you on your way:
• Learn some Spanish. A ‘por favor’ or two makes a huge difference as many Cubans do not speak English.
• Stay in casa particulares, the homes of Cuban people. What better way to see the real Cuba?
Text images: © Kim Wilkinson
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