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Birdquest's Cuba tour explores the largest and ornithologically richest of the Caribbean islands. Our tour provides comprehensive coverage of this fascinating country and produces a host of Caribbean specialities and Cuban endemics including such delights as Blue-headed, Key West and Grey-fronted Quail Doves, Cuban Tody, Fernandina's Flicker, Cuban Trogon, Zapata Wren and the amazing Bee Hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird.
Wednesday 21st March —
Sunday 1st April 2018
Leaders: Chris Kehoe and local bird guides
Group Size Limit: 9
Tour Category: Easy walking and mostly comfortable accommodations
Five hundred years ago, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the New World on an island that he described as “the most beautiful that eyes have ever seen”.
The largest island to be found in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, Cuba is a country full of history. Following Columbus’s historic transatlantic voyage, the island soon became the pearl in the crown of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. A country with nearly five centuries of colonial history, Cuba attracted the attention of the world once again in the second half of the 20th century during the revolution that made Fidel Castro famous and Che Guevara a legend, and even now it bucks the trend of history by remaining an isolated bastion of Communism.
Nevertheless, the modern, post-revolutionary Cuba seems an age away as one drives through sleepy colonnaded towns where horses are tethered outside bars with dark cavernous interiors in which their straw-hatted riders are drinking strong rum and chewing fat cigars, machetes tucked into belts, or as one watches the battered Buicks or gleaming Chevrolets of the forties and fifties travelling along roads that bisect a green sea of sugar cane. Only the occasional hoarding exhorting the people to increase productivity or extolling the triumphs of the last decades reminds one of recent history. Cuba remains the quintessential tropical island, with long palm-fringed beaches, azure seas and dense forests with cool inviting pools and waterfalls.
For the birdwatcher Cuba has many additional attractions. Until comparatively recently, Cuba had been little visited by outside ornithologists since the late 1940s. The island has an exciting avifauna, with no fewer than 28 endemics and one near-endemic (about half of which are considered endangered), and many other species with restricted Caribbean ranges. In common with many island avifaunas, Cuba also has many distinctive races of mainland species that add further interest and, as a result of its strategic location between North and South America, is an important migration stopover or wintering area for many North American birds. This is a rather easy tour that provides a great opportunity to see Cuba’s excellent selection of endemics as well as many other Caribbean species. The friendly, easy-going atmosphere and unique feel to the country are a real bonus. During our travels through the island we shall visit all the major habitats and will have a good chance of encountering all but two of the endemic species, as well as many other exciting birds.
Our exploration of this enigmatic island, during which we have an excellent chance of seeing 26 of the island’s 28 endemics (only the ultra-rare and seldom-seen Cuban Kite and Zapata Rail being excluded), begins in the lush forests west of Havana. Here we will encounter our first endemics, including the lovely little Cuban Tody, the beautiful Cuban Trogon, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Vireo, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban Blackbird, Cuban Oriole and in particular the localized Cuban Solitaire and very probably the rare Cuban Grassquit. Other specialities here include Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker, Crescent-eyed (or Cuban) Pewee, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Olive-capped Warbler and Cuban Bullfinch.
Next we explore the east-central part of the island where Afro-Caribbean influences are at their strongest (the famous dance rhythms of the rumba and conga were born here) and where the ghosts of buccaneers and pirates seem to haunt the hidden bays. We will begin by exploring an area of forested sierras where our prime targets will be the endangered endemic Cuban Palm Crow and endemic Giant Kingbird, whilst colour will be added by gaudy Cuban Amazons and endemic Cuban Parakeets. Other specialities include Great Lizard Cuckoo, Cuban Martin and Cuban Crow.
We will then visit the northern cays (coral islands) where sorties from our luxurious resort at Cayo Coco will bring us face to face with endemic specialities such as Cuban Black-Hawk, the exquisite Cuban Gnatcatcher, the noisy Oriente Warbler and the rare Zapata Sparrow. West Indian Whistling Duck, Key West Quail-Dove, Bahama Mockingbird and Thick-billed Vireo add to the area’s attractions.
Eventually we will make our way back to the west to enjoy an extended stay in the celebrated Cienaga de Zapata, home to an exciting array of birds including some little known and rarely observed endemics. Here we will feast our eyes on superb Bare-legged Owls (or Cuban Screech-Owls) and gorgeous Fernandina’s Flickers, and also seek out other endemics such as the rare Gundlach’s Hawk, the magical Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Gray-fronted Quail-Dove, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, Cuban Nightjar, the miniscule Bee Hummingbird (the world’s smallest bird), Red-shouldered Blackbird and the very rare Zapata Wren. Stygian Owl is another notable speciality.
On our way to the airport we will pay a short visit to La Habana (known to English speakers as Havana), a capital city of decaying elegance that exudes memories of the days of the Spanish Empire and the boisterous but decadent years that preceded the revolution.
All in all, there can be few more enjoyable Caribbean birding journeys than travelling through Cuba at the best season to see the island’s many specialities.
Birdquest has operated tours to Cuba since 1993.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good or medium standard throughout. Road transport is by small coach and roads are reasonably good.
Walking: The walking effort is easy throughout.
Climate: Mostly hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes overcast and it may rain at times. It is often very humid.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.
These are provisionalk prices
Tour Price: £2640, €3120, $3460 Havana/Havana.
Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room Supplement: £198, €234, $260.
Deposit: £350, €420, $460.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate
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