You are invited on an exclusive, U.S.-led and U.S.-managed birding program to Cuba sponsored by BirdWatching magazine in partnership with the Caribbean Conservation Trust, Inc.
For the fourth time, BirdWatching magazine, in collaboration with the Caribbean Conservation Trust (CCT), is promoting a birding program to Cuba, the Caribbean’s largest and most ecologically diverse island nation. (Our two previous trips were huge successes. Here are summaries and trip lists of our February 2016 and December 2016 bird surveys. Our third program will take place in December 2017.)
The program is coordinated under U.S. government authorization by Connecticut-based CCT. In early 2017, CCT staff began their 22nd year of managing bird conservation and natural history programs in Cuba. Along with CCT ornithologist Michael Good, our team will include a bilingual Cuban tour leader and local naturalists in four different birding regions. (Previously announced leaders Pete and Linda Dunne will be unable to join the trip due to family health issues.)
The Caribbean Conservation Trust designed this itinerary to take you to Cuba’s finest bird habitats, most beautiful national parks, diverse biosphere reserves, and unique natural areas. We will interact with local scientists and naturalists who work in research and conservation. In addition to birding, we will learn about the ecology and history of regions we visit. Finally, and especially given the ongoing changes in U.S.-Cuba relations, we can expect some degree of inquiry into fascinating aspects of Cuban culture, history, and daily living during our visit.
According to BirdLife International, which has designated 28 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Cuba, “Over 370 bird species have been recorded in Cuba, including 27 which are endemic to the island and 29 considered globally threatened. Due to its large land area and geographical position within the Caribbean, Cuba represents one of the most important countries for Neotropical migratory birds – both birds passing through on their way south (75 species) and those spending the winter on the island (86 species).“
Our itinerary provides opportunities to see many of Cuba’s endemic species and subspecies, as listed below. This trip will also focus on the many migrant species that migrate north to Cuba to breed (from the south), and from Cuba to the north in the spring (endemic species and endemic subspecies in italics):
Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Oriole, Bee Hummingbird, Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Gray-fronted Quail-Dove, Cuban Black Hawk, Cuban Blackbird, Cuban Bullfinch, Cuban Gnatcatcher, Cuban Grassquit, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Parrot, Cuban Pewee, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Vireo, Fernandina’s Flicker, Giant Kingbird, Gundlach’s Hawk, Eastern Meadowlark, Cuban Nightjar, Red-shouldered Blackbird, Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, Oriente Warbler, Yellow-headed Warbler, Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow, Cuban Crow, Palm Crow, Cuban Martin, Cuban Emerald, Bahama Mockingbird, Thick-billed Vireo, and Western Spindalis.
Other species of interest include: Great Lizard-Cuckoo, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Olive-capped Warbler, Key West Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Zenaida Dove, Stygian Owl, West Indian Whistling-Duck, American Flamingo, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, a great variety of wading birds, and numerous other migratory and resident species.
Our Cuba Bird Survey begins in the forests surrounding Las Terrazas Community, established in 1968 as a re-forestation and community-integrated development project. In Cuba’s post-revolutionary history, the community has blossomed as a model of sustainability and is currently a prime destination for ecologically based tourism.
Cuba’s Western Mountains include two of the country’s most diverse and dramatic ranges: the Sierra de la Rosario and Sierra de los Organos. We will explore an area common to both ranges in search of western-range endemic species such as Cuban Solitaire. A highlight of the trip will be a visit to the magical, unusually beautiful karstic landscape of mogotes — the towering, lushly vegetated, flat-top limestone monoliths that dominate the Organos Mountains. This is the only region in which we will likely see Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Grassquit, Giant Kingbird, and Olive-capped Warbler. Other potential endemic species for western Cuba include Cuban Oriole, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Pewee, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Vireo, and Yellow-headed Warbler.
We will also explore the diverse wetland region of the Zapata Peninsula, Cuba’s richest and most important birding destination located in the historic Bay of Pigs. This peninsula is a Ramsar Convention-designated site (the Ramsar Convention is an international conservation treaty) and is among the most important wetlands in the West Indies. Here, the best local guides will lead us through protected areas in Cienaga de Zapata National Park and other natural sites off the beaten track. The Zapata Peninsula covers more than 2,800 square miles and features easily accessible, Everglades-like ecology and habitat. Framed by the pristine Caribbean coastal environment of the Bay of Pigs, the peninsula features vast open swamp land, low coastal forests, sparkling white sand beaches, healthy and accessible coral reefs, and refreshing natural limestone pools called cenotes. Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Black Hawk, Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow, Fernandina’s Flicker, Bare-legged Owl, Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, and Blue-headed and Gray-fronted Quail-Doves, Red-shouldered Blackbird are among the many birds we will hope to find (three nights).
Cayo Coco and Cuba’s Atlantic Archipelago provide excellent birding opportunities on Cuba’s Atlantic coast. These previously uninhabited and relatively unexplored islands were connected to the mainland by an 18-mile causeway completed in 1989. Cuba’s academy of sciences (CITMA) maintains a research facility here. These barrier islands and keys provide unique opportunities for: Cuban Gnatcatcher, Oriente Warbler, Thick-billed Vireo, Bahama Mockingbird, West Indian Whistling-Duck, as well as numerous shorebirds and aquatic birds. This region also provides additional opportunities to see rare endemics such as Zapata Sparrow and Gundlach’s Hawk. Accommodations are in a modern beachfront resort (two nights).
The outskirts of Sancti Spiritus in central Cuba provides a peaceful and welcome location as we move south and east from Cuba’s Atlantic coast. This lovely colonial town is surrounded by lush valleys and foothills of the Sierra de Escambray Mountains. From here we will bird the Escambray Valley, bordered on the north by dramatic vistas of Cuba’s third largest mountain range, and to the south by the Caribbean Sea and its picturesque coastline. A lunch stop in historic Trinidad, one of Cuba’s five original settlements (from the 16th century), follows our search for Palm Crow and other resident birds. One night (in each location) will be spent on the outskirts of both Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Our program concludes in Havana. Upon our return to the city at the end of the birding program, you will have the option of spending two evenings in Havana, one of Latin America’s best preserved and most compelling colonial cities. Our full-day EXTENSION OPTION in the city will include all meals, a guided city tour, including a walking tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) and the four original plazas, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Old Havana is like a living museum and is currently undergoing rapid, energetic change. As a special treat we will also visit the home and private ornithological collection of Orlando Garrido, Cuba’s most prolific living naturalist and senior author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has provided a license for conducting bird conservation work in Cuba to the Caribbean Conservation Trust, Inc. (CCT), a U.S. based organization committed to the conservation of endemic and migratory birds and their habitats in the greater Caribbean region. The primary objective of CCT is to enhance the ability of North American and Caribbean ornithologists, naturalists, resource managers, conservation organizations, institutions, and local citizens to conduct research and initiate programs to help conserve the birds of the Caribbean and their habitats. CCT is dedicated to bird and habitat conservation through education and relationship building and is in compliance with U.S. Treasury licensure for travel to Cuba.
For a glimpse of our program in action, watch the film Counting on Birds, a 2013 Public Broadcasting System production that describes the history of the Christmas Bird Count and features a segment on our program in Cuba as an example how birders can contribute to citizen science-based bird-conservation efforts.
Our program is designed and managed in the United States, is professionally staffed, and has been field tested over 20 years in Cuba. We are dedicated to providing participants with informative nature-oriented experiences with the help of our highly skilled local leaders.
Full-time U.S. field leader
CCT ornithologist Michael Good has been involved with our Cuba programs since 2002 and is our U.S. leader for this program. Michael has over 30 years experience studying the birds of North America, and he brings a wealth of knowledge and passion for neotropical migrants and the avifauna of the eastern United States. Michael has traveled extensively in the U.S., Alaska, Europe, Australia, South America, and Cuba. As a registered Maine guide, he has been guiding professionally for many years, focusing on avian ecology in the Gulf of Maine bioregion. Fields of expertise include wetland ecology, ornithology, environmental education, and developmental biology. Michael spent many years studying numerous aspects of the Gulf of Maine while employed at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He currently holds a BA (Biology) from Earlham College and a MS (Developmental Biology) from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. In his spare time he maintains Three Pines Bird Sanctuary in Town Hill, Maine, studying micro-habitat utilized by neotropical migratory birds on Mount Desert Island, and winter ecology in various neotropical countries when given the opportunity. Michael was recently selected as Maine’s Best Birding Guide by Yankee magazine. He is an outstanding ornithologist and naturalist, is president of Down East Nature Tours in Bar Harbor, Maine, and is the founder of the Acadia Birding Festival.
We work with a competent team of biologists, museum curators, and naturalists in Cuba. Our full-time Cuban biologist and primary Cuban birding guide will be with us throughout the program in the field and will assist in finding and identifying birds, as well as providing a broad overview of Cuban natural history. He may share specific information relative to the flora, fauna, geology, and other natural features of the environments we visit. Additionally, we will work with regional naturalists from the national parks and biosphere reserves that we visit around the country.
A bilingual Cuban guide will be at our service throughout the program. Along with a professional driver, he or she will be with the group each day to tell us about Cuban history, culture, arts, and lifestyle. He/she will also deal with logistics, meals, translation, and other nuts-and-bolts aspects of the travel experience.
Accommodations feature hotels in Havana and four additional provinces. Our Cuban accommodations are staffed by friendly hosts and in the countryside represent the best Cuba has to offer in the regions we visit. These may include refurbished vintage hotels, modern resort hotels, and simple beach-front bungalows. All accommodations are safe, clean, air conditioned tourist facilities. It should be noted that standards in Cuba differ from those in the U.S. and other developed countries.
Following program registration, we will provide all participants with a bird list as well as details with regard to travel to Cuba, including all of the basics you need to know about travel documents, customs, facts about Cuba, currency, health and safety, food, flights, and what to bring. U.S. Government authorization documents and bird checklist will be provided following receipt of your final balance.
Physical demands and expectations
This program offers opportunities for several days of ambitious birding, early departure times on birding days, and occasional evening sessions. Birding days may provide leisure time after lunch and before our afternoon birding sessions. Physical exertion will be light to moderate most days, with the longest walks approximately 3 miles. Terrain is mostly flat and dry, with some hills present in western Cuba. Participants should be in reasonably good physical condition and prepared for strong sun, with temperatures in the mid 70s – 90s. Mosquitoes can be bothersome in Cayo Coco and the Zapata Region. Although unlikely, rain may occur as well, so bring adequate rain gear. Those with medical concerns should check with their physician before taking part in the program. Your health and well-being are very important to us!
Registration, trip costs, terms, and conditions
Land costs for the 11-day program are $4,895 per person for shared accommodations, with an additional $595 for single supplements. The one-day/night Havana extension option is $355 per person sharing, and $425 per single traveler. Reservation forms are accepted on a first come, first served basis, and must be accompanied by a $700 deposit payable to Caribbean Conservation Trust. Enrollment is limited to 14 travelers. CCT Cuba programs have sold out quickly this season. Fewer participants may result in a reasonable small-group supplement. With a total of 12 participants, add $250 per person for a small-group supplement.
What is included
CCT Cuba Bird Survey Programs include the following: all accommodations, all meals in Cuba beginning with dinner on day 1, ending with breakfast on the last day of the program, guide services, most tips (guides, drivers, naturalists, and restaurant and bell staff), airport/hotel transfers, ground transportation, bottled water, some drinks, admission fees (itinerary only), U.S. Department of Treasury authorization documents, and program management services, which include the provision of all pre- and post-program materials, a full-time Cuban bilingual guide, bilingual Cuban naturalists, and a fulltime driver. Program fees help support Caribbean Conservation Trust’s bird-conservation efforts in Cuba.
What is not included
Travel to Havana, Cuba; a Cuban visa ($50) and Cuban health insurance (required by law and approximately $3 per day); personal items such as laundry, phone calls, additional beverages, bar and housekeeping tips, etc.; airport departure taxes ($30 departing Cuba); U.S. passport fees; meals or accommodations outside Cuba; or other fees not listed in the program. Cost estimates are as of September 2017 and are subject to change.
We fly from Florida to Havana with a U.S. airline on commercial flights. Exact flight schedules are released six months prior to departure, but we aim for morning departures in each direction. We will provide all of the information necessary to make booking these flights simple and secure. Flight costs range from $250 to $300 round trip. Flight plans will be announced by November 2017.
Travel insurance protection
Any U.S. citizen traveling internationally these days should consider insurance protection. Reasonably priced coverage is available to provide protection against financial loss due to trip cancellation or delay, as well as lost baggage. Though uncommon, cancellations due to illness, accidents, work-related schedule changes, and other unplanned or unwelcome events have happened. Unforeseen travel-related events that you have little or no control over can also affect travel plans. All of these factors make trip-cancellation insurance an important consideration.
For information about Travelex insurance, call 1 (800) 228-9792. Be sure to use the agency location code 07-0067 to access coverage explicit to this program. The Caribbean Conservation Trust’s U.S. Department of Treasury authorization is classified as HUMANITARIAN.
For the land portion of the tour, a $700 deposit is due as soon as possible to reserve space on these programs. This can be paid by wire transfer, check, or money order payable to “Caribbean Conservation Trust.” Please do not write “Cuba” on the check memo.
Please download the registration form at the bottom of this page and fill it out. Mail it along with your payment to this address:
Caribbean Conservation Trust
353 West Todd Street
Hamden, CT 06518
For more information, contact Gary Markowski, Executive Director, Caribbean Conservation Trust, at [email protected] or (203) 733-1162.
Balance payment and cancellation and refund policy*
Full payment is due 90 days prior to departure or by January 2, 2018. You will receive a detailed receipt/invoice following receipt of your deposit and reservation form. All cancellations must be done in writing and are effective upon receipt in the CCT office. Should it become necessary for you to cancel, all payments will be refunded after a deduction of our cancellation fee outlined below:
More than 90 days prior to the tour: $350 per person (land only)
From 90-75 days prior to the tour: FULL DEPOSIT
Fewer than 75 days prior to the tour: NO REFUND (unless we can fill your place)
In the unlikely event that we must cancel the tour, a full refund less a $100 processing fee for your license application will be forwarded to you, should cancellation occur after your license has been processed.
*Please be aware that the refund policies apply only to the land portion of the trip and that airlines may have different policies that exist beyond our ability to control. Additional registration fees may apply. As with all international travel programs, we highly encourage trip cancellation and travel insurance policies.
Caribbean Conservation Trust and its agents and constituents reserve the right to make changes to the itineraries. Land and air arrangements may be subject to price increases beyond our control.
Day 1: April 3, 2018
Havana to Sierra de la Rosario Biosphere Reserve
After arrival in Havana either late morning or early afternoon, we will travel to Las Terrazas, nestled in the forest and foothills of the Sierra de la Rosario mountains one hour west of Havana for accommodation and dinner. Accommodation is in a tranquil and comfortable small hotel that is part of Las Terrazas ecological community (one night). Cuban Blackbird, Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, Cuban Emerald, Loggerhead Kingbird, Cuban Trogon, Red-legged Honeycreeper and Cuban Pewee may be present here.
Day 2: April 4, 2018
Las Terrazas to La Guira National Park
Morning birding nearby within Las Terrazas and the Sierra de los Rosario Biosphere Reserve. Cuban Grassquit, Olive-capped Warbler, Cuban Tody, Cuban Bullfinch, Great Lizard Cuckoo are likely species to encounter. Lunch at Cafetal Buena Vista, a restored 19th-century coffee plantation, offering sweeping views of the mountains, plains, and coast. Late-day birding near Hacienda Cortina, a former lavish estate with excellent birding options. Endemic Cuban Solitaire, Vireo, Oriole, and Yellow-headed Warbler, Giant Kingbird, and Red-legged Honeycreeper will be pursued here. Accommodation and dinner at Mirador San Diego (one night).
Day 3: April 5, 2018
Las Terrazas to Zapata Peninsula
Early breakfast and departure to the national park (45 minutes, with easy forest trails, 2+ miles) and visit to Cueva de Portales, a classic “through cave” carved by the San Diego River. This was Che Guevara’s military headquarters during the missile crisis of 1962. Lunch in San Diego de los Banos. Departure east to the Zapata Peninsula (4+ hours). Birding stops along the way as opportunity permits. Accommodation/dinner in private home stays in Playa Larga (three nights) on the picturesque Bay of Pigs. This region contains the largest wetland complex in the West Indies and is Cuba’s most prolific birding region. Here we have access to excellent local guides, as well as to protected areas and birding locations off the beaten track.
Day 4: April 6, 2018
Early breakfast and a morning of birding in a nature preserve adjacent to the small village of Bermejas. Here is our best opportunity to see the endemic Bee Hummingbird (the world’s smallest bird), Fernandina’s Flicker, Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Parrot, Blue-headed and Gray-fronted Quail-Doves, and Key West and Ruddy Quail-Doves. Lunch at Caleta Buena, a beautiful limestone-rimmed inlet abundant with fish and excellent snorkeling opportunities. The historic Bay of Pigs museum is nearby. Afternoon birding in Bermejas, dinner/accommodation in Playa Larga.
Day 5: April 7, 2018
Early breakfast and departure for birding within Zapata National Park and a morning walk along a dry roadway in the swamp at La Turba. This is our best opportunity for Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow, Red-shouldered Blackbird, and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird and a variety of warblers and other migrants. Lunch and a trip to Las Salinas Wildlife Refuge, with numerous shorebirds, Reddish Egrets, Wood Storks, spoonbills, flamingos, and endemic Cuban Black Hawk. All walking is on dry, flat terrain (less than 2 miles total). Dinner at a private restaurant in the village, accommodation in Playa Larga.
Day 6: April 8, 2018
Zapata to Cayo Coco
Breakfast, check out, and birding options within the protected areas of the park, based on leader discretion. Late-morning drive northeast to Cayo Coco (6+ hours) in Cuba’s northern archipelago, the setting for Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream. The keys offer excellent birding, scenery, and accommodation. All inclusive beachfront accommodation and meals at Sol Cayo Coco hotel. Birding on site or en route (or both), depending on timing of arrival.
Day 7: April 9, 2018
Morning birding on Cayo Paredon Grande, the northeastern-most key in the Cayo Coco archipelago, which is one of Cuba’s most important migratory landfalls. Cuban Gnatcatcher, Oriente Warbler, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Thick-billed Vireo, and possibly a subspecies of Zapata Sparrow and Bahama Mockingbird are target birds for the day. Lunch at the hotel followed by afternoon birding on Cayo Guillermo in mixed habitat including coastal forest, mangrove flats, low coastal scrub, and pristine white-sand shoreline (roadside, flat walking). Dinner, accommodation in Cayo Coco.
Day 8: April 10, 2018
Cayo Coco to Sancti Spiritus
Morning birding not far from our hotel for species we may have missed. Late checkout followed by lunch in Cayo Coco and drive to Sancti Spiritus (3+ hours) for dinner and accommodation at Rancho Hatuey in the peaceful countryside.
Day 9: April 11, 2018
Sancti Spiritus to Trinidad Cienfuegos Coast
Morning departure west through the scenic Escambray Valley in search of Palm Crow, a possible future endemic recorded here recently by our groups. Other birding stops en route. Lunch in Trinidad, one of Cuba’s most historic Colonial cities. Departure west along the striking coastline, with dinner and accommodation in Cienfuegos Province on the coast.
Day 10: April 12, 2018
Cienfuegos Province to Havana
Breakfast and morning departure west, with a birding stop at the former Harvard Botanical Gardens outside of Cienfuegos. Afternoon break with lunch en route as we move west toward Havana (3+ hours) with possible birding stops along the way. Accommodation and dinner in Havana.
Day 11: April 13, 2018
Havana to U.S, or extension
Havana Extension will include accommodation, breakfast, lunch, and a guided tour of Havana, including historic Old Havana, one of the best preserved colonial cities in the Americas. The walking tour will include a guided interpretive exploration of some of colonial Havana’s most significant historical sites. This UNESCO World Heritage site is loaded with a variety of museums, a thriving arts scene, and a full range of architectural examples of both renovated and neglected structures, many opulent or otherwise unique, representing five centuries of human habitation. The extension also includes a visit to the home and private ornithological collection of Orlando Garrido, Cuba’s greatest living naturalist. Sr. Garrido is a retired and venerable former Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History in Havana, and co-author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba as well as hundreds of scientific publications. This visit is always mentioned as a trip highlight. Lunch is in one of Old Havana’s best paladares (private restaurant). Late afternoon is open for self exploration of this fascinating and historic small city. Accommodation in Havana. Dinner at a private waterfront restaurant. (Download a PDF about the Havana extension at the bottom of this page.)
Day 12: April 14, 2018
Havana to U.S.
Breakfast and morning transfer to Jose Marti International Airport for your return flight to Florida.
For more information, contact Gary Markowski, Executive Director, Caribbean Conservation Trust, at [email protected] or (203) 733-1162.
Page updated on December 7, 2017.