10 of Cuba's Best Natural Attractions

View of Viñales Valley, with rows of plants growing at ground level and large limestone rock formations covered in green plants in the distance below a sky with white clouds
Viñales Valley in western Cuba is an agricultural area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dmitri Korobtsov / Getty Images

Images of Cuba frequently include charmingly outdated urban scenes, beaches, tobacco farms, and coffee plantations. In many parts of Cuba, however, nature is the main attraction.

The island has an impressive array of national parks, preserves, and other protected areas. Many of the island’s natural areas are teeming with wildlife, both on land and underwater, making the country ideal for spotting sea turtles, bird watching, hiking, and exploring caves. 

Here are 10 destinations in Cuba that let the country's stunning natural beauty shine.

1
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Cayo Coco

wood dock leading in to three thatched roof covered cabanas above the clear turquoise and blue water below a bright blue sky in Cayo Coco

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A remote island destination connected to the mainland and the adjacent Cayo Guillermo by a long causeway, Cayo Coco's uncrowded beaches are the star of the show. Visitors can enjoy long strolls along the island's coast. However, sharp reef remnants of emerged coral, referred to as "dog's teeth," necessitate appropriate footwear for those who want to hike beside the water.

The island is also known for its bird watching and offshore excursions such as fishing, catamaran cruises, snorkel tours, swimming with dolphins, and canoe trips along the mangrove forests. At the northwestern end of Cayo Coco, El Baga Natural Park, named for the local baga tree, is an ecotourism theme park with interpretive programs and conservation classes.

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Zapata Swamp National Park

Vibrant blue sky reflected in blue water with green lily plants in the water surrounded by palm and evergreen trees at Ciénaga de Zapata ecotourism area

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Ciénaga de Zapata (or Zapata Swamp) contains the largest wetland in the Caribbean. The park's more than 1.5 million acres have been zealously protected. Zapata Swamp is designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Many of the visitors who come here note similarities between Zapata and the Florida Everglades. One of the main differences: Zapata has Cuban crocodiles instead of alligators.

Zapata is also known as one of the world's best bird-watching destinations. Birdwatchers flock to Ciénaga de Zapata National Park and to Laguna de las Salinas, which are both within the biosphere reserve. Some 17 of Cuba’s 20 endemic bird species have been spotted in the region, as have half of all of the country’s bird species.

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Guanahacabibes Peninsula National Park

one large, cream-colored rock formation along a beach covered with three smaller rock formations on a sand and seaweed covered beach beside bright blue water beneath a blue sky in Guanahacabibes Peninsula National Park

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Located within the Guanahacabibes Peninsula UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Guanahacabibes National Park is more than two hours from the nearest large population center, and is one of the most remote places in Cuba.

The interior areas of Guanahacabibes are covered by forest, while mangrove swamps can be found along parts of the park's coastline. Deer, iguanas, and more than 200 species of birds have been sighted on the peninsula. The sandy sections of shoreline boast sea turtle nesting sites that are among the most active in Cuba.

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Topes de Collantes

Water falling from an area of lush green trees into moss covered rocks and a pool of water at El Nicho waterfalls at Topes de Collantes Natural Park in Cienfuegos, Cuba

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A protected area in the Escambray Mountains, Topes de Collantes is named for a 2,500-foot peak within the preserve. The landscapes here are characterized by caves, waterfalls, rivers, and plenty of greenery and wildlife. One of the local waterways, the Caburni River, boasts impressive falls that terminate in natural swimming areas.

Topes de Collantes embraces its ecotourism allure with Paseo Ecologico, an ecology trail filled with pine and eucalyptus trees, towering ferns, and the Cuban national flower, Hedychium coronarium.

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Hanabanilla Lake

vibrant blue color of Hanabanilla Lake surrounded by low green foliage with the lush green covered Escambray Mountains in the distance under a blue sky with light, white cloud cover

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Hanabanilla Lake was built as a reservoir during the reign of the Batista government before the communist revolution. Because of the way the reservoir was constructed, the underwater topography is ideal for freshwater fish. Indeed, the main attraction here is fishing. Hanabanilla is especially known for its oversized largemouth bass.

The lake is in the Escambray Mountains and is considered part of the Topes de Collantes area. Because of the legendary fishing, remoteness, and scenery, however, it deserves special mention. The lake is surrounded by tobacco farms, coffee plantations, ranches, and dense jungle. The reservoir is fed by several rivers, some of which have waterfalls. In addition to fishing, visitors can experience hiking and horseback riding excursions in the mountains above the lake.

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Viñales National Park

aerial view of Vinales Valley National Park with scenic karst landscape surrounded by mountains, palm trees, green ground cover and plants, with limestone outcrops and fields in the Sierra de los Organos in Cuba

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Viñales is arguably one of the most scenic places in Cuba. It's also one of the most well-known nature destinations on the island. Tourists flock to this valley to see the picturesque rounded limestone rock formations called mogotes, which rise above the tobacco and banana farms on the floor of the valley.

Aside from the scenery, visitors can explore caves, including Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás and Cueva del Indio. Horseback riding, bird watching tours, and rock climbing are also popular activities in Viñales.

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Desembarco del Granma National Park

people at the base of waterfalls flowing grom a forest of tall green trees and large rocks at the falls' terminus in Desembarco del Granma National Park

VIChapayev / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 1.0

Desembarco del Granma—a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Cuba—is a natural area defined by limestone terrace formations. The cliffs and waterfalls here are very close to the coast. In fact, Desembarco has some of the most pristine sea cliffs in the Caribbean.

Not only will visitors find waterfalls, but the rock formations create a kind of unique stair-like topography. Mangrove forests can be found along the shoreline and coral reefs provide snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities offshore.

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Las Terrazas

an expansive turquoise blue lake surrounded by lush forests and mountains covered with trees under a blue sky in Las Terrazas

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Las Terrazas (or the terraces) is an eco-village in the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve that got its start during a reforestation effort in the 1960s. At that time, new trees were planted on terraced hillsides so that they would not be swept away by rain and erosion. 

With trails that crisscross the area, Las Terrazas is ideal for hiking, visiting waterfalls, and birdwatching. Las Terrazas also has a vibrant arts scene, and is home to one of Cuba's oldest operating coffee plantations.

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Soroa Orchid Garden

sloping garden at Soroa Botanical Park covered with lush red plants, small green plants, fruit trees, and mountains in the distance beneath a blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds

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The Soroa Orchid Garden is a small botanical garden in Sierra del Rosario, the same reserve that houses Las Terrazas. The garden features hundreds of different species of orchids and a host of other ornamental plants. Not only are Cuban orchids studied and displayed here, classes are offered for visitors who want to learn how to cultivate and care for the fragile but beautiful flowers.

The garden is not far from Las Terrazas and from Viñales, and is convenient to other areas in western Cuba.

10
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Baconao Park

a beach covered with large rocks near the shore of a gray/blue ocean beneath a bright blue sky with mountains in the distance

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Part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Baconao Park is located on the southeastern coast of Cuba near Santiago. The park extends from the rugged Sierra Maestra mountains to remote beaches along the sea. It offers easy access to dozens of attractive dive sites. The parkland, which stretches for more than 300 square miles, is home to an abundance of plant and animal species. Baconao also boasts a diverse menu of landscapes.

In addition to its natural beauty, Baconao Park also has attractions that include an outdoor car museum and a collection of life-size concrete dinosaur statues.