Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

Discover the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, a protected area in the midst of Cuban nature. A Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar Site, this park is a treasure trove of biodiversity and a sanctuary for nature enthusiasts and adventurers alike.

Features, Creation Data, and Area

Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

Recognized as a national park, the Ciénaga de Zapata holds legal protection through Decree 197/96 of the Turquino Manatí Plan, declaring it a Special Region of Sustainable Development in its entirety. It spans an area of 452,000 hectares (4,500 km²) and boasts one of the largest freshwater reservoirs in the country.

Within the wetland, there are approximately 9,000 inhabitants, resulting in an average population density of merely six people per square kilometer, the lowest across all of Cuba’s territory.

In terms of distribution, the park encompasses a land area of 108,200 hectares and a marine extension of 28,690 hectares. Collectively, the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park covers a total area of 136,890 hectares, providing extensive space for the protection and conservation of its abundant biodiversity.

Park History

The Ciénaga de Zapata has a rich and diverse history. Prior to Columbus’s arrival, this area was inhabited by the Siboney tribes. During the colonial period, the zone remained nearly uninhabited and became a refuge for pirates. In the republican era, the Ciénaga de Zapata was inhabited by charcoal makers and fishermen who lived in conditions of extreme poverty.
After the Cuban Revolution, revitalization programs were carried out in the area, contributing to its development and transformation. Presently, the Ciénaga de Zapata has become an important tourist destination for the country.

Within the Ciénaga de Zapata, two historically significant sites are located: Playa Girón and Playa Larga. These sites were the stage for the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, an event that marked the United States’ first defeat in Latin America. These historical events have left a mark on the region and add extra interest for visitors exploring the area.

Getting to Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

Located on the Zapata Peninsula, belonging to the Matanzas province in Cuba, about 150 km southeast of Havana and with coordinates: 22°20′0″ N, 81°37′0″ W, the park is easily accessible both by plane and by car. The nearest airport is the Varadero International Airport, while the roads are well-maintained and have proper signage.

Access by Plane

The nearest airport to the park is the Varadero International Airport. From there, you can hire a taxi or rent a car to reach the park.

Access by Car

The park is well-connected to the rest of Cuba through a network of roads. The roads are well-maintained and have proper signage, making it easy to reach by car.

Access by Bus

There are regular buses from Havana and other urban centers to the Zapata Peninsula. The buses are usually comfortable and provide an economical way to reach the park.

Fauna and Flora of Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

The park is home to a diversity of endemic species of flora and fauna, some of which are not found anywhere else in the world. From migratory birds to aquatic species, its biodiversity is truly impressive. Various ecosystems can be found, including forests, mangroves, and flooded herbaceous wetlands. There are around 1000 species of plants, including 130 endemic and 14 endangered ones.
The park’s fauna is rich and diverse, with 15 species of mammals, 258 of birds, 43 of reptiles, 4 of fish, and 16 of amphibians. Notable animals include the Cuban crocodile, the Zapata rail, and the fern-minia, birds exclusive to the area. The park is also an important refuge for 65 species of migratory birds.

Regarding mammals, there are the dwarf hutia and the conga hutia, as well as introduced populations of wild boars and deer. In the estuaries and lagoons, threatened aquatic species like the manatee and the manjuari, a fish endemic to the region, can be found.

The Ciénaga de Zapata hosts a great diversity of insects, arachnids, and arthropods, including over a thousand identified species so far.

Prominent wildlife refuges in the area include La Salina, Santo Tomás, and Bermejas.

Cuban and American Crocodile

Cuba is home to two species of crocodiles: the Cuban and the American crocodile. Both have suffered drastic reductions due to hunting and habitat loss. The Cuban crocodile is endangered. Cuban scientists collaborate with international partners to conserve these species, using genetic information to understand their situation and develop protection strategies.

Endemic Flora Species

The park is home to a variety of endemic plants that are not found anywhere else in the world. These include several species of orchids, ferns, and cacti.

Endemic Fauna Species

The park also houses a range of unique animals, including the Cuban crocodile and the hutia. These species are integral to the park’s ecosystem.

Migratory Birds and Aquatic Species

The park is an internationally important site for the conservation of migratory birds. Additionally, its waters are filled with a rich diversity of aquatic life, including various species of fish and crustaceans.

Activities in Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

From birdwatching to hiking, diving, and nature and culture tours, there’s something for everyone in this park. Don’t forget to visit Playa Girón and its museum dedicated to the Bay of Pigs Invasion.


The park is a paradise for birdwatchers, with over 200 recorded species. Birdwatching tours with local expert guides can be arranged.


There are several hiking routes in the park that allow visitors to explore its natural diversity. The routes vary in difficulty, catering to everyone from beginners to experienced hikers.

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

Ciénaga de Zapata is also an excellent spot for scuba diving and snorkeling. Its crystal-clear waters offer incredible visibility, allowing visitors to explore vibrant coral reefs and rich marine life.

Nature and Culture Tours

In addition to nature, the park also offers rich cultural experiences. Cultural tours allow visitors to learn about the region’s history, the lives of its inhabitants, and local traditions.

Highlighted Places within Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

Laguna del Tesoro, Aldea Taína, and Las Salinas are just a few of the must-see places during your visit. Each of these destinations offers a unique and unforgettable experience.

Treasure Lagoon

This beautiful lagoon is a must-visit for any park visitor. It is home to a variety of waterfowl and offers a stunning view of the park.

The Taína Village

This reconstructed village provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Taíno people, the first inhabitants of Cuba. Representations of daily life and ritual ceremonies offer an excellent way to learn about the island’s rich history.

Las Salinas

Las Salinas is a set of coastal lagoons vital for migratory birds. During the migratory season, these lagoons are filled with birds, creating an impressive spectacle.

Girón Beach and Invasion Museum

Playa Girón is famous for being the site of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Invasion Museum offers an in-depth insight into this historic event.

Tips and Recommendations for Your Visit

The best time to visit the park is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. Don’t forget to bring insect repellent, sunscreen, and binoculars for birdwatching. Always respect the park’s rules and regulations to help conserve this precious ecosystem.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the park is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. During this time, conditions are ideal for birdwatching and other outdoor activities.

What to Bring

It’s important to bring comfortable clothing and footwear for outdoor activities. Don’t forget your snorkeling or diving gear if you plan to explore the coral reefs. It’s also advisable to bring a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.

Park Rules and Regulations

Ciénaga de Zapata National Park is a protected area. It’s important to respect the park’s rules to ensure its conservation. This includes not littering, not feeding the animals, and staying on marked trails.

Accommodation and Dining around Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

There are several accommodation and local restaurant options around the park. Whether you prefer a private home for a more authentic experience or a hotel with all amenities, you’ll find something that suits your needs and preferences.

Accommodation Options

There are several accommodation options around the park, ranging from cozy private homes to hotels with modern amenities. Visitors can choose according to their preferences and needs, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay.

Local Restaurant Recommendations

When it comes to food, it’s recommended to try the delicious local cuisine at restaurants near the park. These places offer traditional Cuban dishes as well as fresh and flavorful seafood. Visitors can enjoy an authentic culinary experience while exploring the area’s natural richness.

Preservation and Conservation of Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

Despite being a protected area, Ciénaga de Zapata National Park faces various conservation challenges such as climate change and human development. However, various conservation programs are in place to protect and preserve this valuable ecosystem. Visitors can contribute to park conservation by following park rules, participating in conservation activities, and considering donations to park protection programs.

Threats and Challenges

Despite being a protected area, Ciénaga de Zapata National Park faces threats and challenges. Climate change and human development pose risks to its biodiversity and unique ecosystems. Addressing these threats is crucial to ensure long-term preservation.

Conservation Programs

To protect and preserve the park, conservation programs have been implemented. These programs involve local communities, environmental organizations, and government authorities. They focus on sustainable management of natural resources, environmental education, and promoting responsible tourism practices.

How Visitors Can Help Conservation

Visitors play a crucial role in conserving Ciénaga de Zapata National Park. They can contribute by following established rules and regulations, such as not littering, staying on designated trails, and respecting wildlife. Participating in conservation activities like beach cleanups or reforestation and considering donating to environmental protection programs are also ways to support park conservation.


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