Viva Zapata Cuba

The Bay of Pigs invasion was one of the most famous incidents to occur in the Cold War between the United States and Cuba. In April, 1962 President John F Kennedy sent a force of CIA-trained Cuban Exiles to the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s Zapata Peninsula with the aim of overthrowing Fidel Castro and forming a US-friendly government.

The invasion was a complete success, for Fidel Castro, that is, whose troops routed the invaders, killing and capturing many, resulting in President Castro becoming more popular in Cuba than he had been prior to the Bay of Pigs incident.

All is peaceful on the Zapata Peninsula now, and although there are memorials commemorating both the loss of life and the victory over the Americans in the area, today the Zapata Biosphere Reserve is one of the great wilderness areas in Latin America.

The peninsula is located in the southern Matanzas Province and is 177kms (102 miles) southeast of the capital Havana. The Zapata Biosphere Reserve is massive, covering an area of about 6,000km² and it is the largest protected reserve in the Caribbean.

The reason for its significance is due to the overwhelming richness of life there, both flora and fauna. Although much of it is wetlands, the reserve also has substantial strands of grasslands and forests, mangroves and rain forests. Along its shore are coral reefs and coastal lagoons. The reserve also has a significant number of caves, many of which have collapsed turning them into lakes.

In the park you can view 350 species of birds, including the world’s smallest bird, the Cuban Bee Hummingbird, which actually is about the size of a bee. Despite its tiny size, the Cuban Bee Hummingbird must have impressive muscles as it can beat its wings up to 80 times per second, allowing it to hover above a flower to retract its nectar.

The rare Cuban Crocodile and the Manatee are also found within the boundaries of the biosphere, as are dozens of other species of rare and endangered animals.

The park is particularly popular with people who enjoy bird watching, hiking, diving and fishing, and there are several tourist companies operating within the reserve who can arrange tours and activities. There is a range of accommodation from which to choose. Each year the reserve caters to about 800,000 visitors so the infrastructure, whilst not intrusive or detracting from the biodiversity of the area, allows you to have a comfortable visit whilst enjoying the many attractions and sights in this vastly important place.

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