This island’s remarkable array of natural wonders is one of its greatest attractions. From underground caverns to forest-clad mountains, there are endless scenes to explore, both on land and beneath the sea.
Rising up from the plains, is it any wonder that the Spanish were mystified by Cuba’s mogotes? Although a few other regions are studded with these flat-topped limestone formations, the Valle de Viñales has the greatest concentration and they dramatically frame the verdant valley.
Over millions of years, Cuba’s bedrock of mainly porous limestone was lifted from beneath the sea by tectonic forces. As a result of this process, the isle is now riddled with caverns. The Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás in the Valle de Viñales is the largest system, with some 45 km (28 miles) of labyrinthine galleries. Take a guided tour to appreciate the caves’ architecture.
Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata protects the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, formed of coastal mangroves, marsh and semi-deciduous forest. On a guided boat or kayak trip you can see crocodiles, manatees and myriad birds, including the Cuban parrot.
The densely forested Sierra Maestra forms a rugged spine along Cuba’s southeast shore. Guided overnight hikes ascend to the cloud-draped summit – Pico Turquino– where you can have your picture taken with a bronze bust of José Martí.
Only a few of Cuba’s many falls are easily accessible. Fortunately, a well-maintained trail leads to perhaps the most beautiful cascade on the island. Sitting at the base of the Sierra de Escambray mountain range, shower-like El Nicho will take your breath away. Visit in late summer when it’s at its most dramatic and take swimwear to bathe in the jade-coloured pool.
Don scuba gear to marvel at the abundant marine life off Cuba’s southern shore. At Punta Francés, on the Isla de la Juventud, a reef wall populated by vibrant fish plunges into the inky depths. Here, you’ll see the world’s tallest coral column – the “Caribbean Cathedral”.