Cuba is an ecological paradise with excellent conditions for nature lovers and ecological tourism enthusiasts, due to its exceptional biodiversity. Cave tourism, bird watching, observation of the flora and wildlife in general, horseback riding, scuba diving, riding down rivers and mountain climbing are some of the modalities and options for travelers, especially trekking along the natural trails with the assistance of a professional guide.
Cuba contains a rich collection of plants and animals and is famous for its high biodiversity and large number of endemic species. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that Cuba is an island and to its incredible geological diversity, such as areas of limestone and slate and savannas with quartzite sand. The high level of endemic species is impressive: 43% of the land species, 94% of the mollusks; 93% of the amphibians; 75% of the reptiles; 52% of the arachnids and 40% of the mammals.
There are more than 6,000 plant species, half of which are endemic. The omnipresent royal palm tree (Reistonea regia) also graces the national emblem. It is estimated that there are 20 million royal palms trees in the island. Among the endemic plant species are the rare and prehistoric cork palm tree (Microcycas calocoma) that survived the cretaceous period; the jaguey, a fig tree species with aerial roots; the Ceiba, considered the sacred tree and the mariposa or the butterfly jasmine which is also considered the national flower. Most of the southern coast is swampy and fringed with mangroves inhabited by several species of birds and fish while the northern cost is mainly rugged.
Our fauna exhibits wonders such as the blind fish, which inhabits the crystal clear water of underground lakes in the limestone caverns of Pinar del Rio; beautiful multicolored snails or polymite and Liguss; the smallest frog in the planet (Eleutherodactylus limbatus less than 1 cm long); the smallest bird on earth (Mellisuga helenae, a hummingbird species 63 mm); dozens of species of rare and beautiful orchids and one of the two species of the exquisite translucent-winged butterfly. The land fauna includes reptiles such as crocodiles, iguanas, lizards, salamanders, turtles and 15 species on non-poisonous snakes.
Rare mammals can also be observed: the almiqui, a small native mammal which is unfortunately on the brink of extinction; fossil fish species such as the manjuari which inhabits the rivers and lagoons of the Zapata swamps; fossil plants such as the Microcycas calocoma; dozens of rare species of orchids; marine mammals such as the manati, although impressive it is quite harmless; iguanas (some specimens can measure up to 1.5 m in length); hundreds of specie s of birds, some noted for the beauty of their plumage or capacity to fill the fields and forests with melodious sounds. The jutia (capromys) is the largest land mammal. This indigenous rodent makes its habitat amongst the foliage of the trees and can measure up to 60 cm. Another rarity is the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), the world’s smallest bird and barely the size of a cricket. The Cuban trogon (Priotelus temnuros or tocororo), elegantly garbed with the colors of the national flag still thrives in the forest.
There are 8 internat ionally recognized protected areas in Cuba of significant ecological, scenic and cultural value.
It is estimated that approximately 32,050 species of living organisms (both flora and fauna) inhabit the Cuban archipelago. There are 8,000 known plant species; 7,500 insect species; 963 fish species; 121 reptile species; 46 amphibian species; 350 bird species and 42 mammal species. One of the main characteristics of Cuba’s flora and faun a is that they are not hazardous to man. Travelers can camp in the open without fear of being bothered (with the exception of mosquitoes) since both species of crocodiles that inhabit the island do not attack man (unless they are molested) and the sharks found in Cuban waters are not as aggressive as their neighbors in Florida. Also, there are no poisonous snakes, amphibians or spiders. Finally, aside from being scarce, the mammals in the forests are small and completely harmless.