Choosing a favourite day on Quest’s Best of Cuba trip would be a challenge as each day provides new habitats to explore, species to observe and island culture to experience. However, Day 10 always stands out as a highlight when I reflect back on this 2-week long trip to the jewel of the Caribbean.
The day begins with us leaving the sun-kissed beaches of Cuba’s south coast, where we had been staying at a well-appointed resort located on the AnÄ‡on Peninsula near the colonial city of Trinidad. Our bus begins the steep and curvy drive from sea level up to Topes de Collantes, at an altitude of 800 m, where we disembark and receive an introduction to this 200 km2 park from the local guide.
Our mode of transportation then changes as we board our “Russian Limousine” – a converted army truck – for a surprisingly comfortable ride up ever steeper dirt roads to reach Hacienda Codina. En route we catch glimpses of butterflies and birds flying into the mixed forest as they are stirred by the truck during our ascent! At Codina, we disembark at a tranquil location that welcomes us with its variety of colourful flowering plants, singing Red-legged Thrushes and a refreshing ginger-flavoured drink called Jincilla.
We then go on a short (1.5 km) hike that has something for every type of naturalist. I’m always amazed by the eclectic mix of plants at this location as the trail winds its way through a forest whose dominant species appear to be tree ferns, palm trees and pines. Lizards are commonly found during the hike along with numerous bird species including the endemic Cuban Pygmy Owl and Cuban Trogon. The latter, known locally as tocororo, is an incredibly striking bird with its mixture of red, white and iridescent green plumage. The name is reflective of the distinctive call that sounds like ‘to-co-ro-ro’. Our trail includes access to a cave where interesting stalactite and stalagmite formations can be observed along with cave centipedes.
Back at the hacienda we enjoy delicious campfire roasted pig as the main course for lunch along with tasty tropical fruit for dessert. We may also be treated to great views of a large Cuban Treefrog gazing down at us from the rafters of this open-air restaurant. Leisure time after lunch allows us the opportunity to watch for Cuban Emerald (one of Cuba’s two hummingbird species) feeding at some of the many flowering plants, or to relax in a comfortable chair enjoying the enchanted views from the hacienda’s covered porch.
After lunch and relaxation, we board our “limousine” for the return trip to Topes. We stop along the way at ‘Casa del Café’ for tasty local coffee before checking in to our garden rooms at Los Helechos Hotel. Another location with fantastic tropical plants, this hotel also has a collection of cycads growing in the courtyards. Cycads have changed little since the Jurassic period and look something like a cross between a palm and a fern.