A Week in Western Cuba: Havana & More

Working with a licensed humanitarian group I was able to go to Cuba to work on several projects. Along the way we saw many interesting sites. Here are some of the adventures.

Migratory Bird Research on Cuba's Coast

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by airynfaerie on December 11, 2009

After a very eventful week and a half in Cuba, our last full day was spent in the southern part of Cuba's coast at Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp), just south of Havana on the Zapata Peninsula. We went to meet with Cuba's national director of ecotourism, who was conducting an international conference at the park that week, and whom we were working with for eco research for several upcoming projects.

When we arrived, after a little over 2 hours on the road, we were greeted by the park directors and our guide for the day, who joined us in the van as we continued on our way. We were ushered through a gated area into the preserve and started down a very narrow dirt path through the lagoons and marsh areas. During this time, our guide was explaining the different species of animals and plants that are endemic to the peninsula. After a few kilometers down the road, we stopped and climbed up onto a look-out tower to view the marsh.

As a UNESCO Heritage Site, this National Park is home to over 65 species of migratory birds and we were there during the peak time of migration. It was really interesting to try and find different types of birds in the water and air. We spotted black coots, great white pelicans (of which our guide said only about 8 have been counted all year, and we saw a group of 5), cranes, herons...

...and of course, the star of the park, the caribbean flamingo, which makes its home in this area between October and March each year. We were told that you can observe the age of a flamingo by how bright pink their feathers have become...the older, the brighter. We kept stopping along side the road during the drive if we spotted a group of flamingos close. It was always great to see a large group take flight.

At the end of the 9km dirt path, there is an area where rangers live for a couple weeks at the time for researching, guarding, and guiding. There is a small amount of fishing allowed in this area (mainly done in flat-bottomed boats in the shallow marsh), and fly fishing is also quite popular here as well. There is a "Criadero Cocodrilo and Guamá" (Crocodile Farm) here to see at the front of the park entrance as well as several gift shops and cafes to enjoy.

After some time milling around a bit more (and I found some sea beans growing on the marsh side which we all enjoyed snacking on), we piled back into the van and started on the trip back out of the park. As we were leaving the peninsula, we stopped at the Bay of Pigs just to have a look...quite peaceful these days, but it was interesting to see some rusted ships and other wreckage left from the conflict.

• http://www.parks.it/world/CU/pn.cienaga.de.zapata/Eindex.html
Parque Nacional Cienaga de Zapata

Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba

Havana's Historic Plaza and Memorial

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by airynfaerie on December 14, 2009

One of the most recognizable places in Cuba's capital city of Havana is the Plaza de la Revolucion. Formally called the Plaza Civica until after the revolution, this is one of the main meeting places for public assemblies and political rallies. Basically an enormous concrete opening, the plaza is graced by the much more aesthetically interesting Jose Marti Memorial which towers over the entire area.

Located in the southern section of the city, this large area sometimes sees crowds as large as one million people during important meetings. One of the buildings along the sidelines of the plaza has an interesting artistic outline of the face of Che and is quite a fun piece to see. If you'd like to explore the plaza a bit more, grab one of the "coconut taxis" which are normally parked along the side parking area.

Head across the street to the Jose Marti Memorial which is a futuristic grey tower standing over 350ft above the plaza and designed in the shape of a star. There's a huge white marble statue of Marti at the base of the building. There's a small cover charge to enter the museum and tower, and tickets can be purchased at the small ticket booth to the right of the entrance.

After many impediments to the beginning of the work which began in 1939 as designs, the building was finally completed in 1958. The entire structure is quite a place to visit. There is a very modern museum which has comprehensive pieces of works inside, from paintings to historical records and photographs of the work and life of Marti, as well as the country of Cuba and the revolution.

From within the museum, visitors can get on the elevators which take you up to the observatory deck of the tower. It's quite a view overlooking the city and the ocean. There are 360 degree views from the many window overlooks and an interesting layout of the observatory deck interior architecture. There are intricate colorful mosaic designs on the walls, smoothed concrete corners and even a small plant garden.

For those interested in the history of Cuba and one of it's famous citizens, a trip to the Plaza and Marti Memorial in the Vedado district of Havana is a must.

• Calle Paseo y Ave. Independencia
• Memorial open Mon - Sat
Plaza de la Revolucion
Havana, Cuba

Revolution Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by airynfaerie on December 14, 2009

One of the most beautiful buildings in downtown Havana is that of the old Presidential Palace, now known as Museo del la Revolucion (Revolution Museum). Built in 1920 for the Dictator Batista, it was designed by the same architect who designed the Grand Theatre Building in the city, and the interior was mainly decorated by Tiffany. Not only does it give visitors an interesting look into the history of the country.

There are floors of rooms filled with photographs, artifacts and articles from the Revolution. In the back of the museum there are aircraft and other vehicles used in the war like tanks and a armored boat type vessel that one can see. There are unending displays throughout of the weapons, clothing, original papers, and even artwork dedicated to this part of the Cuban history.

The rooms are laid out and arranged for visitors in a chronological order so one can get a better grasp on the line of history. The main lobby boasts a grand marble staircase, and don't miss seeing the mirrored ballroom "Salon de los Espejos"which is towards the front of the building, and isn't filled with artifacts, but yet just stands as it was during the palace days.

There are changing exhibits and even sometimes modern art displays relating to the country and its history. One can easily spend a few hours here by really taking the time to look through all the displays. There is a small giftshop on the 2nd floor during the walk through the exhibits.

Besides visiting the museum for the showings, it's also a great place for some great views over the city as you get higher in the floors with house hundreds of windows. There's a small admission, and this also includes entrance to the Granma Memorial which is the small modern building out back with the war weapons and vehicles.

• Calle Refugio 1
• +53 (7) 8624092
• Open Daily 10am - 5pm
• http://www.cnpc.cult.cu/cnpc/museos/musRevul/pcpal.htm
Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolucion)
Calle Refugio 1
La Habana, Cuba, 10600
+53 7 624091

Museums of Fine Art

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by airynfaerie on December 15, 2009

The Museo de Bellas Artes, or National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, is one of the finest museums in the city. Founded in 1913, it's located moved for several decades before settling in the current building which was completed in 1953. This fine palace filled with some of the world's great art collections is an amazing stop in the city.

Besides having a wonderful collection of Cuban art, it also houses an extensive collection from around the world, both ancient and modern. Cuba is a country rich in the arts from music to print and largely celebrated in the culture. The arts museum is a collection of two museums, one housing the Cuban art (Palace of the Fine Arts) and one for the International arts (Palace of the Asturian Center). The cuban arts range from the Spanish influence of the 16th century to the modern day. This museum is arranged in four areas from the colonial period, turn of the century, vanguard art, and contemporary.

The Asturian Center is another amazing palace building with floors of art from European collections of paintings and sculptures from the Romance and Renaissance to ancient Egyptian artifacts. There is an open floor in the middle of the building dedicated to the Greek sculptures and Egyptian tomb relics. Around the edges of the building are floors of rooms organized by nationality, style, and era. Flow from the ancient Romans to the modern Flemish.

There are periodic special exhibitions that take place on the first floor just past the entrance, such as one held earlier in the year for erotica art. Samples from African arts of centuries past to the modern film were displayed. Most exhibitions are included in the admission fee as well. There's a small gift shop on the ground floor, and don't miss the modern sculpture installation outside in the courtyard.

• http://www.museonacional.cult.cu
• Open Tues - Sat 10am - 6pm, Sun 10am - 2pm
• Admission $5
• Palace of Fine Arts - Trocadero Street e/Zulueta y Monserrate
• Palace of the Asturian Center - San Rafael, e/Zulueta y Monserrate
Museo Nacional Palacio de Bellas Artes
Trocadero entre Zulueta y Monserrate
La Habana, Cuba, 10600
+53 7 620140

A Visit to John Lennon's Park and Columbus' Cemetery

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by airynfaerie on December 16, 2009

There are many wonderful sites to see in the Vedado district of Cuba's capital city of Havana. From the waterfront of the Malecon to the famous Plaza de la Revolucion. Quite walkable, this area is full of well-known as well as quiet sites to see.

Start out at the Plaza de la Revolucion, grab a coco taxi for a ride around the block. Check out the Che portrait on the side of one of the buildings overlooking the square, then cross the street for a lift to the top of the tower of the Jose Marti Memorial. From there head northeast and you'll come across a couple of sites tucked away from the masses, and very much worth a visit.

First walk to the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, one of city's main cemeteries. Dedicated to Christopher Columbus, this cemetery is an amazing and expansive area to walk through. Began in 1871, this graveyard is the largest in the country and covers over 50 hectares of ground. Full of monuments, statues, buildings, and pebbled pathways, one could easily spend hours here exploring. There are more than 500 mausoleums, vaults, and chapels scattering the grounds, and several important memorials. Over 800,000 graves are here including a number of well-known nationalists.

When you enter, visit the ticket booth to the left of the grand entrance gate, pay a small admission fee. There is a small amount of informational flyers here, but it's best to rely on a good tour book during your visit to find the highlights. Read some of the interesting inscriptions on the gravestones, and don't miss the large angle-flanked memorial to the firefighter team who died in a huge fire in 1990.

Next, stop by the Parque Lennon (John Lennon Memorial Park). Here in this smaller, unassuming green refuge, you'll find a life-size bronze sculpture of John Lennon himself sitting on a park bench. This bench is on the corner of 17th and 6th and allows visitors to sit alongside him for a photo op. There's a park attendant usually on the grounds to assist, answer questions, and most importantly, provide Lennon's removable iconic glasses for the photos. This statue was unveiled in 2000 as well as an inscription of a quote from Lennon's son "Imagine" nearby.

To end your tour of Vedado continue to the waterfront and even walk through the famous Hotel National. Take a stroll outside along the cliff overlooking the ocean, or sit inside the historical bar and sip a cocktail.

• http://www.blythe.org/nytransfer-subs/alarcon-lennon.html
• Parque Lennon : Calle 8
• Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón: Calzada de Zapata and Calle 12


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