Zapata Swamp is located on the Zapata Peninsula in the southern Matanzas province of Cuba. It is located less than 93 miles southeast of Havana. Zapata also represents the largest municipality of Cuba.
Within the Zapata Swamp are numerous areas designated for environmental preservation, such as Zapata Swamp Natural Reserve and Las Salinas wildlife sanctuary, which is part of the larger Ciénega de Zapata Biosphere Reserve. It is the largest protected area in the entire Caribbean region. The swamp is not only known for its size but also for being the best preserved wetlands in all of the Antilles, designated as a "Wetland of International Importance" by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1971. In mid-2001 an additional 4,520 km² were declared a Ramsar Site.
The Zapata Swamp is luxuriant with unspoiled nature and tropical vegetation and well-known for its abundant wildlife. In these wetlands there are over 900 autochthonous plant species, 175 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles and over 1000 species of invertebrates. Some of the most notable are native to Cuba; for birds, it includes the Zapata wren, Zapata rail, and the Zapata sparrow. The Zapata Swamp is also a particular habitat of the Bee hummingbird, the smallest bird species on the planet. The wetlands is also visited by 65 species of birds during their migration pattern from North America through the Caribbean to South America. Zapata is also known for the local endemic Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer).
Plentiful with unspoiled beaches, fresh and salt water “cenotes,” Zapata Swamp is also home of small fishing, farmer, and “carboneros” (vegetable charcoal producers) villages and settlements.
This lush paradise—long overlooked by travelers and now slowly being discovered—is the focus of our Cuban Unplugged photographic adventure. Join Kip Brundage and Jorge Gavilondo to photograph birds, wildlife, and people in, and close to, the Zapata Biosphere Reserve region.
After arriving in Havana, our group travels by private van directly to Playa Larga, where we settle into comfortable private houses that are our home base for the next five nights. From there we start our daily explorations and conduct bird/wildlife photography in 4-5 different trails and areas with the help of a registered local English speaking bird and nature guide. We also explore the countryside to meet and photograph fishermen, farmers, and charcoal makers.
On our sixth day, we begin the short and leisurely drive back to Havana, stopping first in the “Laguna del Tesoro” (Treasure Lagoon) and Guamá area to explore the canals and visit the crocodile reserve. We arrive in Havana by late afternoon and settle into our private houses in the quiet Vedado neighborhood, where we stay for the last two nights. Our last full day we photograph and re-explore Havana. Our final evening in Cuba culminates with an image presentation of the best photographs from our trip, and a group dinner.
True to the requirements of a people-to-people General License with U.S. Treasury Department, Cuba Unplugged: The Birds, Wildlife and People of La Ciénaga de Zapata focuses on educational exchanges with the Cuban people.