Explore Central Cuba's Outdoors: Scuba, Cycle & Hike

World-class scuba-diving, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and cycling can be accessed with ease (via the Autopista Nacional) from four of the nation’s most alluring, historic cities: Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and Camagüey. Our local insider Caroline shows you where to go.

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Photo © iStock/Joel Carillet

Central Cuba extends from the Bay of Pigs in the east to Las Tunas in the west.

Between the montage of palm-fringed coastline, sandy beaches, and densely forested mountains, an incredible inventory of outdoor recreation awaits those who are wild at heart.

Ciénaga de Zapata

With its incredible biodiversity and landscapes that border on the surreal, the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp National Park) packs a punch.

Just off the southern coast of the Matanzas province, within striking distance of Cienfuegos or the sugar mill town of Australia (yes, it’s a thing), this untamed peninsula is home to Cuba’s most varied ecosystems.

The Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), synonymous with the failed 1961 U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba, runs along the peninsula’s eastern edge.

Just off the shores of the paradisiacal Playa Girón, warm iridescent waters cast in hallucinogenic shades of green, sapphire, jade, and aquamarine and studded with coral sets the stage for prime scuba diving and snorkeling.

The park’s seething swampland draws seasoned ornithologists and budding naturalists to its rich flora and fauna, with more than 900 plant species, 175 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles (including the endemic Cuban crocodile), and over 1,000 species of invertebrates.

Around Trinidad: Playa Ancón, La Boca & Cayo Blanco

Cuba’s colonial jewel, Trinidad is the gateway to some of Cuba’s most exhilarating landscapes.

Cyclists can ride from Trinidad, through valleys dotted with farmhouses, to Playa Ancón (12km) on the south coast. Play Ancón is one of Cuba’s most alluring stretches of sugary white sand, lined with flashy, all-inclusive hotels and water sports facilities.

For more local color, you can detour to La Boca (18km), an earthy fishing village on the Guaurabo River, with a shingle beach shaded by acacia trees.

Dive trips can be arranged to gorgeous Cayo Blanco (25km south-east of the Playa Ancón), a sybarite’s fantasia. Warm waters with coral keys rich in marine life lure novice and advanced divers and snorkelers, while a marina offers catamaran strips and deep sea fishing charters in calm waters, populated with wahoo, swordfish, marlin, tarpon, and barracuda.

Escambray Mountains

The mystical and foreboding Escambray Mountains form the backdrop for the idyllic Parque Nacional Topes de Collantes, a rewarding day/overnight trip from Trinidad.

A network of lightly trodden trails traverses this primordial landscape where emerald lakes, natural swimming pools, lush woodlands, chartreuse coffee plantations, and picturesque waterfalls provide sanctuary to an intoxicating profusion of flora and fauna.

For independent travelers, guided hikes and horseback adventures are offered by outfitters and private guides in Trinidad.

Parque Nacional Topes de Collantes

Within Topes de Collantes, the Javira reserve beckons equestrians with a network of trails that precariously skirt streams, canyons, ancient caves, and scenic waterfalls.

Just 6km from Trinidad, the poignantly beautiful Valley de los Ingenios is a fascinating fusion of nature, history, and outdoor recreation.

The UNESCO protected ‘Valley of the Mills’ formed the beating heart of Cuba’s sugar production from the late 18th through the late 19th century.

Amidst bucolic fields with soaring palms, the evocative ruins of more than 70 19th-century sugar mills, including warehouses, slave quarters, and an operational steam train can be explored on foot, by bike, or on horseback.

Jardines del Rey

Some 30km from the mainland at Ciego de Ávila, Cuba’s fabled Jardines del Rey (Gardens of the King) remained unexplored until the late 1980s.

This constellation of picture perfect islands, woven with mangroves, lagoons, gleaming white sands, and seductively iridescent waters, are ringed with a spectacular 400km coral reef.

Go snorkeling or diving here, and you’ll find technicolor marine life, including, parrotfish, grunts, yellowtail snappers, angelfish, tarpon, jacks, spadefish, groupers, sharks, and barracudas.

With more than 30 dive sites dotting the dramatic coastline, there’s no wonder this is a popular dive site.

For resolute sun-seekers, the most coveted ribbon of sand is Playa Pilar at the western fringes of Guillermo.

Heading to Cuba? Download our FREE Insider’s Guide!

Put down the cigars and step out of the vintage cars! Explore historical sites of revolution, taste peso food, or go diving among vibrant marine life.

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