Alejandro De Humboldt National Park

If you are interested in Cuba's incredibly diverse indigenous biodiversity, the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is worth a visit. Featuring 16 of the 28 protected national plant species and several endemic animals and birds, even those less attracted to flora and fauna will be impressed by the landscape and unspoilt beaches. It is best accessed from Baracoa.

If you are fortunate enough on your trip to Cuba to make it to the far south-easterly provinces of Holguín and Guantánamo, you will be rewarded with the impressive Alejandro de Humboldt National Park.

The park is named after the German geographer, naturalist, and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt who visited the island in 1800 and 1801. Humboldt's statue at the University which bears his name in Berlin, Germany, calls him the "second discoverer of Cuba" because of the far-reaching scientific and social research he undertook there.

An oasis of Cuban biodiversity

The Alejandro de Humboldt National Park gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2001 due to its sheer size, the range of altitude within the park, the complexity of its geology and the resulting wealth and breadth of biodiversity. UNESCO has called the park "one of the most biologically diverse tropical island sites on earth". It is not simply an outstanding example of Cuban natural diversity, but is unique within the entire Caribbean region.

In total, the park is around 711 km2 (274.67 sq miles), including a substantial portion of the adjoining marine area. Elevation in the park ranges from sea level to 1,168 m (3,832 ft) at El Toldo Peak. The rivers which flow from the summits of the park are some of the largest among the Caribbean islands. The particular geography and plant life of the park make it the zone of highest humidity on Cuba.

Sixteen of Cuba's 28 recorded endemic plant species are protected in the park. The local fauna include various species of parrots, lizards, hummingbirds and the endangered Cuban Solenodon. This animal is endemic to Cuba and resembles a kind of cute - but venomous - long-nosed shrew. It was believed extinct after Europeans brought mongooses, dogs and cats to the island, until an example was spotted in 2003.

Access to the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park

Access to the park is simplest from the city of Baracoa. The journey is around 40 km (25 miles) to the northwest.

A visit is likely to centre around the Cuchillas del Toa Biosphere Reserve, which occupies more than half of the park's total area. Visitors will be rewarded with stunning vistas of mountains, plateaus, plains, bays, rivers, and coral reefs.

Due to the humidity, hiking and trekking visits in the height of summer are only for the very fit. Expect summer temperatures of at least 35°C (95°F) and humidity over 80%. However, a visit is worth the effort, and there are spots at the rivers and beaches for paddling. Occasionally, an enterprising local will appear with a machete ready to offer super-fresh coconut or pineapple juice to quench your thirst!

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