Guanaroca Lagoon

Enjoy a morning's excursion out of the city of Cienfuegos to Cuba's second largest haven for indigenous birdlife. You don't need to be an ornithologist to enjoy the sight of thousands of flamingos around the mangrove-rimmed lakes of this nature reserve. Get there early to spot many other birds and maybe even the curious-looking Florida manatee. Take a trip on the lake and finish your day at a nearby beach.

Formed by the River Arimao before it flows into Cienfuegos Bay, Guanaroca Lagoon is a saline lake southeast of Cienfuegos city. The area is Cienfuegos' only natural protected reserve and features an incredible density of natural birdlife, flora and fauna. It forms part of a larger wildlife reserve, Laguna de Guanaroca-Yaguanabo-El Nicho, which covers an area of 6,000 ha (15,000 acres).

Pink flamingo colony

The lagoon is a veritable magnet for birds and there are an estimated 170 varieties which nest or pass through the area. The star attraction of Guanaroca Lagoon, however, is a colony of over 2000 pink flamingos. Eight endemic bird species live around the lagoon, including the national bird of Cuba, the tocororo (Cuban trogon), as well as pelicans, various ducks, the Cuban Tody (known locally as cartacuba) and Cuban Grassquit (tomeguín del pinar in Spanish), as well as seven types of heron. Lucky visitors may also glimpse a Florida manatee, an aquatic relative of the elephant.

The best time to visit the lagoon is early morning, when the rises sun casts a shimmer across the lake. Paths lead to a viewing platform from which various bird species can be observed. The wildlife is attracted to the large mangroves which line the lake. During your walk in this stunning wildlife reserve, you will also spot some of the 65 locally endemic plant species, including fruit trees such as pear, lemon and avocado, as well as the güira, the fruit of which is used to make maracas.

History and legends

As well as the thriving wildlife, the area around the lagoon is interesting due to the presence of important archaeological sites of indigenous and subsequent Spanish settlements. The nature reserve includes a number of small keys, such as Cayo Ocampo was named after the Spanish navigator who sailed around Cuba, and was visited by Diego Velázquez, the first Spanish governor of Cuba, in 1515.

According to local legend, the lagoon is the representation of the moon on earth and when the light hits the lake in the right way, it's not hard to see why!

Access

Calculate around 2-3 hours for a guided tour of the reserve, including a boat trip on the lake itself.

The reserve entrance - around 12km southeast of Cienfuegos - is accessible only by car or taxi. It's off the Rancho Luna road on the access road to Pepito Tey. Arrive early to maximize your chances of seeing a variety of birds. You could then spend your afternoon at the beach or dolphinarium at Rancho Luna.


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