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by Victoria Alcalá

There is a quote by Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera that we have heard time and time again in reference to the most unsuspected angles of political and social life on the Island: “That damned circumstance of having water everywhere.” I suppose that some of the leading lights in our tourist industry would gladly change the adjective “damned’’ for “blessed” thinking about all of those people escaping the winters of their countries to submerge in the “balmy” tropical waters that Cubans consider to be “chilly” other than during the months of July and August.

But perhaps even for them the circumstance holds the touch of a curse because so many beaches and so much sun tend to overpower the infinite possibilities of the other aspects of Cuban nature that contribute so much to the “smokeless industry”: natural parks, ecological reserves, fauna made up of around 16,500 described species with a high degree of endemism, and flora that boasts of 6,300 varieties. All of this awaits the person who wants to enjoy nature not just for scientific pursuits, but as a means to de-stress, for a spirit of adventure or the simple pleasure produced by beauty in its purest form, without running the risk of bumping into any highly dangerous species.

Relatively close to the traditional tourist resort areas, sites are awaiting us, inviting us to partake in bird-watching, hiking, bicycle tours, horseback riding, exploring underwater caves and meeting the local inhabitants who in many cases are well prepared to not only guide visitors but to also provide for a mutually propitious encounter with the surrounding natural setting.

Some fifty kilometers west of Havana, in the province of Artemisa, lies the Sierra del Rosario, a hilly terrain that was the first Biosphere Reserve recognized by UNESCO in Cuba. It harbors the community of Las Terrazas—a place that perhaps has the most experience in practicing sustainable tourism—and Soroa with its famous orchid garden and picturesque waterfall. Nature is somewhat more “domesticated” there but it is worth our while to spend some time looking at the gorgeous landscape and the over one hundred species of birds, half of which are endemic to Cuba.

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