It comes as no surprise that Cuba continues to occupy second place among the Caribbean’s top tourist destinations, according to a recent report by the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Various factors have contributed to this achievement. It must not be forgotten that last year 3,002,745 visitors arrived on the island; a figure only surpassed by the Dominican Republic – the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean, registering a little over five million visitors.
Cuba has already received 1,136,948 tourists in the first three months of the year, while the Dominican Republic registered 1,499,402 in the same period. According to specialist media, the figures suggest that the difference between the numbers of visitors to the two countries will decrease.
This comes as no surprise given efforts being made by the Cuban tourism sector, both in regards to increasing accommodation infrastructure with the opening of new complexes and the incorporation of casas particulares (family run bed and breakfasts), as well as offering quality services. Agreements with various international airlines have been signed in order to improve and increase flight connections and even open new routes to the archipelago.
Among the factors which contribute to this increase, is undoubtedly the opening of new commercial opportunities with the inauguration of the Mariel Special Development Zone, where government representatives, investors and numerous entities from diverse regions across the world have been assessing Cuba’s business and investment opportunities.
Nor can the prospects emerging from the move toward reestablishing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. be forgotten – given the great interest of the North American public to discover an island which they have been prohibited from visiting for over 50 years.
Recently, a specialist U.S. publication published an article entitled “Diver’s dream: Cuba’s pristine and protected coral reefs,” recognizing that “if travel restrictions on U.S. tourism to Cuba are ever lifted, the remote Peninsula of Guanahacabibes could well become a popular destination for American divers.”
What is more, it is precisely this site, in Cuba’s most western region, that was declared a Biological Reserve by UNESCO, given its singular biodiversity, and fragile ecosystems. According to studies, Guanacahabibes has one of the best preserved coral reefs in the archipelago and the world. This in addition to remarkable plants and animals, 22 beaches, and if that wasn’t enough, its sea beds are thought to be littered with dozens of pirate ships from the colonial period.
CUBA’S RICH BIODIVERISTY
The island’s most western peninsula is just one example of vast biodiversity but there are dozens of other protected areas across the entire national territory which also attract visitors.
Cuba has singular fauna and flora given its geographical positioning; narrow elongated shape; geological structure; and isolation, which has led experts to conclude it to be the nation with the greatest biodiversity in the Caribbean.
Such wealth spread across the entire archipelago (consisting of 4,195 small islands, keys and islets) is protected by the Cuban state in Fauna Refuges, Ecological Reserves, National Parks and other initiatives which were created after the triumph of the Revolution.
There are 211 protected areas in listed zones throughout Cuba, including those within the insular marine platform extending to a depth of 200 meters, according to the director of the National Center of Protected Areas.
According to the expert, total coverage exceeds 20% of the island’s surface, equivalent to one fifth of the entire territory.
Globally renowned by international institutions, the country has six Biosphere Reserves; a title awarded by UNESCO to sites which exhibit the biodiversity of the planet and can be inhabited sustainably.
This diversity is evident in exclusive areas which are incompatible with mass tourism, given the fragility of their ecosystems.
These Biosphere Reserves are: Sierra del Rosario, in the province of Artemisa, the first to be officiated in 1985; followed by Guanahacabibes Peninsula, in Pinar del Río; Cuchillas del Toa in the country’s eastern region, in the provinces of Guantánamo-Holguín; Baconao, in Santiago de Cuba; Buenavista, in the center, which stretches across Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus and Ciego de Ávila; and finally Ciénaga de Zapata, located in Matanzas province.