The Sierra del Rosario Ecological Reserve is the largest UNESCO protected area in the Caribbean and forms the natural habitat of one of the greatest concentrations of endemic wildlife and vegetation on the island. At its heart lies the Centre for Ecological Research, which coordinates extensive conservation and reforestation work.
Places to Visit
Las Terrazas Community
Nestled into the terraces of this community is red roofed housing with a population of some 1,000 people, resident since its inception in 1971. The purpose behind this government initiative was to establish conservation and reforestation of the Sierra del Rosario area and much of the work is carried out at the Centre for Ecological Research, where guided tours can be arranged. There are also a number of workshops in the community where you can view and indeed buy, pottery, screen printing, and paintings.
This area forms part of the Sierra del Rosario, named a protected biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1985. The orchidarium covers three hectares and contains over 700 species of plants, 250 of them endemic to Cuba. A descent through 400 metres of forest from the orchidarium takes you to the base of the waterfall with excellent clear pools for swimming. For keen walkers, there are a number of very good hiking trails giving wonderful views over the valley.
Los Portales/El Indio
Declared a national monument in 1987, the remote cave at Los Portales was home to Che Guevara and his army for 32 days during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. A guide is on hand to offer a free tour and give you further historical background. There is a more complex network of caves at El Indio, once home to native Indians escaping Spanish colonists. After a short exploration on foot you descend to a subterranean river where a boatman waits to ferry you out into the sunlight.
Places to Eat
There are a number of very good local restaurants serving delicious local produce. They include:
* Cafetal Buenavista, set in a historic coffee plantation and offering wonderful views over the area.
* Casa de Botes, a small seafood restaurant overlooking the beautiful San Juan lake.
* Fonda de Mercedes, where visitors can savour the local cooking and authentic atmosphere of this Las Terrazas community farmhouse.
* El Bambu, located on the leafy banks of the San Juan river and a perfect place to sample the local cuisine and take a cooling dip.