You'll need a permit to enter Zapata Swamp National Park. The park station and entrance (tel. 45/98-7249; email@example.com) is located just north of Hotel Playa Larga. It is open daily from 8am-4pm. The permit costs CUC$10 per person, a guide costs extra, depending on the length and type of excursion. Trips include Refugio de Fauna Bermejas, Las Salinas, Río Hatiguanico, La Turba and Sendero espeleolacustre. The state-run tour center has naturalist, birding, and fishing guides familiar with this area; English, French, German and Russian is spoken. In addition, all of the hotels and tour agencies in the area can arrange bird-watching excursions and fishing trips with local guides. You can also take a 7-hour kayaking trip through the swamplands of the Quinto Canal with Cubanacán (tel. 45/91-3224; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Bird-Watching -- The Zapata Peninsula is probably Cuba's richest bird-watching destination. Some 18 of Cuba's 21 endemic bird species can be spotted here, as well as large flocks of resident waterfowl and seasonal migrants. The Zapata wren, Zapata sparrow, and Zapata rail are just some of the endemic species. Hurricane Michelle flattened much of the forest here, and it's currently much harder to spot some species, including the bee hummingbird, (the world's smallest bird) which in the past were quite common. Several trails through and around the national park are available to birders. A local guide we recommend is Orestes Martínez Garcías (El Chino; tel. 45/98-7373 or 52/53-9004; email@example.com), who has more than 30 years experience as an ornithological guide; he charges a minimum of CUC$12 for two hours.
Fishing -- Fishing for bass, trout, tilapia, tarpon, permit, bonefish, and the bizarre looking manjaurí (alligator gar, a type of fish) is excellent in this area. Prime fishing sites include the saltwater flats and mangroves of Las Salinas de Brito on the eastern edge of the peninsula, the Hatiguanico River deep within the national park, and the lagoons of Boca de Guamá. Rates range from CUC$25 to CUC$50 per person for a simple outing, and from CUC$200 to CUC$500 per day for a boat, guide, tackle, and lunch for up to three people. Ask at your hotel or any tour agency for details.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling -- The waters off the coast between Playa Larga and Playa Girón offer some of Cuba's best scuba diving; there are 20 immersion points in the area, six cenotes, and four sunken fishing boats to explore. A steep wall, rich in coral and sponges, plunges to depths of over 300m (984 ft.). There are numerous caves to explore and visibility is typically excellent. In many cases, the drop-off is within 90 to 180m (295-591 ft.) off shore. The dive shops at both of the hotels here typically load people and gear into small buses or trucks and drive to one of numerous put-in points all along the shoreline. The dive shops will also collect guests from the casas particulares. Both Hotel Playa Girón and Hotel Playa Larga have full-service dive facilities on-site and offer a full menu of multiday dive packages. The Octopus Diving Center also operates at Playa Larga. Contact Francisco Veulens at Naútica (tel. 45/98-7284) or Pepe at Hotel Playa Girón (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more diving information. A one-tank dive costs CUC$25, a cenote dive costs CUC$40, and an open water course costs CUC$365, including equipment and transport. Snorkeling, with transport and equipment (available from the dive centers), costs CUC$5 per day or CUC$3 for 1 hour. There is talk of expanding the maritime national park to include a section of the sea beyond -- watch this space.
Along the coastal road between Playa Larga and Playa Girón is the Cueva de los Peces, a lovely cenote where visitors can dive and snorkel (entrance is CUC$1). Near Playa Girón is the Punta Perdiz, a small beach area with some good snorkeling and a restaurant. At Caleta Buena, part of the Hotel Playa Girón, there is good snorkeling, a dive center, and a beach with chaise lounges; wear sandals because you'll have to cross the dientes del perro (dog's teeth rocks) to access the water. Entrance costs CUC$12, which includes lunch and drinks (open from 9:30am-5pm).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.