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Birding Sites and Maps
Guardalavaca area,
Holguin Province, Cuba


Many package tours go to the Guardalavaca area of Holguin Province, Cuba, and I have been fortunate enough to go to Las Brisas, Guardalavaca, on four occasions between 1998 and 2010.   There are trip reports for the 1998 and 2000 trips (though not for 2003), and not yet for 2010.  The earlier reports are still accurate, but some sites mentioned were seriously impacted by a hurricane in 2007.  

Here is a quick visual overview of the area covered by this article (and many, but not all, are mentioned in the earlier trip reports).  We'll start with an overview map.

Map #1 - Guardalavaca Overview

On the map below it is roughly 10 km in a straight line from Bahia de Naranjo (in the west)
to Boca de Sama (in the east), though the roads take a more indirect route.

Guardalavaca area overview

The Playa Turquesa resort area (just off the map) lies along the coastline immediately to the west of Parc Nacional Bahia de Naranjo, and the more heavily developed Playa Pesquero is to the west further still, roughly 4 km as the Cuban Blackbird flies.  Resorts at both these Playas offer daily shuttles to Guardalavaca, as it is the main shopping centre for this tourist area.

Next: a close-up of the western half of the above map.

Map #2 - Playa Esmerelda to Guardalavaca

Playa Esmerelda to Guardalavaca

The dark blue lines indicate main paved roads.  The green route running west from Yaguajay is untested, but said to be navigable. The next series of maps (Maps #3 - #8) provide close-ups of this area, roughly west to east.

Map #3 - Playa Esmerelda area

Playa Esmerelda area

There is a well-maintained trail to the east of the Playa, but an entrance fee is charged.  An unofficial track leads south along the east shore of Bahia de Naranja from the trailhead, accessible by an obvious unmarked path.  This path goes as far as the zoo, which is otherwise accessible off the access road to the Playa Esmerelda resorts.

The trail, the sewage ponds, and the lagoon can be visited by anyone, not just guests of the three resorts in this area.

There is a forested area to the east of the eastern-most resort, accessible via a dirt track to the right, roughly 250 metres before the end of the resort access road (marked in green). 

Map #4 - Guardalavaca Village Area

Guardalavaca - Birding Sites Overview

This is an overview of the Guardalavaca Village area.  The resorts in the village are all operated by the Cuban Government, and the largest is Las Brisas (including Villas Las Brisas), at the eastern end of the village.   The next series of maps (Maps #5 - 8) zoom in on various parts of the Guardalavaca Village area.   We start west, and go east.

Map #5 - West End of Guardalavaca Village

Western Guardalavaca Village

A path runs along the edge of the beach between the El Ancla Restaurant and the west end of Guardalavaca Village.  The path crosses the north end of the mangrove on a pedestrian bridge.  Stairs lead up from the path behind a Surf Hut, up to the public Disco.  The mangrove, and the forest surrounding it, were both badly damaged in the 2007 hurricane, but the site remains a key spot.  Mangrove Cuckoos are present, but very elusive.  This site should improve as vegetation grows back in.

On the south side of the main road leading to Holguin, just west of the interchange, there is an extensive wet area, easily viewable from the road, which can be productive if there is sufficient water.

The fields and forest adjacent to the dirt road leading to the El Ancla Restaurant are often worthwhile, and there are many side tracks and paths into the forested areas.

Map #6 - East End of Guardalavaca Village

Eastern Guardalavaca Village

The 2007 hurricane tore up the lovely mangrove that lies just east of Las Brisas.  It also destroyed the western end of path that led east from the sharp turn in the paved road (at the east end of Las Brisas).  The mangrove is still worth a lot of your time, as it is utilised by many wintering neotropical migrants, and resident birds as well.  Migrants and resident birds are also found in the hedgerows that border farmers' fields, best accessed by walking the tracks that extend south of the paved main access road to the village.  This map also shows a nice loop route to the east of the paved road running south from the eastern end of Playa Guardalavaca (at the El Cayuelo Restaurant) south to Banes.  This is not in any sense a marked trail, but the route is easy to follow.  Next: the sewage lagoons.

Map #7 - Guardalavaca Village Sewage Lagoons

Guardalavaca Sewage Lagoons

As these two sewage lagoon settling ponds are the only open "fresh" water in the area, they are a required stop on any birding exploration.  The water surface of neither lagoon is visible from the roads -- you have to walk onto the lagoon dykes, and observe from there.  There have not been too many reports from the lagoons, so surprises await, but in winter you can expect Least Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, and various overwintering waders.  There is some movement of birds between the two lagoons. 

The northern gate to the east of Lagoon #1 leads to the lagoon water-control huts, and access to the dykes is awkward, though not impossible.  Better by far is to use the southern gate, which leads directly onto the dykes, along a productive lane lined with hedgerows and trees.

After birding Lagoon #2 you can hike the trail leading NE, which ends up eventually at the Coastal Trail, or you can go left at the first crossroads to return west through a farm area to the paved road leading to Guardalavaca Village.  These options are more clearly illustrated on the next map.

Map #8  - Guardalavaca Coastal Trail

Guardalavaca Coastal Trail

This trail offers a wonderful way to spend a morning, or a full day.  I recommend that you hike the trail counter-clockwise, as it is unmarked, and when hiking clockwise on the trail along the coastline, you might miss the trail leading SW to Sewage Lagoon #2.  

It is possible, once you reach the coastline, to hike SE roughly 3 km along the coast to the western mouth of Boca de Samá (see map #9, following), though it is best to avoid the Cuban Coast Guard Station situated at the western mouth. 

The Coastal loop trail portayed above rings a relatively undeveloped forested area, though most of the larger trees were lost in the 2007 hurricane.  There were many side trails through the forest but these are now mostly impassable, again because of the storm.  It is worthwhile to venture into the forest for short distances to improve your chances of encountering different species, but take care if not on an obvious path (though the sound of the surf is a good guide back to the shoreline).

The NW end of the trail is located along the shoreline at the east end of a row of private homes that extend east of La Cayuelo Restaurant. 

Map #9  - Guardalavaca to Boca de Samá

Guardalavaca east to Boca de Sama

The blue lines on the above map indicate paved roads, in particular the main road linking Guardalavaca with Banes.  If you have the energy all these road are best explored with a bicycle, though one could certainly hike the road south of Guardalavaca to Yaguajay, and then west to the highway between Holguin and Guardalavaca -- the junction, indicated on Map #2, is 1 km south of the turnoff to Playa Esmerelda. 

The paved road leading south of the road between Yaguajay and Vista Alegra leads to the Historic Indian Village, to which all the resorts offer tours.  I've not cycled this road (it was quite hilly), but it could prove productive.  

There are grassy fields between the airstrip and the airstrip access road (north of the airstrip), and Eastern Meadowlarks are resident here. This subspecies, one of two in Cuba, is very much overdue for a split.  Indeed, they both are.

On satellite images (from which there maps were created) there is a visible track running SW from the village of Samá to the road between Yaguajay and Vista Alegra: it joins just east of the junction for the road to the Indian Village.   I have not yet hiked this road, but it looks promising, passing through both forest and agricultural areas. 

On our last trip we did explore the Boca de Samá, and so we go to Map #10.

Map #10  --  Boca de Samá

Boca de Samá, Cuba

It is a bit less than 5 km between the village of Samá (at the western mouth of Boca de Samá), and the village of Vista Alegra, on the road between Guardalavaca and Banes.  It is a worthwhile walk or bicycle (or get dropped off and picked up by taxi), as the patches of forests here better survived the hurricane, and there are terns, gull, and herons along the Boca -- and, at times, many touristas, on boat tours or horrid jet skis.  A public trail to a beach is indicated on the map above.

It is a pity that there is no obvious access to the SE arm of the Boca, as it is shallow, and reveals many mudflats at low tide, which herons and waders enjoy.  If you look carefully at Map #9 you can see a track leading to the middle of the NE shore of this arm, but I have yet to determine how to access this track.   For now it is necessary to scope the arm at low tide from the road opposite, or pay a local fisherman to take you in at mid-tide. 

I hope you find these orientation maps useful, and welcome any corrections or updates.

Safe travels.

Blake Maybank
Nova Scotia, Canada

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