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Inside my all-inclusive resort on the beautiful Caribbean island of Cuba, I lazed around on the pristine sandy beaches of Varadero for an entire weekend. On the first day, I loved the warm touch of the sun, gently coating my pale skin with its golden rays. On the second day, I napped by the water to the sound of the turquoise waves gently kissing the shore. But on the third day, I woke up feeling trapped in the confinement of the hotel. Despite the sun’s friendly greeting, calling me out to the beach, I could no longer stand the thought of another day of beach volleyball and tanning.

Lucky for me, 30 minutes away from the resort was a natural park: Varahicacos Ecological Reserve. Located at the east end of the Varadero peninsula, it is one of the few areas in Varadero that has not been turned into giant resort complexes.

I chose to hike through the reserve on its Muslims trail, which took me past dense nets of plants, cactus, small caves, and even a 2000 year-old aboriginal burial site.

When I arrived at the reserve, I saw that the information center was in an intimate wooden hut. I immediately knew that the hike was off to a great start.

Varahicacos Ecological ReserveThe large Agave Legrelliana plant can be found throughout Cuba – from the coastal area of Havana to the hillsides of Matanzas.


Gigantic termite colonies surround the hiking path; some of them even dangling above my head. They feed on wood and are in term prayed on by small lizards and birds.

Cactus are no stranger to the island and its semi-desert coastal regions. The Cuban cactus scrub is a species commonly found in the southern region of Cuba, where the soil is derived from coralline limestone.

I had never encountered more lizards anywhere else than during my time in Cuba. These little guys accompanied me throughout my hike. Due to their small size and camouflaging skin, I could often hear them moving among the leaves before actually spotting them.

Plants fight for the sun on the Muslims trail. Many of them intertwine to share the space and reach for higher ground – forming unlikely but powerful allies that leave other less fortunate plants in the shade.

The caves were a definite highlight of the tour. Carves out by the sea, these caves create refuges for bats as well as visitors when the rain strikes.

I came across this 2,000 year old aboriginal burial site about mid-way through the hike. Next to ornaments and utensils are the remains of the Ciboney race – an indigenous Caribbean race already extinct. I stood in front of it in awe; I had come to Cuba to find authentic experience, and I found it there, lying in the reserve. 

©Tracy Zhang

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