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Introducing Península de Zapata

A vast, virtually uninhabited swampy wilderness spanning the entirety of southern Matanzas, the 4520-sq-km Península de Zapata quickens the pulses of wildlife-watchers and divers alike with the country's most important bird species and some of the most magical offshore reef diving secreted in its humid embrace. Most of the peninsula, a protected zone now part of Gran Parque Natural Montemar, was formerly known as Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata: in 2001, it was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

The sugar-mill town of Australia in the northeast of the peninsula marks the main access point to the park. Near here is one of the region's big tourist money-spinners, the cheesy yet oddly compelling Boca de Guamá, a reconstructed Taíno village.

The road hits the coast at Playa Larga, home to the peninsula's best beaches, at the head of the Bahía de Cochinos where propaganda billboards still laud Cuba's historic victory over the Yanqui imperialists in 1961.

Ornithologists and nature lovers will want to veer southwest from here, where the sugarcane plantations fade fast into sticky swamp. This is one of the remotest regions of Cuba, rarely penetrated by tourists. Yet intrepid visitors will reap the benefits: an incredible diversity of birds, as well endemic reptile and plant species, can be glimpsed on the mangrove-flecked waterways here.

Aside from its reputation as a proverbial banana-skin for US imperialism, the east coast of Bahía de Cochinos also claims some of the best cave diving in the Caribbean and southeast of Playa Larga the dive sites fan out temptingly, accompanied by a couple of less riveting resort hotels.

Accommodations outside of the resorts, however, are thankfully abundant. You can check out excellent options in Central Australia, Playa Larga and Playa Girón.

At last research, the Víazul bus through the peninsula had been reinstated after a brief hiatus. There's also a handy shuttle service between Boca de Guamá and Caleta Buena.