LAS TERRAZAS: CUBA’S UNESCO BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Las Terrazas (translated to the Terraces) is located an hours drive or 73 km west of the capital city of Havana. It is a ecotourism centre biosphere reserve, set amongst the Sierra del Rosario and has been assigned UNESCO status.
Las Terrazas dates back to 1968, when Fidel Castro’s ideology about the green revolution instigated a mass reforestation project on the terraced hills surrounding the area. This led to the creation of villages where 1000 locals reside and live harmoniously in a self-contained community. Las Terrazas is internationally recognised for its ability to blend in with the natural habitat and surroundings, where the buildings in the village are set above a lake.
1,360 km of terraces containing six million cedar, mahogany and hibiscus trees with additional grapefruit, mandarin, avocado and papaya trees were planted in Las Terrazas. Roads were dug right through the mountains and a village of homes, schools, playgrounds, a medical centre, essentially a self-contained community built around the surrounding lake of San Juan.
Unfortunately in 1991, with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Cuba’s econmy went down with it and therefore twenty years post collapse, the community of Las Terrazas was opened to the public as an eco tourist resort.
The beautifully white and terracotta roofed Hotel Moka was built to accommodate guests and subsequently more activities have been added to the area such as zip line routes, tracking trails, a restored coffee plantation, restaurants, and artists studios.
This internationally recognised biosphere came under UNESCO protection in 1984, and is now home to over 177 species of birds and has more than 70 ruined coffee plantations. These were originally founded by the French.
Our visit to the area started off with a short hike around the lake to get our bearings for the area and a little history about the surroundings.We then paid a visit to the house of the great late local hero, Polo Martiñez, who lived on an enviable location beside the lake in Las Terrazas. He was a local singer who’s talent took him all over the globe but he suffered an untimely death in 2002. His house has now been turned into a museum and is curated by his brother who you can meet on your visit, reminiscing about his late brother. This place is pretty busy as the locals flock here to take a look around the house of their late treasure, Polo.
The area of Las Terrazas is green and lush with crystal clear waters and there is a really peaceful and relaxing feel to this area. Las Terrazas is all about art and nature and leaving the hustle and bustle of city life behind.
The best bits are just walking around the surroundings and just chatting to the locals and sharing their way of life. It’s a simple way of life, fresh air, fresh food and drink and lots of music and dance with tranquil surroundings. It feels like you’re a million miles away from the city of Havana, even though really Las Terrazas is only an hour away by car.
A traditional lunch is served in a beautiful setting beside the San Juan river, which is just a three km drive from Las Terrazas town. If you fancy staying overnight rather than taking a day trip to Las Terrazas, you can rent one of the many log eco cabins next to the river and enjoy the waterfalls and natural pools over Las Terrazas.
If you are on a day trip, you can always take your bathers and go and take a dip in the fresh clear waters of the river pre or post lunch to cool in the afternoon sun.
Our final and my most favourite part of the day was visiting the 19th century coffee plantation named, Cafetal Buenavista. It is situated uphill to Sierra del Rosario and features drying terraces and former slave barracks. Despite its former distressing past, it is a much happier place now and is a great place to spot the beautifully coloured birds of the area including some endemic species. The best viewpoint is by the car park on the cobblestone street leading uphill. You can almost see the Caribbean Sea here from both sides and the manor house, which is where the owners of the coffee plantation resided has been turned into a local restaurant serving delicious local Cuban fare.
This is a beautiful site, which although has quite a poignant past, our guide Elvis explained to us with great emotion, it has now been restored and beautifully preserved as a reminder of preceding times that the country endured.
We had a fantastic day relaxing in Las Terrazas and being educated on this internationally recognised Biosphere area. If you are looking for a day out of the city during a visit to Havana, then I would thoroughly recommend you visit. It is a chance also to meet the local people and see a different pace of life and truly authentic of the area.
We travelled to Las Terrazas with Cuba Travel Network. This included a return journey with a English speaking guide and driver, Elvis and cost £91 per person, with a local lunch.
For more ideas of day trips out of the city of Havana, have a read of The Valle de Vinales: Cuba’s rural farming landscape
Tell me in the comments below, is Las Terrazas somewhere you’d consider visiting during a stay in Cuba?