Are you looking for a winter sunshine break that has more than just lazing on a beach? My family can spend a few days on a winter beach vacation and then they start getting restless. When my kids start harassing me to play categories or Marco Polo yet again in the pool, I know its time to hit the road and do something active with them. We’ve started exploring Central America and the Caribbean for winter sunshine because they not only have great places for nature travel with kids but also have fabulous beaches.

Seeking Wildlife in Cuba

Cuba has some of the largest areas of unspoiled rainforests, reefs and wetlands in the Caribbean. Thanks to its repressive government, there wasn’t much in the way of unchecked growth and prosperity on the island never mind the mass tourism that affected many other parts of Central America and the Caribbean.

Fun Fact! Cuba has protected about 22% of its land by designating 263 different conservation areas which include 6 UNESCO biospheres.

There is more wildlife in Cuba than anywhere else in the Caribbean. There are over 350 different types of birds, 900 types of fish and 130 types of reptiles. Most of these animals are small such as the Cuban tree frog and the Cuban rock iguana. Keen fishermen such as Ernest Hemingway have always appreciated the waters off the coast of Cuba.

A Cuban rock iguana – possibly a face only a mother could love.

Among the places to explore for nature travel in Cuba is the marine reserve at  Jardines de La Reina, the tropical forest at Sierra del Rosario and the Zagata Swamp (home to the Cuban crocodile).

When you are done exploring, check out the Cuban beaches which are considered to be some of the best in the world. Cuba’s beaches have long been a favourite winter destination for Canadians and Europeans who do not suffer under the same travel restrictions as American tourists.

Driving around Cuba is safe and easy. Do expect though that you will not have much choice in rental cars and that it will be expensive. Unlike the popular myth, you probably will have just a normal car to drive and not one of the cool 1950’s car. There’s a wide variety of accommodation throughout the island to suit your travel style as well.

Nature Travel in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has attracted winter sunshine lovers for years thanks to its 400+ miles of white sand beach coastline. There is way more to this island than its crown as the most visited winter beach vacation destination in the Caribbean.

With 25% of the island protected by national parks and reserves though, there is plenty of nature travel available on this island when you want to stray from the beaches. For example, the Dominican Republic has over 160 types of birds and 50 types of butterflies.

Now you see the humpback whale, now you don’t.

The Dominican Republic has an extensive cave system where you can explore tunnels, underground rivers and caverns. One of the best national parks in the country, Los Haitises National Park, has something for everyone – whale watching, birding, hiking, and caving as well as spectacular beaches within its boundaries.

On The Lookout For Wildlife in Panama

Panama’s geographical location makes it special for biodiversity. With its location between North and South America creating a perfect meeting spot for animals from both continents leading to an abundance of wildlife in Panama. Approximately 22% of the land is protected by National Parks and reserves.

Getting the side eye from a Toucan

Panama has over 950 types of birds with over 500 species of birds recorded in the Soberania National Park rainforest alone.  It’s a total bird-watcher’s paradise where you can see the Harpy Eagle, macaws, parrots, toucans and quetzals.

Fun Fact!  One of the most powerful birds of prey in the world, the Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama.

With 218 mammal species, the wildlife in Panama that you could encounter include howler monkeys, spider monkeys, sloths, tapirs and jaguars. In the water, you have lots of variety of marine life – whales, turtles, sharks and dolphins.

Searching for Wildlife in Costa Rica

Although tiny, Costa Rica has over 5% of the plant and wildlife species of the world. The country has dedicated over 25% of its land to national parks and reserves. It really is a world front-runner in eco-tourism and ensuring that the wildlife in Costa Rica will be treasured for generations to come. In addition, since the country takes the impact of tourism on its landscape seriously, you have more assurance that any Costa Rican tours you book are well-run and environmentally-friendly.

The colorful red eyed tree frog looks like he’s been on a permanent bender with his bloodshot eyes.

Panama shares the UNESCO world heritage site,  La Amistad International Park with its neighbour, Costa Rica. The Corcovado National Park is home to nearly 10% of the mammal species in both North and South America. Among the animals you could see are howler monkeys, macaws and jaguars. There are over 30 species of hummingbirds alone in the Monteverde Cloud Forest which is a must-visit for any birdwatchers.

Fun Fact!  Costa Rica has over 800 bird species and 500 types of fern.

In terms of marine life, you can spot humpback whales about 9 months of the year in Ballena Marine National Park. Tortuguero National Park is a known nesting spot for sea turtles.

Belize Nature Travel

We did a road trip in Belize for 2 weeks around the holidays at the end of the year. It is a super-easy country to travel around because there are only a handful of main roads. In between the beach time we scheduled at the resorts of Caye Ambergris and Placencia, we spent much of our time trekking through Mayan ruins and hanging out in nature.

It’s pretty easy to immerse yourself in Belize nature travel. For example, the Belize Barrier Reef is second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s a snorkelling and diving paradise. Inland, national parks and reserves provide a haven for howler monkeys, spider monkeys, coatimundis and iguanas in the Cayo District and the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

A jaguar playing hide and seek

We spotted a Jaguar only in the conservation-minded Belize Zoo though. In fact, one of our best experiences was being put in a cage and having the jaguar free to walk around us – a sort of reverse zoo experience.

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Where To Go In Central America and the Caribbean for Nature Travel and Wildlife Travel

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