Years ago the people of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp used the only resources they had to eke out a subsistence living – logging hardwoods, making charcoal, and hunting for crocodiles and deer. But all that changed when in 2000, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared the wetlands which occupy the entire Zapata Peninsula and surrounding area a biosphere reserve. A year later, the Ramsar Convention included it on its list of wetlands of international importance. The Ciénaga de Zapata, in the province of Matanzas, is the best-preserved wetlands system in the entire Caribbean. Additionally, in an effort to strengthen the protection of the wetlands, the Cuban government made a submission to UNESCO in 2003 that the Ciénaga de Zapata be declared a World Heritage Site.
Just 9,300 people live in the 4,322-sq-km Ciénaga de Zapata, the most sparsely populated municipality in a country of 11.2 million people. The area’s wealth lies in its vast forests and wetlands that cover just under 6,500 square miles of wilderness and supports an amazing 175 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles and over 1000 species of invertebrates. This place is special, and a real jewel in Cuba’s ecological crown.
As a final addition to the protections for this amazing natural ecosystem, a huge area (60 miles long by 20 miles wide) was set aside in 2015 as the San Lazaro Bioshpere Reserve, prohibiting commercial fishing and ensuring the habitat and fisheries would be protected and enhanced for years to come. Within the entire West Salinas portion of this vast preserve, Fly Fishing the Run has the only legal permission to fish a total of 6 boats, based exclusively on catch and release fly fishing for bonefish, tarpon, permit, and snook.
What does all this mean to a bunch of saltwater fly fishers looking for the next great flats fishing spot? All (100%) of the shallow flats, back bays, creeks, cuts and cays surrounding this massive and internationally protected wilderness will be your exclusive fishing grounds for the week. No more than eight anglers will share access to thousands of miles of remote, coastal mangrove-lined shores and creeks that support very healthy populations of juvenile tarpon. Further out from the coastal zone, anglers will find massive flats that bonefish and permit inhabit and feed on through various tide cycles throughout the day.
And since the commercial fishing only ceased a few years ago, the fish populations are already rebounding and the fishing will only continue to improve year after year.
Reservations & Rates
The cost of the 7 night/5.5 day package at Zapata is $4,100 to $6,270 USD per person (depending on time of year and size of group), based on double occupancy lodging and a combination of shared and single fishing days.
• Eight (8) anglers maximum, per week
NOTE: The entire boat can be reserved for a group of any size; so smaller groups of 6 anglers, for example, can reserve the entire boat and have single fishing every day, for everyone in the group, at a great value.
• Zapata typically books out only for the full boat, for groups of anglers. The Fly Shop reserves several weeks each season exclusively for our guests, in which we can accommodate smaller groups, single anglers, etc. Too, we can sometimes pair smaller groups together in other weeks.
Please Inquire for group reservations or for any other possible available options.
Your angling package at Zapata, Cuba includes reception in Habana Airport / All transfers inside Cuba as detailed in itinerary / Seven nights live-aboard lodging (four single cabins on a first come, first served basis, and two double cabins) / 6 days fishing - three days single occupancy flat bottom skiff /Three days double occupancy skiff / 8 beverages per day, plus nightly cocktail, 2 bottles wine per group, 1 bottle rum per group.
Not included in your Zapata, Cuba package are overnights in Havana / Fishing tackle / Tips / Cuban Tourist Visa / personal expenses and drinks other than stated in Inclusions.
The Fly Shop® is not in the insurance business, but we recommend Travel Guard coverage as a service with a desire to see your best interests protected. It is impossible to know when an unfortunate situation (loss of luggage, fly rods, illness in the family, or an accident) may occur. However, such things can and do happen, and this insurance can provide a means of recourse against non-refundable financial losses.
• Travel Insurance Information
Seasons at Zapata, Cuba
The waters surrounding Cuba offer opportunities for excellent flats fishing year round. The most popular months for fishing are from October through July, while discounted packages are often available during the "off-peak" months of August and September. Fishing can be outstanding during these summer months, some of the best of the year, but it is less popular for travel because it is during the height of the hurricane season in the Caribbean.
March through July is considered the "high season", for two main reasons: first, these are the most popular months for anglers living in the Northern Hemisphere to go somewhere warm, so there's the most interest in tourism to Cuba during these months; and second, there is a migratory run of tarpon that make their way through Cuban waters from April through July, supplementing the resident populations of bonefish, permit, snook, and tarpon with some of these larger than average migratory fish.
The "low season" runs from August through February, and presents some great value for guests looking for a more moderately priced trip. There are less tourists in Cuba in general during these months, making it a great time to visit Havana. For anglers, August and September have warmer temperatures that can be great for tarpon and permit fishing. October and November typically show some of the best weather of the year as these months fall after the main hurricane season and before most winter cold fronts. During the months of December through February the fishing can still be great, although anglers traveling during these winter months want to be prepared for the possibility of cold fronts, winter storms that typically last for 3 days and bring cooler temperatures and winds. The fishing either immediately before or immediately after a cold front can be really great as fish feed heavily during these times.
Getting to Zapata, Cuba
The politics of travel to and from Cuba for US Citizens is constantly changing. As of this writing, it is surprisingly simple, and there are there are 12 legally permitted reasons for visiting Cuba. Every airline handles this differently; some might require you to check a box on a signed affidavit specifying your purpose for travel, while most US-based airlines now simply ask you verbally. It is very informal. There are many flights traveling to Cuba through Mexico, Canada, and many other International Ports. Currently, there are also options to travel directly from the United States to Cuba, from several US-based hubs including: Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, and New York.
The second step is to obtain your Cuban Visa, or Tourist Card. Again, there is quite a bit of discrepancy here, and every airline handles it differently. You can order the Tourist Card in advance on-line, while most people just get the Tourist Card at the departure gate en route to Cuba. The price varies depending on where you get the Tourist Card, ranging from $50-$100. At every departing gate, before boarding the plane, regardless of airline, there is a small desk or kiosk where you need to check in. If you have your Tourist Card, they ask to see it and stamp your boarding pass, indicating you are all set to travel to Cuba. Once you arrive in Cuba with your Tourist Card in hand, clearing Immigrations and Customs is easy.
A Fly Fishing the Run representative will meet you once you have cleared immigrations and customs. They will direct you to a money exchange to get CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos) and then to the bus take you to liveaboard on the Bay of Pigs, an approximate 2.5-hour drive on paved roads. From here transfer directly to the live-aboard, meet the crew and guides, settle into your state rooms and get gear rigged.
Many angling guests traveling to Cuba choose to plan extra time to see and experience this amazing country, and to meet the wonderful people who live and work there. There are some good options for tours in and around Havana, to the country at the Valle de Vinales to visit cigar-making factories and farms, or extended stays to some of the other historic cities or beach resorts located around the island.
Anyone traveling to Cuba should be prepared for the reality that time and infrastructure there stopped, quite literally, in the 1950s. While this is certainly part of the allure, especially while sightseeing in and around Havana, don’t expect anything to operate smoothly. Vehicles break down, delays are common, flights get cancelled, and a common joke is that it is safer to walk in the street than the sidewalk, because you’re more likely to get hit by pieces of falling roof than by a car. The concept of customer service is starting to take hold, especially at the higher-end hotels and private restaurants…but much of the country and businesses remain under government control and as such service (and quality) can be quite bad in some places it’s not uncommon to show up with a reservation and get moved to a different room or even a different hotel. Just be prepared to go with the flow and take everything in stride; it’s all part of the adventure of exploring this “country that time forgot.”
Zapata, Cuba Itinerary -
(Saturday or Earlier): ARRIVE Havana Aeropuerto Internacional Jose Marti (HAV)
Arrival into Havana is required on a Saturday (or earlier). Representatives from Fly Fishing the Run will meet you at the airport, and the group of anglers will be transferred that afternoon to the marina to board the live-aboard vessel, MV Georgiana. You must adhere to this required schedule in order to guarantee a safe and timely ground transfer to the marina and live-aboard vessel. Once the live-aboard departs the dock there is NO way out to the fishing grounds, except a VERY expensive private charter.
A Fly Fishing the Run representative will meet you once you have your bags and have cleared immigrations and customs. They will direct you to a money exchange to get CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos, the currency for tourists) and then to the bus take you to the small port village of Base de la Pesca, located between Playa Larga and Playa Giron on the Bay of Pigs, an approximate 2.5-hour drive on paved roads. From here transfer directly to the live-aboard, meet the crew and guides, settle into your state rooms and get gear rigged.
Transfer Day (Sunday): Half Day of fishing
Once the sun comes up, the MV Georgiana will depart the dock to motor out to the fishing grounds at Zapata. It takes approximately 2.5-3.5 hours (depending on the weather) to motor to the anchor point in Las Salinas. Reaching the first mooring, everyone will head out in the skiffs for the first day of fishing, until dark.
Departure Day: (Saturday)
There is an early wake-up call and breakfast on your last morning aboard MV Georgiana. The mothership will then head back to port in order to meet the bus that will transfer you to Habana International Airport. You should not book a flight departing Havana until sometime after 5:00 pm on this day.
Lodging at Zapata, Cuba
Christened in 2013, the 30-meter (100-foot) MV Georgiana live-aboard has six private, individually air-conditioned cabins, each with its own ensuite bathroom, hot water, electrical outlets for charging (120V & 220V) and a closet for storage. Four of these cabins are for single/private occupancy while the other two rooms offer shared, double occupancy accommodations.
The MV Georgiana yacht features a spacious dining, living and bar area, as well as an outdoor barbeque. There is also a sun deck where you can enjoy the amazing views of deserted white sandy beaches, mangrove keys, rocky islands and seemingly endless flats.
Food is prepared fresh and is a well-executed blend of international, Cuban and seafood cuisine. A fresh fish of the day is incorporated into most dinners; salads with fresh vegetables and a variety of fruits are always available. In addition, you'll have excellent pork and chicken entrees, fresh sashimi and Italian-style pizzas for appetizers, and some of the finest frozen daiquiris, Cuba Libre and mojitos to make your evenings an enjoyable culinary experience.
Fishing at Zapata, Cuba
Each week, a maximum of eight anglers will share exclusive use of the live-aboard vessel, MV “Georgiana”. This 30-meter, well-appointed custom yacht - more like a mobile lodge - will be anchored on the east side of the Canarreos Archipelago, allowing for quick and easy access to a broad variety of distinctly different fishing areas.
During their 6 days of fishing, anglers will fish West Las Salinas, locally known as San Lazaro, and the massive fishing grounds in and around the Gulf of Canarreos. Both inner flats support very healthy populations of bonefish in the 3-5 pound range. The outer flats, with their proximity to deeper water channels and cuts, are the permit and tarpon fishing grounds. This is also a great place to target oceanic barracuda and hard-fighting jacks.
A portion of the fishing grounds of Zapata are comprised of water that is extremely shallow - conventional flats fishing skiffs with two anglers and one guide draw too much water and limit access. To mitigate this, the outfitter utilizes four custom “single-angler” skiffs – smaller, skinny-water boats designed for one angler and one guide. Each day, four fishermen will be assigned to the single boats, while the other four anglers fish from more traditional Dolphin flats skiffs, two anglers and one guide. The fishing skiffs are powered by 60- and 70-horsepower outboard motors and are perfectly designed with fly fishers in mind. The single angler flats skiffs are perfect for navigating and fishing bonefish and permit in the shallow back country while the double Dolphin Skiffs are more suitable for tarpon fishing and making longer runs to the fishing grounds further to the West from the Georgiana’s mooring.
The weekly fishing schedule will have anglers rotating between the single and double skiffs – fishing solo for three days, and sharing a skiff and guide with a buddy for the others. This is a unique fishing program and guarantees anglers at least half of their week will be in a single skiff with a private guide – receiving 100% of shots. Nobody in Cuba offers such a sweet deal, and at no additional cost to the angler.
Each morning, guests will step from the custom yacht directly onto the skiffs and be fishing a short time later. With the use of the live-aboard vessel MV “Georgiana” and its ability to be moored right in the heart of the exclusive fishing area, long run times to the fishing grounds are virtually eliminated. The central zone of Zapata features long expanses of large, white, shallow flats with great populations of bonefish that average three pounds. These flats are also frequented by permit, fish that hug the deep-water edges of the flats as well as bordering mangrove lagoons. In addition, it’s not uncommon to encounter baby tarpon and the occasional snook, making grand slams an everyday possibility. You will also see big barracuda on these flats looking for a bonefish snack, as well as a red snapper called “pargo” in Cuba. Zapata is a multi-species wonderland and multiple fly rods rigged for different fish are a must for those wanting to capitalize on all the possible opportunities.
In the eastern region of our exclusive and private fishery we have classic permit fishing grounds - large flats and bays with hard and stony bottoms. We see lots of tailing permit in this area and it’s not uncommon to see permit swimming on their sides in very shallow water, almost desperate to access the fertile feeding zones. Between the shallow flats we have deep, separating troughs that are home to tarpon, snook and other hard- fighting species like blue runners, yellow tail and snappers. Bonefish in this area can usually be found happily cruising and feeding on the edges of flats next to the mangroves zones. These bones are not heavily fished and just about any fly dropped within a reasonable distance will be pounced on.
There are two real advantages this fishery has: first, it is huge; second, it has an incredible array of diverse habitats (and therefore species). The area is quite vast, and with only 6 boats spread out all over the countless miles upon miles of flats, lagoons, and channels, there is simply a ton of area to hold fish. Within these areas, there are nearly limitless super shallow bonefish flats, many of which can be poled and fished from the boat while there are also miles of hard sand, easily waded flats to search for tailing bonefish; there are dozens of miles of shallow lagoons where they regularly find permit (and bonefish); there are scores of narrow mangrove channels and lagoons for hunting baby tarpon from 10-40 pounds; there are pancake flats popping up out of deeper water, perfect for permit; there are miles of beaches with expansive turtle grass and white sand flats along the edges where they find bigger tarpon from 40-80 pounds, plus big permit; there are some sandy and mangrove lined flats that snook call home; and there are a series of blue holes and coralheads where massive Cubera Snapper, jack crevalle, and countless other species lurk to attack poppers on the surface. There is literally a bit of everything here.
What Makes This Destination Special and Unique?
• The Zapata area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, therefore protected as a massive fly fishing only, catch-and-release Marine Reserve. This preserves the remarkably pristine habitat, home to a broad variety of flats species including bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook, cubera snapper, barracuda, and much more. As a final addition to the protections for this amazing natural ecosystem, a huge area (60 miles long by 20 miles wide) was set aside in 2015 as the San Lazaro Biosphere Reserve, prohibiting commercial fishing and ensuring the habitat and fisheries would be protected and enhanced for years to come. Within the entire West Salinas portion of this vast preserve, Fly Fishing the Run has the only legal permission to fish a total of 6 boats, based exclusively on catch and release fly fishing for bonefish, tarpon, permit, and snook. This means that 100% of the shallow flats, back bays, creeks, cuts and cays surrounding this massive and internationally protected wilderness will be your exclusive fishing grounds for the week.
• Zapata has an incredible array of diverse habitats (and therefore species). There are nearly limitless super shallow bonefish flats, many of which can be poled and fished from the boat while there are also miles of hard sand, easily waded flats to search for tailing bonefish; there are dozens of miles of shallow lagoons where they regularly find permit (and bonefish); there are scores of narrow mangrove channels and lagoons for hunting baby tarpon from 10-40 pounds; there are pancake flats popping up out of deeper water, perfect for permit; there are miles of beaches with expansive turtle grass and white sand flats along the edges where they find bigger tarpon from 40-80 pounds, plus big permit; there are some sandy and mangrove lined flats that snook call home; and there are a series of blue holes and coralheads where massive Cubera Snapper, jack crevalle, and countless other species lurk to attack poppers on the surface. There is literally a bit of everything here, offering opportunities for anglers to catch different species, while fishing different types of flats in a combination of both wade and boat fishing.
• The weekly fishing schedule will have anglers rotating between single and double skiffs – fishing solo for three days, and sharing a skiff and guide with a buddy for the others. The single angler flats skiffs are perfect for navigating and fishing bonefish and permit in the shallow back country while the double Skiffs are more suitable for tarpon fishing and making longer runs to the fishing grounds further to the West. This unique fishing program guarantees anglers at least half of their week will be in a single skiff with a private guide – receiving 100% of shots. Nobody in Cuba offers such a sweet deal, and at no additional cost to the angler.
• With the use of the live-aboard vessel MV “Georgiana” and its ability to be moored right in the heart of the exclusive fishing area, long run times to the fishing grounds are virtually eliminated. You’re closer to the fish, every day, meaning more time on the flats and more fish to the boat!