The Caves of Viñales, Cuba
Viñales is a small village in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province in the northern-west tip of the island. The area is known for its curious freestanding hillocks (mogotes) and distinctive karst topography (a landscape created by groundwater dissolving sedimentary rocks such as limestone). Over long periods of time, erosion of the limestone terrain led to the formation of underground tunnels and caves, many of which have now become popular tourist attractions.
There are four main caves to explore, each offering something very different. As we were short of time, we visited La Cueva del Indio, but I have include three other options for families to also consider if they are staying longer.
1. La Cueva de San Miguel and Palenque de los Cimarrones
Also referred to as Cueva de Jose Miguel, this small cave, or hideout (Palenque), is where runaway slaves (cimarrones) used to seek shelter during the colonial times. After a short walk into the cave, you come to a simple reconstruction of a Palenque settlement. This cave is located near to La Cueva del Indio and is transformed into a local disco on Saturday nights!
2. La Cueva San Tomas
17km west of Viñales, near El Moncada, this is the biggest cave system in Cuba and is suited to serious explorers. Tours are around two hours long and a guide is essential. Helmets and head torches are provided and closed shoes such as trainers are necessary. It’s reported that this cave is spectacular and has 45 km of galleries on eight levels, with ten separate entrances (not all of these are accessible to the public however).
3. La Cueva de Palmerito
At the end of a trail, this cave is often accessed by horse or bike as part of a guided tour (good luck finding it on your own!). Also known as the Cueva de la Piscina, the main attraction is the underground pool that can be found after walking around 200m into the cave. You can swim in the pool but, not surprisingly, the water is cold! The cave has no lighting so torches are essential. The cave is located some 4km north of Viñales in the Valle de la Guasasa.
4. La Cueva del Indio
Five miles north of Viñales village, the Cave of the Indian is easy to access and a good option for little kids.
Rediscovered in 1920s, it’s thought that these caves were once used by the Guanahatabey (or Guanajatabey) Indians.
Take our video tour of La Cueva del Indio:
The footpath that led us through the cave was well lit (there is no need for head torches or guides) and had been reinforced with smooth concrete, making it an easy walk for all ages. After 200 metres or so, we transferred to a little boat to take us a further 400 metres up the underground river of San Vicente. The boat driver pointed out shapes in the rocks that, with a bit of imagination, resembled animals, fish and even the three boats of Christopher Columbus!
The children found the whole experience delightfully spooky and would have happily repeated the circuit if we had allowed them to!
At the cave’s exit are a number of souvenir stands and a sugar cane press selling guarapo (sugar cane juice) – not surprisingly, a hit with the kids! (See video above, at 1:13 mins)
The entire tour took around 30 minutes.
Entrance fee: 5CUC per person
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