Varahicacos Ecological Reserve

Though small, the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve certainly packs a punch. Located at the end of the Hicacos Peninsula past the world-famous beach resort town of Varadero, the reserve is only about three square kilometres in size but accounts for some 30% of the peninsula's total land area. The park contains walking trails and a 500+ year old cactus called the Patriarca, but the real draws here are archaeological attractions like pre-Columbian cave paintings and some 2,500-year-old human remains!

Though still stunningly beautiful, the sprawling beach resort town of Varadero takes up so much of the Hicacos Peninsula that it’s sometimes hard to image what the area would have looked like a few centuries ago, when most of it sat pristine aside from some Spanish salt mines. Nowadays, there’s only one place on the Peninsula where one can begin to imagine the Varadero area of times past—the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve.

Natural Attractions

The beautiful natural area of the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve stands in stark contrast to the highly developed rest of the Hicacos Peninsula—so much so that the park is often referred to as “the other Varadero! It’s only about three square kilometres in size, so don’t expect to lose yourself in nature here. Instead, you can expect a few pleasant, if short, nature trails and some impressive examples of local flora and fauna.

The park is home to a wide variety of plants including broad-leafed trees, agaves, and mangroves, as well as animals including lizards and butterflies. However, the most impressive natural specimen in the park is without a doubt the Patriarca cactus, a massive plant estimated to be well over 500 years old. It definitely makes for an impressive photo op!

Archaeological Attractions

As impressive as some of the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve’s natural attractions may be, the real draws here for most visitors are actually the park’s archaeological treasures.

First of all, the park’s Cueva de Ambrosio cave would be impressive enough as is—it stretches some 250 metres and features an open gallery lit by ten small openings in the cave roof. However, the most impressive parts of the cave’s offerings are the pre- and post-Columbian drawings and pictographs on its walls, of which there are over 110 in total. According to historians, these date from at least two distinct periods.

Finally, perhaps the most famous of the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve’s attractions is the Cueva de Musulmanes, home to the remains of two human males dating back to some 2,500 years! Found alongside them were some basic tools and food remains, all still on display for visitors willing to make the trek here today.

Though far from being the most impressive of Cuba’s natural attractions, the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve is easily accessible from any hotel in Varadero and makes a fine afternoon trip for visitors looking for something different to do —or for motivation to leave the beach! Here’s the bottom line: if you’re staying in Varadero, there’s no good reason not to check out the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve during your Cuba holiday, especially if you love nature and history.

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