Cuba is a country full of surprises where you can find countless rare and wondrous things, including a place where time seems to have suddenly stopped several thousands of years ago: The Prehistoric Valley. At 20 kilometres from the centre of Santiago de Cuba, this place looks like a weird tropical Jurassic Park, ideal for a family day out.
Do not expect to find technological wonders or advanced robotic figures here. The primitive creatures are all made of stone and the park's quirky allure lies on its literally primitive character - that also goes for the sculptures found here. As in many other places in Cuba, the valley has that eerie look of abandonment, lacks maintenance and there are no modern or sophisticated artefacts. However, if you visit it open-mindedly expecting to have a lovely, interesting stroll amidst a natural setting, then this might constitute one of the most interesting experiences you'll have in the east of Cuba.
Also, the trip itself to the valley through a crinkle-crankle road with a view to the sea and the mountains is worth it. A taxi from the city centre in Santiago can range from $5.00 to $15.00 CUC, but you'll have to bargain with the driver to get the best price.
Ideal for children and adults
Located in Parque Baconao, a World Biosphere Reserve, the valley is littered by 227 cement and metal full-scale sculptures. It is an ideal place for the whole family, although children enjoy it much more due to the enchantment dinosaurs exert on them. It is probably the influence of cartoon films like Tiny Foot, The Ice Age and others, which have familiarised children with these fascinating extinct creatures.
You can spot the long neck of a Brontosaurus from afar, or the Pterodactyl ready to take off with its wings stretched out, or the Dimetrodon with its rocky dorsal fan, right in the middle of a hilly environment that enhances the illusion of having come out of a time machine just at the beginnings of humankind.
Posing as cavemen
This sculptural complex, founded over three decades ago, allows for a chronological tour through the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and tertiary and quaternary Cenozoic eras. It was created with the thought of educating, and above all amusing people, so, many find great photo ops here.
Although the sculptures are rigid, they feel like they are in movement because of the way they'been sculpted. Visitors can pose as a caveman in the frantic heat of a hunting mission or take part in a funeral ceremony. You can be a daredevil and stick your head into the mouth of a Tyrannosaurus, unafraid of being wolfed by it.
The possibilities are infinite. The only limitation is your imagination, your sense of humour, wanting to do something original to take back home as a photographic memory. For example, there is a threatening 12-metre-tall Cro-Magnon man at the very entrance of the facility swaying his stone axe. With no fear for the frozen blow, many enjoy getting a photo with this ancestor of rough manners.
Other sculptures recreate customs and habits of the cavemen; their funeral rites and their hunting, for instance. Afterwards, you can find a cavemen family stoking the fire to probably cook a sabre-toothed tiger or a mammoth.
Very, very sunny, maybe too much…
If prehistoric creatures were extinguished by the sharp temperature changes; from melting hot to freezing cold, here you will not suffer that much: it is always reliably sunny and hot, absolutely always. That is why it is advisable to carry some suntan lotion and a couple of bottles of water. You can buy them in the shops around Baconao Park, but it is better to bring some with you, in case they run out (as often happens in many Cuban shops).
A picnic or a cave lunch
If you don't have a busy schedule, with enough time for relaxing, you can devote the entire morning to walking around the valley, laying down under a sculpture, leaving the kids to run and roam freely about the place and getting some nice photo memories. If, on the contrary, you are pressed for time, an hour will be enough to cover it all.
So much running around, climbing on top of dinosaurs and walking can soon awaken the appetite of a ravenous cageman. If you brought some food from the city, you can have a picnic under the shadow of a tree, because the midday sun, especially when you feel hungy, is unbearable. You also have the option of enjoying a cave lunch: there is a cave with a restaurant inside and its stone walls are covered with cave paintings resembling the ones in Altamira.
A decent meal with domestic drinks and a helpful service can be around $10.00 CUC per person, depending on one's appetite or the set menu. Another attraction of the restaurant is the view from its outdoor terrace. On the meadow, you can see a herd of elephants swaggering their way through and a stampede of defying wild horses getting around them.
Having fun like a child
At the beginning or end of a tour around Parque Baconao, the Prehistoric Valley is the perfect place to breathe in fresh air, give your children the chance run about freely, surround yourself by beautiful nature and meet these breathtaking creatures you have never seen in a zoo. For now at least...