Those who know me well know that I’m a unfulfilled archaeologist, because since I was a little boy, I loved to investigate my country’s aboriginal and colonial past. Thus, one of the first archaeological sites I visited as a child was La Cueva de Ambrosio; a fabulous and enigmatic spelunk, located in the “other” Varadero, the one visited by those who prefer ecotourism over beaches and hotel comforts.
Let me clarify what I mean by the “other” Varadero – it’s a plot of land within the Varahicacos nature reserve; a protected area with various trails that enable visitors to closely admire untouched wildlife, exotic flora and fauna, all of which was once abundant in the Hicacos peninsula over 100 years ago, but which now, sadly, is in extreme danger of becoming extinct in the area.
La Cueva de Ambrosio, which was named after an individual (Ambrosio), who inhabited it for years. This sandy rock cavern formed during the Pleistocene era, is 250 metres long and encompasses five interconnected galleries. It’s located in an elevation called Loma de la Caseta, at eight-and-a-half metres above sea level, and was discovered in 1961 by Manuel Rivero de la Calle and Mario Orlando Pariente; members of the Speleological Society and of the Cuban Academy of Science.
The cave’s main features
Inside La Cueva de Ambrosio, which I highly recommend you not to miss, you’ll find 47 pictographs and drawings by Cuba’s first inhabitants. They are mostly found on the walls of the Salon de la Claraboyas (Skylight Room), thus named after the many holes in its ceiling. These openings allow sunlight to flood in and filter through, creating impressive contrasts of light and shade in the cave’s interior.
Another set of rooms called Salones del Maja y de las Raices (The Maja and Roots Rooms) are located to the east of the cavern. A "Maja" is a beautiful harmless Cuban snake, one of which was captured in this cavern many years ago, hence the first part of this gallery’s name. The other part is due to the fact that the room is decorated by various roots that come in through the cavern’s ceiling, reaching as far down as its floor. I personally believe that archaeologists haven’t been able to find pictographs here because the amount of sunlight reaching these rooms is scarce, therefore; the aborigines would have had to artificially light their way through to wander inside.
To the west of the cave lies the Salon de la Dolina (Dolina Room) and the Salon de la Cocina (Kitchen Room), displaying many other pictographs which you mustn’t overlook.
La Cueva de Ambrosio is considered by scientists as one of Cuba’s most important pictographic sites, due to the great number of early drawings found on its interior walls. Some of them, given their beauty and complexity, especially the concentric circled and spectacle-shaped ones, are only comparable to those inside Cueva No. 1 (Cave No. 1) in Punta del Este, Isla de la Juventud (a.k.a. Isle of Youth, Cuba’s second largest island); which is considered the Sistine Chapel of Cuban Rupestrian Art.
Attractions inside the cave and its surroundings
To tour the cave you will have the aid of excellent guides, who’ll show you around its thousand-and-one charms: the bats, the animal and plant life that dwells inside it, and above all; they’ll give you the low-down on the enigmatic, thought-provoking pictographs decorating its walls. Among these are some pictographs illustrating the aborigines’ notion, of the first European conquerors landing in Cuba in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
Within the Varahicacos nature reserve, there are various hiking trails surrounding the cavern, which you can venture through to find out more about what Varadero’s flora and fauna were like when the Cuban aborigines lived in this region. You’ll be surprised by the rich variety of plant life blossoming in the so-called “bosque siempre verde” (“evergreen forest”), in which new species of small harmless reptiles have been recently found.
La Cueva de Ambrosio can be safely visited by people of all ages, although it will pose more of a challenge for those with mobility issues. Its internal temperature is cool and pleasant, but according to my own experience, not as cool as to require an extra layer for children or those prone to getting cold chills. The full tour of the cave takes about 45 minutes, so I advise you to wear comfortable clothes and shoes (no flip flops!) and to carry with you a small bottle of water or juice.
The cave is visited daily by many Cuban and foreign tourists who reach the site by taxi or on the double-decker hop-on / hop-off bus, in organised escorted excursions prearranged by the hotel’s tourist bureaus, in or in rented cars.
I, who have visited the site several times alone, and in the company of family and friends, can assure you that touring La Cueva de Ambrosio is always a wonderful and one-of-a-kind experience, and an even greater one for children and youngsters of all ages; who will relish and treasure their visit to this cavern as one of their most pleasant and exciting outings in Varadero, and all of Cuba.
Address: Autopista Sur, Varadero
Opening hours: Everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Entry price: 5 CUC
Ideal for group tours.
You must not miss: The red and black circular pictographs; and the ones showing the depiction of the first European conquerors to visit the island.