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The Santa Catalina cavern in Varadero, a Cuban speleology treasure

Just a few kilometres from Varadero stands one of Cuba's most captivating natural marvels; the Santa Catalina cavern. Declared a National Monument in 1996 due to its speleological and archaeological values, the visit to this grotto is an excellent choice for those who love adventure and discovering underground treasures.

The Santa Catalina cavern in Varadero, a Cuban speleology treasure

The Santa Catalina cavern opens up to the world in all its neogene limestone glory. This is no more, no less, than karst from ancient, previously submerged marine terraces. It’s a popular natural site of great interest in this part of Cuba, famous not only for its 11 kilometres of underground galleries, but also for its extraordinary secondary formations of calcite sand and aragonite, especially those known as stalagmitic fungi, which are the only ones of their kind in the world. The grotto is a labyrinth; some of its galleries bearing valuable aboriginal pictographs in the form of sinuous lines drawn with charcoal.

Regarded as one of Cuba’s most significant underground geographical accidents across its wide variety of speleological formations, the cavern began to be explored with adequate scientific rigor in March, 1969. Ever since, it has been growing in length as several topography works have been carried out, especially in areas where access is more difficult.

An amazing underground stone forest

The Santa Catalina cavern is majorly known for its curiously shaped giant stone fungi. These are actually fungi-shaped stalagmites rising several metres from the spelunk. These exceptionally unique stone formations, the only ones of its kind the world, together with the aboriginal pictographs found in the cavern, draw national and foreign tourists alike, with the latter frequently venturing to this cavity to add a different dimension to their Cuba holiday.

The main attraction in a tour of Santa Catalina I insist, is the cavern’s great variety of speleothems, which have earned it the nickname of "El reino de los Hongos de Piedra" (The Kingdom of Stone Fungi), due to the curious shapes of its stalagmites whose dimensions range from a few centimetres to three metres high; some in solitary, others in a real "forest-like" formation. The ceiling is literally covered by them and during the tour you may observe columns, stratums, gours, helictites, curtains, cave pearls and curious bell-shaped formations.

In addition to the stalagmitic fungi distinguishing this spelunk, archaeological remains found in it show that it was inhabited since very early stages, by the aboriginal groups that settled in the area. Interesting samples of cave painting and valuable bone remains, the latter of great importance to regional and national archaeology; have been found in this site.

Archaeological and natural values

In July, 1969, the remains of a female aborigine found in the depths of this cavern - in which she apparently went astray - by the Carlos de la Torre y Huerta speleological group of Matanzas; provided new insight into the island’s early settlers, whereas they were dated as of the XII century BC, which corresponds to Cuba’s early Mesolithic period.

This exceptional natural site is located within a protected area that belongs to the "Parque de las Cavernas" (Cavern Park) project, which is supervised by the "Fundación cubana de La Naturaleza y el Hombre" (Cuban Foundation for Nature and Man), as a tourist and public use area.

The place was also inhabited in the 19th century by black slaves running away from the sugar cane plantations and by the Cubans that fought against the Spanish colonial dominance. It even served as provisional shelter and field dressing station during the second war for independence (1895 – 1898).

Visiting this wonder of Cuban nature gives you an amazing opportunity to learn about the hidden treasures in the island’s subsoil. Entering this exceptional cavern will give you the impression of being in some other world! That’s why I highly recommend holidaymakers reveling in Varadero’s sun-kissed glory (Cuba’s largest sun and beach destination), to not miss the opportunity to explore this marvelous grotto which, by the way, you should always discover in the company of an experienced guide. You can hire a guide from the tourism office of any Varadero hotel or resort.

These experts will help you choose the appropriate clothing for the expedition, and will provide you with every essential piece of equipment in terms of lighting and safety so that you can safely navigate the site. They will also offer detailed information on everything you’ll come across during the tour; from plants, bats, reptiles and blindfish to other harmless animals that dwell within the cavern and its surroundings, all of which must be preserved for the benefit of the region’s ecosystems.

Tips

Address: Located on the highway connecting Varadero to Matanzas, 4 km southeast of the town of Carboneras, and 20 km east of the city of Matanzas.
Cave’s visiting hours: 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Entry Price: Depending on the type of excursion you go for, it ranges between 5 and 20 CUC.
How long will the visit take? Depends on how long you want to linger, but the cave can be toured in one hour.
Ideal for a family tour.
You must not miss: The curious giant stone fungi which are actually fungi-formed stalagmites rising several metres from the spelunk.

Ernesto Alvarez

Ernesto Alvarez

Passionate Historian

Being the author of The History of Tourism in Varadero and a resident there, Ernesto hoards an...

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