Caves make for amazing hiking journeys for trekkers. And, if a cave happens to be blessed with a waterfall and an underground river, it will definitely be something a nature lover wouldn’t want to miss. That is the case with "La Gruta": a small cave crossed by a river, near the Guanayara Park, in the Escambray mountain range. There was little anyone could say to discourage me from going there, even when this route is not included in the itineraries of tourist packages, which means there are no official guides to take you through it.
|Location:||Topes de Collantes, Escambray, Sancti Spiritus, Cuba|
|Distance:||About 3 Km|
|Start point:||"El Mamey" nursery-garden|
|End point:||"La Gruta" cave|
|What to see:||Mountain passes, coffee plantations and farmer houses besides the river, the waterfall and the well of "La Gruta" cave|
|What to take and wear:||Comfortable walking shoes that protect your ankles, shorts, long-sleeved shirt, and bathing suit. Insect repellent, sunscreen, water bottles and towels|
La Gruta is not an easy place to find. I had to ask for directions several times as there are no signs to look out for on the road. You can get there by car: go past Topes de Collantes, then take the road to Cienfuegos up to the Guanayara junction and follow the road to Guanayara, the same road that trucks take for the "Centinelas del Río Melodioso" (Sentinels of the Melodious River) route.
It is not easy to find "La Gruta". In fact, I had to ask for different directions to get there. The route is not signaled on the roads. You can get there by taxi, or any other means of transportation,
A hundred metres after you pass the above sign on the right side of the road, turn left.
In case you miss this junction, you will get to a Boys Scouts camp. This indicates you are on the wrong path and should turn back. If you continue straight ahead, you will arrive to Guanayara Park and the town of Cuatro Vientos. The option here is to go back the same way and turn right about 50 metres before reaching the Boys Scouts camp.
The next point of reference, assuming you took the right path, is El Mamey nursery-farm. The path to La Gruta starts here, on the right side of the road, among the furrows of a coffee plantation. This is when we get off the car and leave it behind, most likely under a farmer’s custody. It is also advisable to ask for a local guide around the surrounding farms, like the Aguacate state farm. If the guide goes on foot, the better for you. The one I found was riding a horse and it was very hard to keep up the pace.
The path is rough, ragged and unkempt. You must be ready to cross some brooks with rigged-up crossovers. Once you arrive at "La Gruta", you’ll find two ways to enter: one to the right, uphill, to get into the cave from above and keep yourself dry. However, if you are a good swimmer and like cold waters, I recommend the other way, downhill, and you will get to the river flowing out of the cave. Then, you will have to swim to get through. I did, and was shocked by the underground pool.
The circular pool occupies most of the cave. In Cuba, we call these water holes “casimbas”. This one is very deep, it is practically impossible to find a spot where you could stand on your feet. If you are not a good swimmer, you’d better stay close to the banks and do not dare swim across it. The waters are very cold and it’s very common to get cramps.
On the farthest corner of the cave, there is a waterfall rising over 10 metres tall, through which the river flows in. The waters inside "La Gruta" reflect the midday sunlight entering through a big opening above the waterfall, thus creating an incredible light-and-shadow spectacle hard to capture even with a professional camera. The natural beauty of the place has no equal around the Escambray area. When I got to the centre of the pool, I was so shocked by its surreal beauty that I almost forgot to keep my feet and hands moving to float. It looks just like those hidden places pirates used to bury their treasures, or the bathing area for castaways on a paradisiac desert island.
To me, the only disadvantage of this cave is the fact that you cannot swim underwater because it is too dark inside. However, you can enjoy swimming, taking a dive from the rocks or simply admiring the beauty of the place. I do recommend that before going for a dive, you should explore the place to know where the rocks and shallows are. Some locals dive straight from the top of the cave; it is a dizzying dive of more than 20 metres. Always keep in mind that these people, unlike you, know the place like the back of their hands are very experienced at doing this.
If you enjoy hidden places, a visit to "La Gruta" can be the crown jewel in your visit to Escambray. I recommend this place, where water and rocks plot to create an amazing show of lights and shadows in a secluded spot in Cuba’s central mountain range.