Are you into cave exploring? You might be surprised to find out Cuba has a number of interesting cave and cavern networks running through the island. Che Guevara was even known for commanding revolutionary fighters from them. Most folks will agree that some of the best caves on the island can be found in the Viñales region. While most people think of it for the tobacco growers and cigar rollers, the nearby mountain range and mogotes make Viñales well known for world-class rock-climbing and subterranean adventures alike. The area is so special it's been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Many caves have underground lakes and reservoirs that provide some of the most unique travel experiences anywhere and are definitely not what people think of when traveling to Cuba. They can range from the extreme adventurer types of caves where you're donning your own headlamps and rappelling ropes to more easy-going caving tours (diet adventure travel, if you will).
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Caving Tours at La Cueva del Indio in Viñales
If you’re looking for one of the more agreeable subterranean adventures, La Cueva del Indio, or Indian Cave, might be exactly what you need. While you still need good mobility, it’s relatively easy to navigate because the pathways have been evened out, it’s not terribly tight if you have claustrophobic tendencies and it’s well lit. Which means you can really see the full scale of the huge stalactites and stalagmites lining the surfaces.
Typically, tourist attractions aren’t that appealing to us, but in this case, if we told you that you could take a boat ride through an underground cave in Cuba, you might change your mind just like we did. The pièce de résistance, and the most beautiful part of the caving tour, is the boat ride at the end. It’s beautiful to see the light bleed into the darkness as you float through a crevice in the rock and into a tropical lagoon with a waterfall.
**for the cave spelunker and underground caving enthusiasts among us
If you're a serious underground caving enthusiast or cave spelunker (which is a semi-hilarious word few people have ever heard of before), this is likely not going to be your kind of thing. But if you have your family in tow, this is a great attraction for families with kids.
The journey through the cave is about a quarter of a mile. Half of that, roughly 218 yards (200 meters), you’ll spend weaving your way through smooth crevices that twist and turn, opening to soaring cavernous rooms. It’s easy to imagine how magical this place must have been before it became a must-see attraction. It feels very “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The other half, just under 250 feet (225 meters) is the boat ride. The whole trip takes about a half hour if there aren’t many tourists, and because of the timed entry intervals, you won’t see many people outside your small group until the very end. If there is a delay in people boarding or disembarking the boats, there may be a queue that starts to back up at the water’s edge. Just hang tight, it’s about to get even cooler.
Light shimmers off the underground canals and onto the ceiling, making it look like the boats are floating on black glass. The stark contrast between the dark waters and smooth gray stone is striking and almost otherworldly. If this is the only reason you decide to take this caving tour, it’s worth it. When you exit the cave, the sunlight starts to penetrate the cave in rays that dance along the tops of the water. You spill out into a lagoon at the end, complete with lush hanging vines and water trickling from above.
Outside the cave (and included in your caving tour), you can also see artifacts from the indigenous tribe that once inhabited the land. There’s a thatched hut complete with dried palm fronds, primitive tools for hunting and cooking and battle drums. They’ll even do a live demonstration of the traditional way to press raw sugarcane, which is extremely delicious and has been used in healing rituals for centuries. Sugarcane is a prominent industry (along with agritourism) in this region. Up until the 1960s, Cuba was the world’s top exporter and the island is brimming with tall reedy fields of sugarcane stalks. But more importantly, back to cave exploring.
What to know about cave exploring at la cueva del indio in Viñales
There’s a few things you should think about before deciding whether or not this is the afternoon activity for you. It’s a cave, and while that may seem a little obvious to some, that means it’s dark, it’s damp, and it can be extremely claustrophobic. While it’s more accommodating than some of the other caves you’ll find in Cuba, there are also lots of steps to climb because it is essentially a labyrinth of winding stone paths through a mountain. Be prepared to climb down a flight of stone stairs to get to the boats.
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There’s also dripping water, which sounds amazing when it echoes through the cavern, that cools off the interior temperatures to the point of chill for some. It’s a good idea to bring a sweater or something to cover your arms if you get cold easily. There are also slumbering bats hanging from the ceiling who thankfully, stay asleep. It’s a cave, remember?
Underground caving in Viñales for those with claustrophobia
If you suffer from claustrophobia, you should know that sometimes, the line for the boats backs up. This means you will be standing pretty closely to other people, waiting for a boat to unload its passengers and make the return trip back for more. If the thought of being underground and shoulder-to-shoulder with others for 15 minutes or so makes you shudder, this is likely not going to be something you will enjoy. While the space inside is relatively high, the walls can sometimes mimic slot canyons and it’s a tough predicament knowing you can’t go forward or back. But if you can breathe through it, and distract yourself with good conversation from others around you, you’ll feel the pay off once you step into the boat.
Where to buy souvenirs after the caving tours at la cueva del indio in Viñales
Once you hop off the boat, you’ll pass a few souvenir vendors. This is actually a great perk with this attraction because these little treasures are handmade and of really great quality. You’re going to meet some of the local artisans as well and you can even watch them create the jewelry and figurines they’re selling. There’s nothing more irritating than buying really cheap and crappy souvenirs that you know very well nobody actually wants. Sure, they’ll have shot glasses and magnets to take home, but they’ll also have an array of really cool stuff too.
The jewelry makers will tell you the story of the wooden beads and even seeds they make their pieces from, most of which are sourced in the area. There are even hand-woven baskets for sale. The authenticity of these items is what you really want in a memento from your trip to this region of Cuba. And it’s something that’s getting harder and harder to find when you travel. But if you do a little bit of searching, you can find some really great stuff to take home with you.
things to do after cave exploring in Cuba
Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last ten years. Her work has been featured in Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.