The caves of Matanzas have served as a very popular tourist attraction for Cuba. Tours opened up in 1862 when visitors carried torches and candles making these Caves of Bellamar the oldest tourist attraction that is still visited on the Island. While the caves of Viñales are said to be a bit more alluring, the grand Cuevas de Bellamar are also a great option for the curious spelunker.
Take a moto for a mere 2 CUC up the hillside to the entrance of the park and enjoy the small museum, or a Rum if you would like. Then descend the stairs and explore the eerie quiet inside the depths of the earth. The cave stretches 24,000 meters, the tour stops at a satisfying 750 meters at the pools which are known as the Fountain of Youth.
The Great Paleo-Cave Bellamar is a system of passages snaking along 24 km divided into 9 levels that are eventually flooded by underground pools. The caves are littered with glistening crystal formations of calcite and argonite.
The cave is believed to date back 25 million years, and preserves ancient fossils of plants and animals. Marine species such as the Porcupine fish, Diodon circunflexus and a gigantic shark Carcharodon megalodon were found along with a giant owl Tyto riberoi, tree rats Geocapromys and Brormys and a giant sloth Megalocnus rodens. Each serves as a great resource in studying the ecosystem as it was millions of years ago.
The Caves were discovered in 1861 by a Chinese farmer, Justo Wong. The grounds were owned by a Spaniard, Don Manuel Santos Parga. Don Miguel became suspicious when an Iron bar used by Mr. Wong went missing. He began to study the site. The morning of April 17th 1861, he was the first to enter the cave and spelunk the cave entirely. He went by himself with only his torch and impressively made it through the majority of the cave.
Electricity was not installed within the cave until 1910. The walls were illuminated by a shrewd system of iron rods and copper wires coated with cotton, porcelain and glass. The first lightbulbs were brought by Edison (company).
Scientists and experts to this day, explore the caves in hope of finding farther passages. The most recent discovery was in November of 1991 when a group of scientists “Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente” discovered 7 km of new passages, and eventually all ..merge into one.