Photo credit: 5 de Septiembre
At WoWCuba we relish travelling backroads and would take a meandering scenic route over a boring highway any day. Having spent over a ¼ century criss-crossing Cuba on bicycles, motorcycles, in cars, buses, trains, antique motorcycles and airplanes we sometimes find there are fewer and fewer places in this marvelous land that we’ve not yet had the opportunity to explore. That often leads us to seek out some of the more obscure reference points and research their viability as destinations to share with privileged WoWCuba travelers. This past weekend led us to the Ecotur offices in Cienfuegos where we had the distinct pleasure of meeting a seasoned veteran in nature tourism and sharing an interesting exchange with him about a variety of activities under development in south central Cuba, one of which is the Martin Infierno Cave. The cave, first discovered in Cumanayagua in 1967 and declared National Monument in 1990, features one of the largest stalagmites in the world (over 67 meters, or almost as high as a 20-story building). It is situated 650 meters above sea level, 793 meters long, and reaches 197 meters in depth. Until recently visits were mainly underground and uncontrolled, resulting in some neglect and human-inflicted damage to the natural treasure.
Photo Credit: CubaDebate
To our great pleasure, we discovered that Cuban authorities have assigned a ranger/guard to discourage illegal visitation, and assign fines to trespassers. Ecotur reports they now have authorization (for bats, etc) from Cuban Public Health authorities and are working on infrastructure for official excursions to the natural wonder. They expect to finally be able to launch that product, including in the first stage, visits to 2 of its 4 caverns by next spring. In a second phase they hope to be able to introduce safe walkways to minimize damage to the cave’s interior, and eventually allow access to the chamber housing the main attraction, the huge stalagmite.
Note there are several less-than-responsible websites and mass tourism marketing machines out there currently indiscriminately promoting this cave as if it were a legitimate tourist destination, when in fact the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP) clearly indicates that unauthorized and unofficial visits are still prohibited. To preserve the integrity of natural treasures such as this one, WoWCuba strongly urges all responsible travelers to respect local regulations while traveling in Cuba, and be informed of which areas are authorized for visits.
Tread lightly and leave only footprints behind. And a word to some of the newbie tour operators in Cuba: Don’t be tempted to capitalize on Cuba’s natural resources until Cuban authorities have duly researched and authorized activities for visitors to these unique and fragile sites. They will have trained guides to escort visitors and ensure that they are preserved for future generations to contemplate and study.