Peering into the vast valley of Viñales, Cuba, I can’t help but notice the impressive, freestanding mountains dominating the landscape – a gorgeous site indeed.
You see, millions of years ago, during the Jurassic Period, Viñales was underwater, and as sea level dropped, the marine environment emerged from the ancient sea floor, exposing precious aquatic life and the surrounding sedimentary rocks. Today, marine fossils are found in abundance throughout the area.
For many years, this karst terrain has undergone water and wind erosion, creating these rounded, limestone structures called mogotes, that we see today.
As well, over the years, groundwater has trickled through these limestone mogotes forming underwater caves and caverns. In fact, these mountains house the largest cave system in Cuba, Cueva Santo Tomás, which is more than 45 kms long and has 8 levels.
There are other caves, too, which are quite small in comparison, and one of these is Cueva de San Miguel, commonly referred to as Palenque de los Cimarrones.
This cave is a narrow, 270m-long passage that runs through a remnant mogote, and it’s historically significant because it provided refuge for the nomadic, runaway slaves in the 18th century.
Today, the entrance of Palenque de los Cimarrones has been turned into a 24-hr bar, and on the other side of the cave passage, there’s a restaurant open for lunch.
We wanted to see what this was all about, so I paid the bar tender CUC$3 for the entrance fee, Bella was free, and we entered the cave on the left side of the bar.
We were the only ones in the passage when we entered, so we thought.
Around the corner, we saw a shadow, but it turned out to be a dark-colored statue of a runaway slave. And around the next corner, there was another one.
The cave grew darker as we walked deeper, and the energy felt a bit creepy – Bella was spooked, too.
We were happy to see the sun on the other side of the passage, where we saw a replica slave settlement.
There were improvised banana-leaf beds, mud pipes and other tools that the slaves used in the wild and natural environment.
There was even a fake snake peering over the camp.
Continuing on, we arrived at some circular, thatch-roofed buildings – we found the restaurant.
The Creole food smelled delicious, although we did not eat any.
We just looked around to see if we could get the car from here, but it didn’t look promising.
We had to make the short passage once again through the creepy tunnel, but this time we ran through it lol.
In all, we enjoyed visiting Palenque de los Cimarrones because it was a good place for us to learn a little bit about the history of Cuba. Half an hour was plenty of time for us to enjoy ourselves, and it was well worth the stop.
Btw, if you need the bathroom, look no further than the nearest grotto next to the 24-hr bar. It was fairly clean and accessible, just watch your head!
Recommended Guide Book For Cuba: Lonely Planet Cuba (Travel Guide)