Bellamar Caves

Near one of Cuba's top resort towns, and not far from Havana, are the amazing Cuevas de Bellamar, or Bellamar Caves. This cave system, which has been one of the top Cuba attractions for more than a century, can be accessed from Varadero, Havana or the port city of Matanzas. If you are coming to Varadero to enjoy the alluring Varadero Beach, you might add a tour of the Cuevas de Bellamar, which would be an ideal compliment to your getaway.

They can also be an intriguing Havana day trip option. Should you want to be closer still to the Cuevas de Bellamar, and thus enjoy them a bit more leisurely, you could always choose to stay the night in Matanzas, which is just about 3 miles northeast of the cave system. Otherwise, it's 60 miles east from Havana and 25 miles southwest from Varadero, which is still pretty close. Thankfully, the modern Vía Blanca coastal highway runs from Havana to Matanzas, so should you rent a car, you will have no problem getting there swiftly. Bus and train trips are also possible between the three cities.

One thing is for sure when it comes to the Cuevas de Bellamar. They will both impress and confound you all at once. Hidden underground, away from the tropical sun, a magical world exists here, where mesmerizing crystalline domes and formations come in an astonishing range of shapes and sizes. Mind-boggling stalagmites and stalagtites are found within, in conjunction with pictographs from indigenous peoples and a network of mostly clear rivers and streams. Believed to have been formed some 300,000 years ago, the Bellamar Caves have had plenty of time to “decorate”, so to speak, and as such, speleologists, or scientists who study caves, and curious visitors alike, are rewarded with a most spectacular array of galleries.

The cave system found here extends almost two miles, and supposedly, it wasn't discovered until 1861, when legend has it, a slave's quarry tool was lost to a hole in the ground, thus leading to subsequent excavations. The caves have been one of the most-visited Cuba tourist attractions ever since this serendipitous occurrence, and understandably so.

You can easily arrange a tour of the Bellamar Caves at one of the resorts that line the Varadero beach, and surely a good majority of the Havana hotels and tour agencies can help you find a way to get there. Should you arrive on your own, you might be interested in finding a Bellamar hotel before you schedule your visit, though the choices aren't prolific. Guided tours are the norm at the Bellamar Caves, and they allow you to make sense of formations like The fountain of Youth (La Fuente de La Juventud), and the Grated Coconut Gallery (Galería de Coco Rallado).

The tour takes you through just part of the Bellamar Caves system, which is sufficiently lit for maximum viewing pleasure. Outside of the Cuevas de Bellamar is a café where you can grab lunch, and some souvenir shops. The Cuevas de Bellamar are open from 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. daily, and are found off of an identifiable access route. If you aren't coming from Havana or Varadero, the Bellamar hotel options, as mentioned, are pretty scarce.

The city of Matanzas doesn't exactly cater well to foreign travelers, which is a bit peculiar, but there are options for casas particulares for rent, which are private rooms that citizens lease out. The Hotel Louvre, which is a modest Bellamar hotel choice, is located on the city's main square, and it's staff is known to be both friendly and interesting, generally serenading guests with welcoming music, and pouring them a refreshing drink upon arrival. Once a beautiful, 19th century structure, the Hotel Louvre has certainly seen better days, but it is more than sufficient for most, and if you are lucky, you can get an air-conditioned room, with a private bathroom and a balcony that looks out onto the Parque de la Libertad square.

The Hotel Canimao is another Bellamar hotel option, and it is housed in a 19th century house found just across from the Matanzas Tropicana Cabaret. It offers comfortable accommodations, and is just outside of the city on the road that runs to Varadero.

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