Just beyond the southeastern outskirts of Matanzas, the Cuevas de Bellamar is the most awe-inspiring natural wonder in the province. The cave system attracts coach-loads of tourists and is very visitor-friendly, allowing anyone who can scale a few sets of steps to descend 50m under the ground along 750m of underground corridors and caverns. The entrance is located within a small complex called Finca La Alcancía, hosting shops, two restaurants and a children’s playground.
The caves were first happened upon in 1861 – although there’s some dispute over whether credit should go to a slave working in a limestone pit or a shepherd looking for his lost sheep. Tours are conducted in various languages, including English, and start with a bang as a large staircase leads down into the first, huge gallery, where a gargantuan stalactite known as El Manto de Colón takes centre stage. From here the damp, occasionally muddy and moodily lit trail undulates gently through the rock, passing along narrow passageways. Every so often the cave widens out into larger but still tightly enclosed galleries and chambers lined with lichen and crystal formations.