Cave Diving in Cuba - A dangerous, difficult yet fascinating activity
Flooded cave exploration is perhaps the most dangerous type of both diving and spelunking. Its appeal is so exciting however, that despite the risks, the sport draws many adventurers down into this unusual world.
The practice of cave diving in Cuba dates back to 1962 when a team of specialists headed by Dr. Antonio Núñez Jiménez explored a total of five flooded caves in the San Juan Valley Lagoon in the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, located at the tip of the westernmost Pinar del Rio province.
In 1940, Dr. Núñez Jiménez, who was captain of the rebel army lead by Commander Ernesto Che Guevara in Cuba's central region during the rebellion against dictator Fulgencio Batista, was among the founders of the Speleological Society of Cuba (SEC in Spanish), which he chaired for 60 years until his death in September 1998. The society's main goal is the study of the underground world and all things related to its environment.
The Cuban archipelago has a total area of 110,922 square kilometers, and most of it is karstic, which makes it the country in the world with the most caves per square kilometer.
According to documents preserved by the SEC, their specialists conducted several cave diving missions between 1962 and 1979 in stretches located in the Great Fuentes Cave and the El Altar Cave located in the Guaniguanico mountain range; at the Juanelo Cave in Mayabeque province, Blind Fish Lake in La Pluma Cave, and at the Cepero Caves (today known as Saturno) and Agua Caves in the Carboneras area within the Matanzas province.
These explorations were performed using open water techniques and gear, defying the environment and shedding light on a marvelous scene, which led to the emergence of a second generation of cave divers who continued this activity in the 1980's.
Cave exploration in this area had its peak in 1991 with joint expeditions becoming the norm. At the height of its popularity, members of Hranicky Kras Underwater Speleology Club, from former Czechoslovakia, and Cuba's Speleological Group Martel were pairing up on a regular basis in order to continue their research.
There were several exploration teams created in Havana and several other provinces, including the Guaniguanico team in Pinar del Rio, whose cave diving specialists performed archaeological studies in the San Juan Lagoon and speleological studies in the hanging lakes of the Cumpleaños Cave in the Guasasa mountain range.
With the creation of the Gibara Speleological Group in the eastern Holguin province, it became possible to explore the underwater Tanques Azules Cavern. This cavern is the largest of its kind in the country with 2,800 meters of flooded galleries and is famous for its beautiful secondary formations.
The deepest of these caves in Cuba is El Ojo del Mégano, located under the waters of the Florida Straits and boasting 70 meters of depth.
In 2000, after many years of practicing this hazardous activity, Cuban cave divers finally received for the first time a rigor course, which was led by international instructors, including Kate Lewis of the U.S. National Association of Cave Diving (NACD).
Members of the Mexican Federation of Underwater Activities and its Cave Diving Committee visited Cuba in 2003. As a result of this visit, Cuban divers were able to establish collaboration relations that influenced diving safety and instructor training within the National Cave Diving Section of the SEC (SNE-SEC in Spanish).
With the reestablishment of the Cuban Federation of Underwater Activities (FCAS in Spanish) and its partnership with the World Underwater Federation (CMAS in Spanish), the Cave Diving Commission was created and cooperation agreements between FCAS and the SEC were signed.
Cooperation initiatives and participation agreements have also since been signed with the National Cave Rescue Section regarding search and rescue training in case of accidents.
Present stand out cave exploration locations include the Isle of Youth, Quivicán and Artemisa areas, where there are some of the most beautiful and labyrinth-like caves in Cuba.
Don't forget about Matanzas province, however, as it is the home to most of the flooded karstic caves and the most explored caverns in the island.