Caguanes National Park: a subterranean paradise
Text and Photos: Aslam I. Castellón Maure
Located in the north of the central Cuban province of Sancti Spíritus and within the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve is Caguanes National Park, an area with rich biological diversity and multiple natural values that make it of special interest.
Various vegetation formations can be found in this region: semideciduous coastal forests, marshes; extensive plains with various species of palms and especially the mangrove ecosystem which occupies almost the entire coastal strip.
The fauna is also diverse, with some local endemic invertebrates, such as the “cochinilla espinosa”(woodlouse), although birds are the most varied in the area. Equally important is the extensive marine ecosystem.
The main treasure of Caguanes is hidden. The extensive presence of karst and its prolonged interaction with the water have created an outstanding cave system, with over eighty known caves throughout the park. The formation process of these caves can take thousands of years, involving the dissolution of the minerals present in the rocks and their subsequent calcium carbonate deposits, giving rise to a beautiful variety of secondary formations.
Some of the caves have sections for public access, enabled for guided tours. Notable for their size are the big Humboldt Cave, Pirate’s Cave and Big Cave. Ramos Cave is also interesting because of the numerous traces of the indigenous presence, including some pictographs that have become symbols of the park.
In addition to their unquestionable beauty, these caves serve as a refuge for numerous animal species. Huge colonies of bats inhabit them, including the only known cave population of the fisherman bat in Cuba and two different populations of the tiny butterfly bat.
Other mammals such as hutias, reptiles of different species, and numerous invertebrates also live there. Especially interesting are those species whose association with the caves is such that they have undergone adaptations such as the total loss of vision or coloration, reaching extremes such as the recently discovered Pseudoscorpion (Antillobisium tomasi), which at little over ten millimeters long is a giant of the genus. It is also exclusively endemic to one of the terminal galleries of Pirate’s Cave. It only inhabits a small portion of a single cave in the world.
All these features give Caguanes National Park a unique character, making it a true subterranean paradise in Cuba.