The amazing Great Cavern of Santo Tomás
By Alina Veranes
With the status of National Monument, the Great Cavern of Santo Tomás, located in Pinar del Río, the westernmost of the Cuban provinces, is the most important geological system of its kind in the country.
It belongs geographically to the municipality of Viñales, one of the most beautiful regions in Cuba, making us think that nature blessed this area. Its most precise location is focused on the so-called Sierra de los Quemados, within the Sierra de los Órganos (Guaniguanico Mountain Range).
It is the largest on the island, with over 6,000 meters in length, and is also considered the largest within the area of Central America, the Antilles and South America. Not only its total dimensions and its internal spaces are amazing, it is also of great interest to science for its geological components and the Pleistocene fossils found there.
Not for nothing was the National School of Speleology born there, training thousands of experts on the subject. Its natural beauty is also fascinating to the extent that it seems carved by the gods. On June 5, 1989, World Environment Day, the Great Cavern of Santo Tomás was declared a National Monument.
Subject to exhaustive explorations sponsored by the Speleological Society of Cuba, the Great Cavern has revealed that it forms a complex network of underground galleries, originated by ancient fluvial currents, among them the current Santo Tomás stream and its tributaries, which give the site its name. .
Until 1954, when the investigations began, the open caves in that area were only known by the peasants of the region in some of their mouths and initial galleries. They say that some residents of the Valle de Quemado knew of the access to a cave called Cueva del Salón, sometimes used to celebrate pilgrimages and dances.
Other espeluncas already offered a natural fertilizer that is useful to the vegueros: bat guano to fertilize their tobacco plantations. Likewise, the water from its wells was good for alleviating the harshness of unexpected droughts that even exhausted the flow of the Santo Tomás stream.
There is archaeological evidence that the cave was known by the aborigines, as they carved rudimentary rock art on its walls. The slaves thrown into the maroonage, in search of freedom, found a home in those dark caverns.