Antonio De VivoMosaic of underground beauty

Published in 1993icon-clockTime to read: 0min 58s

A man for whom adventure is part of life, Italian caver Antonio De Vivo has for years been exploring Mexico’s isolated Rio La Venta Canyon, making startling discoveries about pre-Columbian civilization.


The state of Chiapas in southern Mexico is a land characterized by exceptional natural wonders. It is here that the Selva El Ocote tropical rainforest and the mosaic of underground rivers and caves of the Rio La Venta Canyon attracted speleologist Antonio De Vivo.

No longer can we expect to discover new lands but, rather, we must conduct in-depth studies in the least-known parts of the world, areas so remote they were last traversed by our ancestors.

For more than two decades, his multidisciplinary La Venta team of researchers has worked to unravel the secrets long buried in this remote and beautiful region, examining its speleological, hydrological and archaeological, as well as zoological, botanical and medical aspects.

Among their dramatic discoveries were the Cueva de La Venta, a huge “through” cave, and the archaeological find El Castillo, sights that left them speechless, and allowed them to confirm the canyon was an ancient commercial highway, a “silk route” of pre-Columbian Meso America.

Since winning a Rolex Award in 1993, De Vivo has taken part in more than 40 expeditions and research projects worldwide, benefiting the scientific community and local indigenous people. Following his research into the caves and hydrology of the Rio La Venta Canyon, the borders of the protected area were widened. And the missions continue, including in 2013 to the quartzite caves in Venezuela’s tepuis with Francesco Sauro, a 2014 Young Laureate.

  • 20

    Hours it took to negotiate the Cueva de La Venta, from sinkhole to resurgence

  • 400 m

    Depth of the Cueva de La Venta

  • 800 - 900 AD

    Time period of El Castillo, a likely military and commercial outpost

View all projects


Rolex Awards for Enterprise

Discover more