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Costa Rica: Venado Caves

by Kathy 10. May 2013 12:55

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Venado Caves

If you want to venture into pitch-black caverns, flatten yourself into crevices with names such as “the Birth Canal”, and crawl through water-filled tunnels, all the while avoiding the bats hanging from the ceiling and the big scorpion spiders crawling on the walls, then the Venado Caves is your kind of place!

While there are tour companies that offer an expensive trip to the caves, we chose to visit them on our own. This not only saved us a lot of money, but also escalated the adventure aspect.

To reach the caves from the Arenal area, we drove about 1 ½ hours north to a small rural area. Although the roads were mostly paved and in great condition, they hadn’t yet been included in Google maps or even our local GPS.

The main road leading to the town of Venado:

The beautiful countryside:

The caves are located on private property and are not affiliated with any park system.


The caves have workers that serve as guides, and we were fortunate to get a fabulous guide named Johnny:

Johnny is originally from Nicaragua, where his father still lives; he moved here with his mother when he was young and currently lives less than a mile from the caves. In addition to working here, he attends college to study physical education.

Here we are at the mouth of the cave, all suited up in our rubber boots and safety helmets:

The interior of the cave was not lit. Once we entered, we would only be able to see using our helmet lights. Johnny led the way, wading into the cave, with Genevieve close behind:

We had to be careful about where we placed our hands in the dark, as the walls had a lot of scorpion spiders on them:

Sebastian took a turn at holding one, but the rest of us declined (I still shudder at the thought):

The cave rocks also had black tarry drippings from countless vampire bats sleeping in holes they create in the cave ceiling.

The black guano:

A few sleeping vampire bats:

Vampire bats get their name from the fact that the only food they eat is blood, generally sucking it from 4-legged animals and sometimes birds.

The cave also had fruit bats, which were a bit bigger:

As we walked deeper into the cave, the tunnel became more narrow, and occasionally we had to duck our heads to avoid low-hanging rocks:

Then came the Birth Canal—a low passageway with just enough room for us to shimmy our bodies through.

Here is Genevieve, going feet first:

Sebastian’s turn:

This was no easy task and involved bodily contortions to extract ourselves on the other side. I asked Johnny if larger people ever got stuck; he laughed and said that large people AND skinny people get stuck in there.

On the other side of the Birth Canal, we had to climb up and over a rock wall that was about 6 feet tall. It was challenging to find good toe-holds with our rubber boots, but we all made it.

Here is Sebastian, making his climb:

Then we had some more crawling and ducking to do as we made our way to a rock formation called the Altar:

The Altar is a raised coral formation leftover from when this land was submerged under a vast ocean.

Here is our family at the Altar:

Genevieve and Sebastian, feeling the texture of the ancient coral:

One part of the wall was made of fossilized shells:

Nearby was a curtain of water that poured from the ceiling. Johnny wanted to get a picture of us next to the water fall, but the lack of interior lights prevented him from capturing the beauty. Still, here is the best of his photos:

As we continued onward, Johnny paused to shine his flashlight behind a protruding crystalized rock:

To be honest, I missed his explanation of the crystalization process because I was looking at all the small black shapes next to that rock and thinking, “Are those BUGS?!!"

Our path reached a wall that didn’t have enough gripping toeholds, so a ladder had been installed:

At the top was another tunnel:

Ahead was a fascinating rock formation called “the Papaya”, created from the union of a stalactite (growing from the top) with a stalagmite (growing from the bottom):

The cave tunnels had different shapes.  Each time we entered one, we had to figure out the best approach--crawling on our knees, waddling like a squished duck, just bending over at the waist, etc.  Here is Ben, using a "scooching" technique:

The last long tunnel allowed us try our hand at floating and using our hands along the bottom to pull ourselves forward. Here is Genevieve, getting ready to drop down into the water:

The exit had a small waterfall.  Here is Ben, emerging:

At the end of our tour, we were completely soaked to the skin . . . and completely thrilled.

This was such a special experience—something that we would never find back at home—and it remains one of the highlights of our entire Costa Rica trip.


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   Venado Caves


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