CAVING INTO ADVENTURE
It’s only been a few years since caving entered the world of Costa Rica vacations.
Today, there are 234 known caverns.
Most are off-limits to tourists but here are two places to explore during your trip to Costa Rica.
One set of grottos is on the magnificent Nicoya Peninsula; the other not far from Arenal Volcano. Whether you’re a spelunker or just want to try underground exploration when you travel to Costa Rica, give one of these places a try.
Barra Honda National Park
The Nicoya Peninsula is one of the country’s premier vacation destinations, primarily because it has some of the best Costa Rica beaches you’ll encounter on your Costa Rica vacation. And lots more, too!
But it’s also the home to dozens of limestone grottos, formed under the sea and lifted up by eons of tectonic activity.
When you explore them at Barra Honda National Park, you’ll climb back in time 60,000,000 years and walk through—literally walk through—what were once coral reefs!
Then, over tens of millions of years, freshwater carved out and created the stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations you presently see.
Modern exploration began only a few decades ago and even today only a few have been explored.
Well… .explored by modern spelunkers. Remains and artifacts dating to 300 b.c. have been found here.
Santa Ana is the deepest grotto discovered so far. Only partially explored it features the Hall of Pearls, filled with stalactites and stalagmites.
The most explored is called Terciopelo. All you need to do to join the excitement is to make a 100-foot vertical descent! Once inside you’ll come to the “Organ” which produces musical tones when struck.
There’s also Mushroom Hall, named for the shape of its rock formations and the Hall of Caverns where you’ll find a figure shaped like the head of a lion.
Barra Honda National Park can be reached from either of Costa Rica’s two international airports. From San Jose, take the Panamerican Highway (Highway 1) north to Highway 18 (just past the turn for Las Juntas de Abangares) or from Liberia take Highway 1 south to Highway 18.
Turn west onto CR-18 and follow the signs to the new Tempisque bridge. Continue southwest another 10 kilometers, then turn right towards the villages of Barra Honda and Santa Ana. Simply follow the signs to the Park.
If you’re on the Gold Coast, you can reach it by Nicoya Peninsula highways from the major beach communities (and, of course, you’ll find tours—just ask at your hotel).
Confused? No problem. Check out the maps. Map 9 (San Jose and Liberia); Map 2 (Gold Coast)
And, if you’d like to take a ferry on your Costa Rica vacation, slip down to Puntarenas and boat across to the Nicoya Peninsula. Then head north.
But be warned: the ferry ride of an hour and a half through lovely tropical waters is. . . expensive. $1.50.
Yep, the price of a bottle of water. Here’s a Costa Rica ferry schedule but ferries now run virtually every hour during the day
Year-round, the temperatures at Barra Honda will be similar to those in Puntarenas with low humidity from December to April.
You must be accompanied by a guide from the Asociacion de Guias Ecologistas de Barra Honda. You can (MUST)make reservations through the National Parks Office in Nicoya (tel: 26 86 67 60; firstname.lastname@example.org) (if you don’t set it through a tour operator) and basic gear will be provided.
Descents are allowed only between December and April (but not during Santa Semana—Holy Week) and children under 12 cannot go into the caves.
The Park itself is a refuge for monkeys, anteaters, deer, peccaries and lots of birds, including scarlet macaws, and there are good hiking trails that will lead you to beautiful rimstone dams like this one.
Oh, there’s one other thing.
Some of these grottos are inhabited by LOTS OF BATS, so many, in fact, that until recently, it was thought that the caves had nightly volcanic rumblings (think how many bats it’d take to think it was a volcano).
Speaking of Bats
If you’re in the Arenal Volcano area (not far from the town of La Fortuna), try exploring Cavernas Venado where you’ll find stalactites, stalagmites, and interesting papaya-shaped rock formations. It’s one of 27 discovered so far in this region but the only one that’s available to the public and it is not a common attraction for Costa Rica tourism.
Open year-round, the cost is about $5.00 a person and the guided tour takes a couple of hours (you’re going to get dirty but baths are offered afterward).
So far over 8,000 feet of Venado Cavern has been explored.
You won’t get to go that deep but your experience there will probably include seeing. . .