#FindYourPark: The Incredible Underground Caves of Puerto Rico
Two weeks ago the hubby and I, along with family, visited Puerto Rico, and the ‘Isla del Encanto’ (Island of Enchantment) didn’t disappoint. This was only our second trip to this Caribbean island and there was no room for boredom, as we filled our days exploring incredible caves in the north-central part of the island, diving & snorkeling with Scuba Dogs in San Juan and strolling Old San Juan’s historical cobblestone streets. Oh and yes, we had some time to just be lazy and drink at the beach of course! Read about our first trip to Puerto Rico; where we talk about hiking in El Yunque Rainforest, kayaking the Bioluminescent Bay, zip lining across mountains in Orocovis and sipping mojitos at the Bacardi Distillery tour!
On this post, I’ll be concentrating on the caves of the island. Puerto Rico is home to a large number of underground caves, some of which have become popular for exploring due to good infrastructure, accessibility,in and stunning beauty. You could book a tour, but my tip is: Rent a car and take control of your own adventure! Since we stayed in Old San Juan we rented a car for the day, and with a phone fully charged, we enlisted our “friend” Google maps and headed off on our road trip early in the morning, and with recommendations from a friend, native of Puerto Rico, we hit 3 amazing sites!
TOP 3 CAVES TO VISIT
1. Camuy River Caverns (Parque Nacional Cavernas Río Camuy)
If you’re doing multiple caves in one day like we did, Cavernas RíoCamuy should definitely be your FIRST stop in the morning. Try to arrive by 9am, when the first tour starts or you’ll be stuck waiting your turn behind 100’s of tourist and waste precious time. We arrived around 9am, bought our tickets at the box office and only waited about 5-10min. We were in the first group to tour, so we boarded a little Disney-like tram and down a steep, winding road we went! The drive down is really pretty as we got to see the vegetation canopy all around us. The cave system was carved out by water from the third largest subterranean river in the world, Río Camuy (The Camuy River) and so far only about 220 caves have been recorded, but experts believe there are 800+ caves in this complex underground maze. The tour includes an audio guide (English or Spanish) detailing all the different chambers of the cave system and its history. We got to see some huge stalagmites and stalactites, hundreds of bats, and the main cave called Cueva Clara, which stands 215ft high! After the tour, you can hike to the other side of the park (ask your guide) and check out the giant sinkhole known as Sumidero Tres Pueblos. We definitely got our exercise here, going down & back up 274 steps to see the sinkhole! TIP: Be sure to hold on to the railings inside the cave. I would rather NOT slip and fall on bat poop. But that’s just me…
This one is easy to miss, as we literally drove right past it because the GPS was off by 2 miles. We didn’t think anything of it because all we saw was a gas station, but if we had looked closely, there was a 2ft sign at the bottom of a tree, next to the gas station that read “Cueva Ventana” and a small tent. Once we made a u-turn and parked, we walked up to the small tent where 2 guys were charging for entry into the “Window Cave”. It did not look like a legit operation to me, especially after first visiting Camuy Caves inside a National Park with more of an infrastructure. But we were in the right place! On the guided tour, we got to see 3 caves. The first is very small and not impressive at all honestly.
The second is large and a bit dark, but not dark enough for them to provide you with a flashlight yet, so watch out for the thick tree roots sprawling on the cave floor. I almost busted my ass. ALMOST. After a 10 minute walk through the second cave, we walked out and down on some big, uneven steps towards the larger of the caves to see CuevaVentana. Here we were provided a flashlight since it’s almost pitch black and after a short walk passed a small bat ballroom, we finally saw out The Window, which had an incredible view of the mountains, river, and farm below! Just stunning. It’s perfect for a silhouette photo with your friends or loved one. TIP: Watch your step and avoid the dark spots on the cave floor, aka piles of bat poop.
3. Indian Cave (Cueva del Indio)
This was our favorite spot! It’s right on the beach, and as we walked in, we could see the ocean to our left. When we got to a certain point on the trail, an employee waited and we got a quick briefing about the area and all the movies that have been filmed on location. So from there we were on our own, free to roam the rocky terrain and explore. We walked all over the top of the terrain, towards the right and we were rewarded with some amazing views of waves crashing onto rocks, giant rock archways, and gorgeous secluded beaches below. But at this point, we were thinking, where the hell is the cave?! On the left, we actually saw some people walking around and headed there, where we saw stairs carved out of the rocks. As we made our way down, we found a wooden ladder that didn’t look all that sturdy, and yes, we had to go down said ladder to actually see the Cueva del Indio. Down below there was an abundance of petroglyphs left behind by the Taíno Indians, natives of Puerto Rico, many moons ago; hence the name Cueva del Indio.
TIP:Use bathroom facilities elsewhere. I had to pee really bad and had to use the porta-potty available, and OH MY GOD, I truly thought I was going to pee my pants because my clothes were stuck to my skin from all the instantaneous sweat, and secondly I thought I might die from a damn heat stroke inside the tight enclosure of the toilet, in 100 degrees weather. On a better note, on the way to Cueva del Indio, we stopped at a grocery store and bought drinks for the beach. It was so refreshing to end the day in the ocean after all that hiking!
WHAT TO BRING: Plenty of water to remain hydrated; snacks such as protein bars, beef jerky, and whole fruit to fuel your body for all the hiking in the heat you’ll be doing. Also, a good pair of sneakers or hiking shoes with good traction, breathable clothing and sunscreen! If you rented a car, definitely bring a bathing suit and towel because chances are you’ll run into a beautiful beach and you’ll most definitely want to dive in to refresh like we did!
COST: Camuy $18 for Adults, Kids 12 and under $13 /9am – 3pmCamuy website. (National Parks system)
Cueva del Indio only $5 /not sure if they take credit as we paid cash. (Private Land)
GETTING THERE: From Old San Juan head towards Arecibo. It’s best to start at Camuy to – Ventana to – Indio and then end the day on the beach right before Cueva del Indio, which is really beautiful. There’s also a lighthouse near by to visit if time allows, and although we didn’t go, the Arecibo Observatory is a popular spot too, right after Camuy. MAP LINK HERE. https://goo.gl/maps/TJXquNUJBiu
WHERE TO EAT: There were places advertised in front of the Camuy Cave, but we actually stopped at a side of the road eatery just a few miles off of Camuy called Cafeteria Roman. Cheap and delicious, we were full and ready for the next hike!