The Rio Camuy Cave Park in Puerto Rico is one of the world’s largest networks of caves and home to the third largest underground river on the planet. The network contains more than 16 kilometres (10 miles) of caverns, 220 caves and 17 entrances to the cave system that have been mapped since their discovery in 1958. It is believed that there are at least another 800 undiscovered Camuy caves.
The main entrance to the park is located in Arecibo on the north coast of Puerto Rico, about an hour and a half by car from Old San Juan. Visitors take a trolley from the visitor centre down the winding path to the entrance of the subterranean chamber of Cueva Clara. Once inside the cave, a guide leads visitors down a pathway into the darkness, which is pierced with shafts of sunlight, lined with ferns and echoing with bat screeches.
Within the cave is Puerto Rico’s largest stalagmite, which stands at 5 metres (17 feet) high and has a diameter of 9 metres (30 feet). Stalagmites and stalactites are types of speleothems – deposits of minerals that form into cave structures and line the inside of caves. Stalactites are the formations that hang down, while stalagmites look like they are emerging from the ground. Some have formed over thousands of years, while others grow quite rapidly.
Throughout the caves a vast range of interesting rock formations can be seen. Within the main cave a natural rock formation resembling an Taíno Indian’s face looks down on visitors, reminding them of the tribes that once used these caves. Other natural formations in the cave park include The Witch and The Broccoli and hundreds of other intriguing shapes line the caverns and tunnels.
The path leads to Sumidero de Empalme (Empalme Sinkhole), where visitors find themselves emerging into sunlight that shines through the sinkhole 137 metres (450 feet) above. On the north face the entrance to the dead-end High Cave, 24 metres (80 feet) high and 64 meters (210) deep, can be seen.
The sound of the Puerto Rican coquí frogs fills the sinkhole. These tiny tree frogs are around 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) long and are known for the high pitched ‘co-qui’ sound they make from dusk until dawn. Puerto Ricans love their coquí frogs and have written songs and poems about them. Coquí frogs do not hatch from eggs as tadpoles; they begin life as small frogs and the extremely rare (and possibly extinct) coquí dorado is the only known frog specie in the world to bear live young.
Guides lead visitors down the winding path called ‘The Labyrinth’. In the darkness, one can hear the mighty Camuy River flowing 45 metres (150 feet) below. Deeper into the caves the echoes of bats become louder. It was here that the bat sounds for the movie Batman Forever were recorded.
The 300 acre park is managed by Puerto Rico National Parks. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance and are numbered. The trolley arrives approximately every 15 minutes and takes 30 to 60 people in each trip. Visitors will board the trolley by the number on their tickets, so listen out for your number being called (not necessarily in order).
Tickets cost 30$ for adults, 13$ for children aged 4 to 12 and children under 12 are free. Parking rates apply. The park is open from 8:00 to 17:00 from Wednesday to Sunday and the last tour leaves at approximately 15:30 with last tickets being sold at around 15:00. Park may be closed in case of inclement weather.
N.B. Prices, etc. as provided by the official website at time of posting.