Caves of Arecibo

The morning of our final day in Puerto Rico was a blur.  We met in the lobby of the Fajardo Inn before sunrise, ready to embark on what would be the most ambitious day of the trip.  Everyone groggily piled into the van, and after a quick head count we were on our way to Arecibo for a day of exploring caves.  In an effort to maximize our time in Arecibo, which is a two hour drive from Fajardo, I had booked the earliest possible tour at our first destination.

We arrived at the aptly named Cueva Ventana, or Window cave, a bit early.  Cueva Ventana is one of the most advertised tourist destinations in Puerto Rico, and for good reason.  I typically hesitate when I plan to visit a location as well-known as this because I prefer to avoid crowds whenever possible, but in this case I knew that Cueva Ventana was not to be missed.

I stepped out of the van just as the sky broke into a heavy rain.  Threatening rain clouds had been hanging low in the sky all morning, and I silently worried that we would be in for a stormy day as I walked over to the cave’s ticket desk to check in for our tour.  It turned out I didn’t need to worry after all.  The sun had emerged by the time the group had signed liability waivers, and we hiked up a short hill where we met up with our guide.

Soon the tour was underway, and we were hiking through the rainforest.

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A massive tree in the forest near Cueva Ventana

It was an easy, downhill walk, complicated only by some slippery conditions from the morning’s rainfall.  We were at the entrance to a cave in no time, and our guide explained that this was the first of two caves we would be seeing.  He also pointed out some petroglyphs before leading us into the cavern.

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The entrance to the first cave

This was the first of two caves we would explore on the tour, and it was essentially a long tunnel with opening at both sides.  We walked through the tunnel, guided by the light from the opening in front of us.

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Light pouring in from the exit of the first cave

Once we emerged back into the daylight, we entered Cueva Ventana, where we were handed flashlights.  We used the lights to guide us through a dark tunnel until suddenly we were staring at an unreal scene.  The cave ended abruptly, with a picture perfect view of the Río Grande of Arecibo valley far below our cliffside vantage point.

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Cueva Ventana overlooking the Río Grande

The valley was flawlessly framed by the wide mouth of Cueva Ventana, which gave it a surreal feeling, as though I was looking at some far-off scene playing out on TV rather than a spectacular valley right in front of me.

But that wasn’t the only beautiful sight to see.  There were also intricate stalagmites and stalactites in the cave behind us.

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Inside of Cueva Ventana

After some time to appreciate the beauty of Cueva Ventana, we hiked back uphill, stopping when a vibrant little Puerto Rican Tody landed on a branch right beside the trail.

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Puerto Rican Tody

Cueva Ventana was only our first stop for the day, but it was definitely time to grab some lunch before we could go out exploring again.  We stopped for a quick bite at a local restaurant called Gustitos Criollos before driving toward the north shore of the island.

Our next destination was a sea cave called Cueva del Indio.  This spot turned out to be a little further from the beaten path, and we were the only visitors there when we arrived.  We paid the entrance fee of $5 per person, and were given a run down of how to find the cave before we were allowed to hike into the area on our own.

A short path led us to a craggy sea cliff that was presently being battered by rough waves.  The cliffs are made of limestone, but have a distinctly volcanic look to them, and walking on the jagged rock was mildly treacherous.  We carefully balanced on the jagged stone, dodging random holes the led deep into the ground, until we discovered the main opening of the cave.

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Cueva del Indio

Apparently there used to be a ladder that allowed visitors to climb down into the cave, but now any potential explorers need to be brave enough to find their own way to descend into the grotto.  Vince, Jess (Vince’s sister), and I managed to climb down into the cave to have a look around.

Cueva del Indio consisted of a series of chambers lit naturally by holes in their ceilings.  Half of the cave was open to the ocean, and waves crashed into it, while the other half had a sandy bottom.  There were also petroglyphs in one of the chambers.

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Sea water inside of Cueva del Indio

The beauty of Cueva del Indio didn’t stop at the main cave though.  We spent hours climbing around the sea cliffs, gawking at stunning rock formations, and watching massive waves crash against the crag.

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Sea cliffs near Cueva del Indio
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Sea cliffs near Cueva del Indio

Eventually we regrouped to go see the other major attaction of the area.  There was a viewpoint overlooking a gorgeous rock arch, and a trail that led to the top of it.

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The archway near Cueva del Indio

We kept walking past the arch, and found another incredible view of an arch in the distance, and an idyllic beach protected from the waves by a rocky shoreline.

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Another stunning view
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A beach near Cueva del Indio

Without hesitation, we trekked down to the beach and spent some time looking for sea urchin shells, and sending tiny hermit crabs scurrying away as we approached.

Exploring Cueva del Indio and its surrounds easily ate up the remainder of our afternoon.  There were endless little corners to discover, and we had an amazing time.

We stayed until it was nearly closing time, and on our way out, the parking lot attendant cracked open a couple of coconuts for us to share.  The moment was bitter-sweet because it was officially our last activity of the trip.  The next morning we would fly home to Michigan and be forced to face the fact that winter was still in full swing.

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