Exploring Hato Caves: one of the top things to do in Curacao
Hato Caves, just a few minutes north of the Hato International Airport, is a noteworthy place where multiple parts of Curaçao’s history intersect.
Geologists estimate that the Hato Caves, the largest on the Island, were formed approximately 200,000 years ago by rain water flowing through the coral limestone formations.
Though archeologists have found no evidence of the caves being used by the Arawak people, petroglyphs found a very short distance away (within the Hato Cave Park) suggest that the Arawak were likely aware of the caves. Some people speculate that fear kept the Arawak from entering the caves, and it is possible that later users may have eliminated evidence of Arawak use.
A second part of Curaçao’s history that intersects at the caves are the Dutch immigrants and slaves. Hato Caves is on land that was once Plantation Hato. Despite being on a plantation, it seems that the caves, at least for a time, were unknown to the Dutch as escaped slaves used the caves for shelter and hiding. A few meters inside the caves, soot from cooking fires have blackened the walls and ceiling.
A third part of Curaçao’s history that intersects here is of today. The caves were opened to the public in 1991 and guided 40 minute tours are available in Dutch, Spanish and English.
When you arrive at the park, drive into the gated parking area, then walk uphill to the café to purchase tickets. While waiting for your tour, explore the small cactus garden or stroll around the grounds.
Your tour begins with a steep climb of 49 steps to the cave entrance. Once at the top, pause to turn and enjoy the view of the International Airport and the north shore of Curaçao.
Once inside you may be surprised that the caves are not cool, but warm and humid. When you have passed the entrance area with the soot blackened walls, you will walk through a series of caverns, each with unique features. The caves also have the distinct odor of bat dung. Over 300 longnose bats make the cave their home and you will have the opportunity to see them hanging from the ceiling.
Drip by drip, through the centuries, rain waters carry minerals which slowly form the stalactites and stalagmites within the cave. Due to the dry Curaçao climate, the formations are estimated to grow one centimeter in one hundred years. While on the tour your guide will point out numerous features including Madonna holding her child, a pirate face, a laughing donkey and others. While picture taking is not permitted throughout the tour, opportunity is given in the last cavern for photos.
Upon their exit from the caves, most guests continue to their vehicles and on to other sites of the Island. However, there is the opportunity to walk along the “Indian Trail” which takes a short loop through the brush following the face of the cliff. Approximately halfway are two places in the limestone cliff where you can see faded petroglyphs, estimated to be 1500 years old, believed to be carved by the Arawak.
For those who have explored other caves, the Hato Caves will not rank among the most spectacular, however, it is a tour worth taking.
The Hato Caves website has information on hours of operation and prices.