Exploration above as well as under-the-sea is spectacular. Ditto on land. The Caribbean islands are resplendent with scenic mountain summits as well as riddled with spectacular cave systems. Many caves are open to the public via private tour. Visiting the subterranean world is a delightfully cool way to enjoy a hot Caribbean day.
1. Green Grotto Caves, Jamaica.
Named for the algae that covers the walls, this popular natural attraction was one of the film locations for James Bond’s Live and Let Die. Inside, and part of the guided tour, is an underground lake, several chambers where Amerindians once lived and later escaped slaves hid, and remnants of a nightclub from the 1980’s, complete with dance floor and concrete benches. Located 45 miles from Montego Bay. greengrotto cavesja.com
2. Crystal Caves, Cayman Islands.
See three caves on one tour. Located in a tropical forest setting outside the village of Northside, Grand Cayman, a 1.5-hour tour of Crystal Caves takes you through an open-ceiling cave, a roots cave and a lake cave. A nature walk after emerging from underground is a great place to see air plants and parrots. Guided tours take place on the top of the hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. www.caymancrystalcaves.com
3. Cueva de las Maravillas, Dominican Republic.
It’s not called the ‘Cave of Wonders’ for nothing. In fact, one of the most spectacular marvels are the 500-plus excellently preserved Amerindian petroglyphs etched on the walls and dating back several millennia. Located 6 miles west of La Romana within a National Park, guided tours last about 35 minutes. An installed lighting system shadows bouncing off the stalactites and stalagmites look otherworldly. There is an elevator for those unable to walk down into the cave, located 80-feet underground. www.godominicanrepublic.com/caving
4. Conch Bar Caves, Turks and Caicos.
No drinks are served at this Bar, but there are plenty of sights to drink in at this largest non-submerged cave system in the island nation that’s open to the public. Located on Middle Caicos, the caves have been home to Amerindians prior to Columbus arrival as well as to bats. Guano (bat poo) was mined from here for export as an agricultural fertilizer. Be sure to reserve a one-hour guided tour in advance of your visit. www.visittci.com/conch-bar-caves
5. The Baths, British Virgin Islands.
While not true caves, it’s definitely fun to swim and explore through the cavernous grottos formed between the gigantic granite boulders that top the beach on the southern end of Virgin Gorda. No tour guide needed. The Baths are part of the BVI National Parks Trust and as such the trails here are well marked. There is also a restaurant and bathrooms nearby. www.bvitourism.com/baths-national-park
6. Harrison’s Cave, Barbados.
Named for Thomas Harrison, who discovered the cave on his land back in the 1700’s, it took three more centuries for this now popular attraction to be officially opened to the public. Spelunking is easy here. There’s a 1-hour narrated tram tour that travels through much of the 1.4-mile cave system, which includes the 50-foot high great hall, several streams and waterfalls. There’s also a 3.5-hour Eco-Adventure Tour that includes helmets, head lamps and knee guards to get a close up look at some of the cave’s natural passages.
7. Norman Island Caves, British Virgin Islands.
The 600-acre uninhabited Norman Island, located across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from Tortola, is said to be the inspiration for famed author Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, Treasure Island. Where the treasure is nobody knows for sure, but plenty of local lore says gold doubloons may be found in one or spread among all of the three sea-level caves located at Treasure Point in Privateer Bay. These caves are popular to snorkel because you can swim in and out. Even if there’s no booty, there is plenty of marine life to see. www.bvitourism.com/other-islands
8. Quadirikiri Cave, Aruba.
Located within Arikok National Park, towards the middle of the island, Quadirikiri is best known for its distinctive two chambers. Both are spotlighted by natural sunlight shining through holes in the cave’s roof. Darker portions of the 100-foot long cave are where hundreds of bats nest. Park rangers at the entrance to the cave are available for tours and visitor questions. www.arubanationalpark.org
9. Hato Caves, Curacao.
These coral limestone caves, formed over millions of years in a series of layers and terraces, are huge. Specifically, 790 feet long and some 53,000-square feet in area. This makes the caves a big tourist attraction. There’s a 45-minute tour, where you’ll hear the cave’s history and stories of stalactites and stalagmites shaped to give them names like Mother Teresa, the Sea Tortoise and Sleeping Giant. Rare bats are often seen just hanging around. curacaohatocaves.com
10. Black Hole Drop, Belize.
One of the best extreme ‘caving’ trips is in the Caribbean’s west coast country of Belize and it’s actually a sinkhole. The professionally led day-long tour starts with an hour-plus steep hike up Maya Mountains to the mouth of the cave. Actun Loch Tunich is nicknamed the ‘Mother of all Caves’ for good reason. Exploration requires rappelling into the basin of the sinkhole, some 300 feet below in the dark. www.travelbelize.org/things-to-do/activities/caving