There’s no doubt that Puerto Rico is full of natural marvels, but one of the most impressive and not so explored are the Rio Camuy Cave Systems.
This spectacular cave system, located in the central west region of the island, contains the third largest subterranean river in the world and it’s home to an incomparable tropical ecosystem and environment that still conserves its natural state from millions of years ago.
I had the chance to explore and go deep into the caves with Aventuras Tierra Adentro – in my opinion; they are the go-to adventure company when it comes to Zip Lining, Canyoning, and Caving in Puerto Rico. Their Caving tour was selected by the National Geographic as one of the “500 of the world’s greatest trips”.
The tour runs on Sundays with a pick up at Ventana del Mar in Condado; an accessible meeting point to any traveler in San Juan. As soon as the guys from Aventuras show up, we are greeted with a red carpet rolling out of the van accompanied by adventurous background music (with applause).
It’s 5:45 am, so I expect to sleep on the one-hour ride to Arecibo. Wrong! Rossano, main guide and owner of Aventuras, and Anibal have enough air and energy to crack jokes during the whole ride. They are fully energetic and entertaining; even when my eyes are rolling up from the lack of sleep and the few drinks I had the previous night!
Just before we arrive at the cave system, we stop at a small bakery to have breakfast and stock up on food supplies and water.
Once at the caving location, we have a short hike in the limestone karst, followed by a somewhat entertaining mid-forest crash course on rappelling and safety. Entertainment is a big part of their tours – one of the small details that make the experience even better.
Once briefed, with the rappelling equipment on, we hike even further down and reach the first thrill of this adventurous experience – the Zip-line… the point of no return!
I am appointed as a volunteer to clip-on the other 8 adventurers on the tour to the safety line before they are hooked to the zip-line. The zip-line is small but exhilarating. Once at the other end, I feel the adrenaline rushing.
I’m now standing at the edge of the 250-feet deep sinkhole that shelters the mouth of Angeles Cave. I’m ready, and thrilled, to rappel this behemoth tropical hole. But before, I get a small bonus (for being such a good volunteer?) and do an extra zip-line by myself over the sinkhole; getting a bird’s eye view of its impressive drop, the steep forested cliffs, the river, and the cave’s mouth.
The rappel is more than just another activity; it is the transition between the lush-green-tropical-forest and the dark-rocky-mysterious-caves.
Once at the bottom, I change the rappel equipment and gear up with the caving equipment. Now it’s time to pass through the gloomy threshold that gives access to the environment I’ll experience for the next 5 hours – I’m now inside Angeles Cave.
Even when the chambers are big and there are no really tight spaces as in many other caves, this caving experience is no walk in the park. Scratches, cuts, and bruises are a common part of the experience. Getting extremely dirty, muddy, and wet… inevitable.
We move forward as a group, caving inside the warm dark chambers that are only lit by our helmet lights. We climb rocks, do mudslides, cross underground waterfalls, and swim in the underground river. This is just the beginning.
The whole time inside the cave is adrenaline filled, active, entertaining and educative. Rossano makes sure to educate us on the rock formations, history of the caves, fossils, conservation, living creatures (yes, there are small scorpions, crabs, cockroaches, spiders, bats, and so on), native Taino petroglyphs, and caving techniques.
To test our adventurous spirit, Rossano asks us to walk a small segment of the cave with our lights off. Pretty scary, but the subterranean scenery is jaw-dropping… even when in total darkness. But then, he pushes us even further when we reach a subterranean steep drop; at its base, the river flows.
I step on the edge to have a full grasp of its 20 ft drop.
“Now, everyone, turn off your head lights!”, Rosanno says out loud.
The free fall jump to the river is in total darkness. PITCH BLACK!
I give way, jump forward and wait for the splash. I don’t feel the splash. I should be in the water already. How deep is this?
The free fall felt way longer than what I expected. Now the adrenaline rush has skyrocketed to new heights.
We swim through the subterranean river tunnels, climb through walls, and do more free fall jumps (this time with light). Halfway the tour we stop to eat our lunch at a huge chamber they’ve christened as Pandora. Once you’re there you’ll know why; I won’t spoil this surprise, among many others!
The way back is no less exciting than the way in. After going up and down some of the challenges the cave presents, we finish our caving experience with a race. Yes, a race… a mud race! One of the last chamber’s floor is a huge bed of thick mud. Should we walk slowly through it, our shoes will get sucked by this Nutella sea. So, the best way to get out is by racing through the mud like mad!
Needless to say, by the end of the race, I am fully covered in mud!
Once out of the cave, the adventure is not quite finished yet… a 10-minute hike up awaits; finishing at some well-deserved snacks, showers, and the bus. Now I can sleep and rest my sore body on the ride back to San Juan.
- Take extra clothing to change after the tour.
- Wear comfortable sneakers with shoelaces (you don’t want to lose them sucked by the mud). Boots will be too heavy for the swim.
- Buy an extra sandwich, chips, and water at the bakery and pack them in a double zip lock bag to prevent water from ruining your food.
- A moderate physical condition is appropriate, but no experience is required.
Note: Images 1, 2, and 4 supplied by Aventuras Tierra Adentro.