Head to Hato

Nestled deep within the cliffs of a low limestone escarpment on Curaçao’s north coast are the Hato Caves. A visit to this subterranean world is like a trip back in time.
 
Running parallel to most of Curaçao’s north coast, the escarpment was formed 200 million years ago by the same for­ces that pushed the island up from the ­Caribbean Sea. These forces caused receding waters to percolate down through the porous limestone terrace, creating a region honeycombed with fissures and grottoes. The caves are a dramatic example of this unusual geography.
 
Over the years, the caves provided shelter for some of the island’s early in­habitants, the Caiquetio Indians, and then later to escaped slaves who used the many caverns to hide from their masters. Several Indian skeletons and 1,500-year-old artifacts have been discovered there and are now on display at the Curaçao Museum. Evidence of its watery beginnings can be seen in the coral fossils and other sea creatures that are embedded in the walls and ceilings.
 
Today, tourists are the main visitors to the grottoes. Knowledgeable guides provide insightful historical and geogra­phical information as they escort visitors along the gently sloping quarter-mile trail through several of the cool caverns. Most of the chambers average 10 feet in height, but a few are six or seven times higher than this. The deepest chambers have small spring-fed pools. Along the trail, strategically placed lights accentuate the stalactites and stalagmites, and add sparkle to the many reflective pools. These subterranean passages are living things, and the forces of nature are still at work, forming features one drop at a time. 
 
About a third of the way in, visitors pass a series of small pools before entering the spacious Cathedral Cavern with its beautiful stalactites. The next chamber along the pathway is the largest open section in the cave, the 65-foot-high La Ventana (the window) chamber. At its rear is a small spring-fed waterfall, the only known natural waterfall on this dry island. You can hear the squeaks of the resident colony of long-nosed fruit bats at the deepest point in the cave; they usually keep to themselves and do not bother visitors. 
 
Outside around the foot of the caves is the short but interesting Petroglyph Trail. The wooded track contains sections with stone artifacts as well as a collection of paintings and carvings etched into the rock walls over 1,500 years ago. A few tame iguanas linger at the end of the trail, waiting for visitors to feed them.
 

The Hato Caves are open daily from 8:30 am till 4.00 pm. Daily 45 minutes guided tours in English, Spanish, Dutch and/or Papiamentu are given every full hour starting at 9:00 am. The last guided tour leaves at 4.00 pm. Group and Private guided tours also available upon request. For more information call Tel: 868-0379.