Thursday, September 1, 2011

Costa Rica: Venado Caves

Our second full day in Costa Rica started with a tour of the Venado Caves.  For the life of me I cannot remember (or find any paperwork) on the name of the company we went with, however, it was booked by our travel agent at Costa Rica Experts.

The Venado Caves are a little over 1.5 miles long, made out of limestone and estimated to be between 15 - 20 million years old.  They were formed by tectonic shifting and an underground river that still flows through today. 

Everything I read said they were something you had to see IF you don't mind pitch dark, small places, spiders, and bats flying mere inches above your head (somehow these last things didn't get portrayed to me).

There are only certain parts of the cave you can access due to preservation.  Some groups see more than others due to size, time and physical limits of the guests.  We made it to the farthest point of the cave you could access which in the end was cool to see as there was a hole in the ceiling to the outside but there were definitely moments I would have happily turned around but for the sake of the group I kept going.  

Unlike our other tours, our group consisted of us, one other couple and our guide.  We were the first tour group of the day.  This has special significance.

The mask?  Well, that came in handy for the overwhelming smell of bat poop we encountered late into the cave.

The tour was scary and awesome all at the same time.  In the beginning the tunnels were wide open - there was at least 20 - 30 feet between the ground and the ceiling.  We saw a variety of bats and marine fossils in the rocks right away.  I didn't mind the bats when they were so high overhead.  

There was a cool waterfall.

And a lot of hiking.

We learned a lot about the rocks.

Especially stalactites and stalagmites.  Stalactites are the formations that hang from the cave ceiling that look like icicles.  Stalagmites look like cones emerging from the cave floor.  Together they are called "dripstone" because minerals drip from the stalactites to form the stalagmites.  Sometimes they meet to form one long column.

It was under debate whether this was a stalactite or stalagmite or both.  They called it the "papaya."

The spaces began to get smaller.

And the bats began to get closer.  Since we were the first tour of the day the bats had not yet retreated to the back of the cave.  There are currently four species of bats living in accessible areas of the caves but seven species total.  At one point Kevin said he looked up and there was literally a bat 6 inches from his head.  I chose to keep my head down.  I did not need to see that.  

Our guide said if we felt "water droplets" that might not be water - hence the masks.  There was a point the other couple and the guide starting discussing earthquakes since that was how the cave was formed.  From then on all I could think of was there was going to be an earthquake and I was going to die in a cave in Costa Rica.  

I was definitely the "jumpy" one on the tour and the guides had fun with me on that.  The photographer thought it was funny to splash me with water or tap me on the head to make me think it was a bat or spider - I am gullible what can I say.  

There were times our guide told us we could go back or press forward.  I would have been happy to turn around at some points but everyone else wanted to keep going.  I either had to go with them or wait alone for them to come back.  I think you all know my thoughts on being left alone in a cave.

There were crab spiders.  They made me hold one.  I was terrified.  Kevin not so much.

But we emerged and I lived to tell about it.

Despite the fact this tour scared the crap out of me - it really was fascinating to see and I am glad we made it all the way to the back.  I quietly suffered a few minor freak outs but the other three thought it was great.  It definitely seems like they custom the tour based on who is one it.  Ours took the full 1.5 hours since we went all the way to the back but we we finished there were others finishing whose tour had only been 30 minutes due to the limitations of the guests on that tour.  I guess we looked like a brave group.  

Our guide was fantastic and not only had a wealth of knowledge about the cave but taught us a ton about Costa Rica on the 30 minute ride to and from our hotel to the caves.  I found it amazing that Costa Rica has no military and that they reapportioned all the military funds into education.  

You will get wet, you will get dirty and you may even get pooped on but if you like a good adventure you will like this tour.

I am not sure if I got pooped on but I sure showered afterwards like I was.  After all that excitement I was in need of a cocktail (or two).

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  1. NO WAY IN HELL they could have gotten me to hold a spider...that thing was HUGE! OMG!

    Ewww bat poop. Yucky!

  2. I actually like caves, and I'm not claustrophobic. But I cannot handle bats AT ALL. You were THAT CLOSE to them??? Um, yeah, not me!! And though I probably would have held the spider just to say I did it, I don't know if I'd be smiling like you were. (Let's just say that spiders seem to be attracted to me.) Good lord, you are hardcore!

  3. goodness! This posted started out with me thinking "dang, this is AWESOME, good for Kristen having the coolest vacation ever", to me thinking "ugh, that looks pretty claustrophobic, I don't really want to be there right now" to me spastically jumping away from the computer at the horror of the MOST FRIGHTENING CREATURE I HAVE EVER SEEN. that spider is what nightmares are made of. GEEZ. SHUDDER.

  4. Kristen,

    I know this is really old, but I have a question. Were the spiders like everywhere or did you just see them from time to time. Are they likely to come down on your head, that would truly freak me out. The bats are not an issue for me.

  5. Thanks, I got your message. We still haven't decided but your info will help.


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