Hato Caves, Curacao

cruise ship docked in Curacao

MSC Divina in Willemstad, Curacao

Outside of the Divina, of MSC  Cruises, we boarded a bus for our excursion to Hato Caves. Along the way the tour guide gave us a lesson in the history of Curacao (our local tour guide pronounced this Kure-uh-sow.) One of six Caribbean Islands that once belonged to Holland, then to the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao governs itself now. It retains ties enough with the Dutch as part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands that its citizens can travel to Europe without visas though they are not part of the European Union.  Curacao is the C of the ABC islands, (Lesser Antilles) which include Aruba and Bonaire as well as Curacao.  Aruba is also self-governed now, but Bonaire is a special municipality of the Netherlands.  These three islands lie outside of the Caribbean hurricane belt, making them safe to visit any time of year.

rock formations

limestone flow in Hato Cave

The Spainards first discovered Curacao in 1499, but as it lacked for gold or silver to mine or water for farming they did not have any large settlements there. The Dutch claimed it in 1634.  They used it as a place to obtain salt and a major slave-trading port.   A 100-year-old oil refinery remains in operation, providing jobs while it pollutes the island. Steps have been taken to modernize and reduce emissions, but in the meantime the refinery covers the cost of annual painting of a nearby building that once housed nuns and a catholic girl’s school and now functions as an old folks home.

cave rock formations

inside Hato Caves

Hato Caves sits at the top of a hill, far from sea level. Because of its height it is a warm cave rather than cold like most caves. Fans placed throughout the cave provide cool air and ventilation for visitors.  The layers of the island of Curacao are called terraces.  Most of the island’s caves are found in the second terrace, but Hato Caves, the biggest and most visitor-friendly cave on the island, is uniquely located on the third and highest terrace.

cave pool

pool in the cave

Water seeps through the limestone rock of this porous cave, filling pools that remain year round, though the water level rises in the rainy season and recedes in dry times. No plants, animals, or algae of any kind live in the water so it stays clear and odorless. Visitors once threw many coins in the pools as they passed through, but in this increasingly cashless society just a few collect there now. Our cave guide joked about installing a debit card machine for wishing well use.

Hato Cave in Curacao

The entrance to the cave is at the top of the hill behind the sign

The tour bus stopped just outside the Hato Caves area.  A pathway through a gate brought us to buildings containing restrooms and a small shop.  More paths led uphill to the steep stairway to the cave entrance.  It’s hard to imagine how historic users reached the cave or navigated through it without the paths, stairs, lights, and fans that exist today.

tourist friendly cave

pathway through the cave

The first chamber of the cave had a blackened look to the ceiling, the result of fires from users of a past era, who apparently kept their fires to that one chamber as it was the only area of the cave with fire blackened stone.  The Arawak people who once inhabited the island used the cave for shelter.  Later runaway slaves hid there.  Today small fruit bats call the cave home and sometimes dart about overhead or hang from the ceiling in groups. While we did see some bats, we did not see the cockroaches whom the guide said keep the cave floor clean of bat guano.

path through Hato Cave

lighted path through the cave

Lights placed throughout the cave shine for visitors to see, and are turned off after they leave. In lighted areas green algae clings to the walls, where in the dark the algae remains black. Light of camera flashes can also contribute to turning the algae green, as well as blinding any bats that may happen by.

cave formations

cave chamber with green algae

One chamber of the cave has a window through the ceiling and large rock formations on the floor that are neither stalactites nor stalagmites, but the remains of what once hung above, but fell a thousand years before. In this area of natural light from the ceiling, the algae on the walls grows green of its own accord, and the bats have a sort of back door to the outside.

Hato Cave in Curacao

tourists looking for a rock formation

Locals have given some of the cave’s rock formations names for things they remind them of like a donkey or the madonna and child.  The limestone in these caves originally came from coral formed under the sea eons ago.  As the water receded, the island was born and the coral turned to limestone.

inside Hato Cave

cave rock formations

While the walls of the cave remain in their natural state, and touching them is not allowed, the floor has been smoothed over into a flat pathway and railings added to keep guests within the allowed area. Some of the cave’s features show evidence of a more rapid advancement in the distant past, but currently the stalactites and stalagmites grow at an incredibly slow pace taking centuries to join together as columns.

copyright My Cruise Stories 2014

About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
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6 Responses to Hato Caves, Curacao

  1. I can live quite nicely without bats and roaches, but they probably scurried once the lights were lit. What did the caves smell like?

    • I didn’t notice any smells memorable enough to make note of them when I got back to the ship, nor do I recall it having any noticeable smells now. The area where tourists were allowed to go seemed quite clean. Other than saying that the roaches cleaned up the guano, the guide did not say anything about cleaning the cave so whether it stayed clean on its own or they sent people in to clean the man-made pathways I couldn’t say. If it was too dirty the pools wouldn’t stay so clean though and they did say that was natural. Tourists aren’t allowed in the natural areas of the cave where there are no path, lights, or fans so I can’t say if it smells any different there.

  2. aFrankAngle says:

    I’ve only cruised the Caribbean once, and Curacao wasn’t included … but I would enjoy these caves, but not sure if my wife would.

    • I always enjoy visiting caves. This particular cave was pretty easy traveling through the cave itself, but getting to it involved a pretty steep climb that would be a deterrent to people with mobility issues.

  3. Chris Beath says:

    Caves are always fun to see. Different caves have different rules so listen to the guides. I have been in some where you were not allowed to touch any of the pools of water but could take all the pictures you wanted and I went in one where you couldn’t have a large flash and had to give your camera to the guide if you wanted to bring it but you could swim in some of the pools in the cave. Some caves have walkways with hand rails and some are undeveloped. Every cave is unique.

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