BY ALYSSA MAHADEO
The geological history of Curaçao began almost 100 years ago deep in the ocean. The oldest rock formations are largely volcanic upon which coral reefs began to form in many places and can still be seen today like we experienced at Shete Boca Park on our sightseeing tour.
Just minutes away from the Curaçao Airport is another sightseeing adventure to be experienced in the Hato Caves. These caves had a utilitarian purpose during the early days of the slave trade in Curaçao. Escaped slaves used them as hiding places, and lived in them for months at a time. Even before the arrival of Europeans and slaves, the Amerindian Arawaks used them for shelter, and left behind cave drawings, or petroglyphs, estimated at 1,500 years old. The Hato Caves are more than 300,000 years old and are one of the biggest and most prominent caves on the island of Curaçao.
As we embarked on our tour through the Hato Caves we made our way through the cactus gardens teaming with various types of plants indigenous to the desert like climate of Curaçao. Iguanas ran freely amongst the plants undisturbed, however our guide was careful to point out the various agriculture and their unique and sometimes deadly properties. Outside the cave, you can enjoy an informative walk through the Indian Trail and learn more about the flora and fauna as well as the Indian rock carvings that cannot be found anywhere else in the southern Caribbean.
Before you can enter the cave, you have to walk up 50 stairs towards the opening of the caves, which is most unorthodox considering most cave explorations are underground. The Hato Caves are well preserved and have a paved well illuminated pad through the cave to make sightseeing a much simpler task. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the cave, reminding us that because they were the only commercial cave on the island, flash photography was only allowed in three caverns to protect the historic site and prevent any damage or deterioration to the walls of the cave.
Journeying into the Hato Caves you can find a labyrinth of stalagmites and stalactites of various shapes and sizes. The walls of the cave are very porous and so when it rains the chemical reaction of the acid rain through the stone causes the beautiful limestone formations. If you look closely you can see visions in the limestone formations most famously a statue of Mother Mary holding her child. Because the cave is above ground the air in the cave is very hot and humid and becomes progressively warmer the deeper you go. Most caves that tunnel underground are cold, and to make guests more comfortable on their tour the Hato Caves have fans and other ventilation aids placed throughout the cave. The Hato Caves are located above sea level, which is what makes them different from most.
Our guide accompanied us throughout the tour, leading the way and pointing out the unique properties of the Hato caves including the long nose bats that live in the cave, the pale and stony grey colour of the walls due to no exposure from the natural light, as well as beautiful limestone formations and a stagnant pool of water that gives off no sticky odour. The water pool in the cave gives of no scent because of the porous filter of the cave, filtering out any toxins and making the water clean and even drinkable.
Altogether there are six chambers to the Hato Caves they are an impressive public and family friendly sightseeing tour and their guides are very knowledgeable to help you become familiar with its historic beauty. After your tour, you can sit and relax with a cup of coffee on their terrace, or head onto your next experience of Curaçao’s nature, history and culture. The Hato Caves are open everyday of the week with tours running from 9am-4pm. Find out more on their website at www.hatocaves.com.