Everyone comes to Costa Rica expecting to spend time surfing, hiking, sailing or zip lining – but who would have thought to add caving to the list? Costa Rica is best known for its vast rainforests, world class beaches and active volcanoes, but few people know the extent of its world-class spelunking opportunities.
Barra Honda National Park on the Nicoya Peninsula is a largely untouched caving frontier; less than half of its caverns have been scoped out and surveyed. But first you’ll need to hike for about an hour to the entrance of Terciopelo Cave, which is named after the poisionous fer-de-lance snake.
Descending into the dark abyss armed with nothing but a helmet and a flashlight is a thrilling experience, to say the least. Gorgeous stalactite and stalagmite formations wait at the bottom, where you’ll experience a profound darkness and acute silence only possible deep within the earth. Terciopelo features only one handrail toward the entrance, so those with bad balance or in less than ideal physical shape might want to sit this one out. Alternatively, you can explore a nearby cave called Pozo Hediondo about a half an hour after sunset, when hoards of bats can be observed swarming into the open air.
The Venado Caverns near Arenal Volcano are the second major caving hotspot. These caverns were formed by calcium carbonate buildup begun during the Miocene Period, around 15 to 20 million years ago. Spelunking opportunities here are thrilling, with highlights including four very different species of bats as well as fossilized seashells embedded within the walls (and an ancient specimen of brain coral). Such fossils clearly indicate that the Venado Caverns were once underwater – as opposed to their position today at 985 feet above sea level.
Lastly, Ballena National Park near Dominical is a minor caving destination. It features two caverns that are accessible by kayak.