Sometimes, you just need to get off the beaten path. In Costa Rica, especially around towns like Arenal and La Fortuna, that can feel impossible with every corner advertising the best ATV, horseback, zipline, hiking, whitewater rafting and photography options in the country. There’s a time and a place for those kinds of tours, but if you’re looking for a way to see a completely different side of Costa Rica, get your hands (and feet, and body) dirty, and embark on a true adventure then the Venado Cave Tour is for you.
“You’ll get a little wet” During the Venado Cave Tour
One of the first things you’ll read about the tour on many operators websites or advertisements is something along the line of “you’ll get a little wet” or “bring a towel” to not deter potential clients, but take it from us. You’ll get wet, really wet. And then you’ll get muddy, and potentially a little bruised up from squeezing through rock walls sideways, crawling on your belly, and sliding around on your knees. But since when was that a problem? The Venado Cave Tour has the potential to be a cold, soggy, 2 hours or a great adventure. We chose the latter, and would go back in a heartbeat. You don’t have to be in amazing physical condition but you do have to be ready to move your body in ways we don’t typically above ground, and the cave is technically a beginner/easy level of spelunking. There were several kids on our tour ranging from ten to fifteen years old and the guide even let them squeeze into a couple caverns that were too small for the rest of us. You’ll have a lot more fun in the underground river if you have a change of clothes, some soap, and a towel waiting for you above so make sure to pack those in advance.
After being handed your headlamp, hard hat, and (optional) rubber boots, you’ll take a short hike, cross a creek, and head into the mouth of the cave. Bilingual guides customize the tour to make sure no one is feeling too rushed and they’ll point out all the intricacies that make cave systems so unique, ranging from the beautiful to the creepy-crawly.
There are no hand rails, no artificial lighting, no paths or stairs and upon entering – you’re free to explore along the way. In Kentucky, I did an advanced tour that lasted 6 hours and took us to depths that made it feel like gravity no longer existed, clambered over rock ledges, and spider walked between walls whose floor gave way to several-hundred-foot drops. This cave provided the same “oh wow” moments and authenticity without the intensity, and with just the right amount of surprises around every corner. Those surprises include rock and mineral formations ranging from the breathtaking to the odd, along with squirming bat families huddled together, frogs, spiders, and if you’re lucky – a cave spider. (The last part was sarcasm, it’s the most terrifying animal I’ve seen in Costa Rica yet, but it’s completely harmless.)
Seeing Costa Rica in a Differnet Light
In Costa Rica, the color spectrum comes alive with lush tropical greens, bursts of red, orange, and yellow, turquoise and cobalt blues. The venado cave tour gives you the opportunity to explore what lies beneath all that color, and see Costa Rica in a whole new range of hues – from the sandstone color of “The Papaya” – a formation of a stalactite and a stalagmite that fused together and is rumored to contain a precious jewel at it’s heart – to the creamy white sea fossils and sparkling mineral formations. You’ll see the remnants of a Costa Rica long held under sea level, and the underwater rivers that provide life to the roots of the jungle fauna on the outside. And if you’re just there to have fun, you’ll also see that there’s more to Costa Rica than paragliding and ziplining. For me, it was the perfect way to appreciate yet another facet of Costa Rica, get away from the crowds and feel like a kid again while exploring without boundaries and using all of my senses.
If this sounds like the kind of thing you would enjoy, or if you’re just wanting to try something totally new – this is a great option, especially as a half-day from Arenal.
- Bring a change of clothes, towel and soap/shampoo (they have showers there)
- Bring your own headlamp if you have a waterproof one – the one’s provided can be weak
- Wear quick-dry clothes or those that you feel comfortable in wet (a sports bra, tshirt, water shoes and yoga pants worked well for me!)
- Bring a waterproof camera if you want photos (I took my iPhone in an Otterbox case. The tour guides also offer photo services)
- Call to book a tour independently to save money, but remember this also means driving to get there by yourself.
Location: Arenal, Costa Rica (45 min. drive due to rough road conditions, but a pleasant drive through farms and country setting) – Driving directions here –
Cost: $22.00 for individual entrance or $70+ with tour agencies. If pre-scheduled a casado (typical) lunch can be ordered for $7 additional. Photography starts at $20 for 2 people. *Bring cash, credit cards not accepted *Prices may change by a few dollars based on high/low season and other factors.
Tour Times: Hourly tours all week from 8am-3pm
Highlights: Getting to explore plenty of “hidden” tunnels, seeing and learning about endemic species, small tour group, interesting information from the guide and very authentic/hands-on.
(506) 2478-8008 (Costa Rican local number)
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