Hato Caves comprise the largest such underground formations on the island, and consist of several rooms and chambers. They are part of the history of the island, and there is archaeological evidence of habitation by the indigenous Arawak people as far back as 1,500 years ago. These people left behind cave drawings and petroglyphs. During the colonial slavery era, they served as refuge for runaway slaves who sometimes lived in them for months on end. There are guided Hato Caves tours that depart every hour during the day.
The entrance to Hato Caves is located a bit south of the island’s only airport and about five miles north of the capital city of Willemstad. It is across the street from the Hotel Holland, a small property with one of the island’s casinos (also small) that is the only of the island’s airport hotels. Few tourists stay at this hotel except as a transit stop before departing or after arriving on flights. Also nearby is one of the largest ostrich farms outside of Africa. The caves and ostrich farm are the only tourist attractions of note on this part of the island, and many tour operators will offer day excursions that include both Hato Caves tours and a visit to see the big birds. You will see newly hatched chicks and adult birds, and can purchase plain or decorated ostrich eggs as souvenirs of your visit. There is even a dining spot here, where tour groups often break for lunch, enjoying African-style food, including ostrich meat, as well as other barbecue specialties.
Hato Caves tours must be guided and are offered in English as well as other languages, and you are grouped with others who have booked the same language. The caves are open seven days a week, and there is a small entrance fee. Inside these caves in Curacao you will see beautiful and fanciful limestone formations in a series of dramatic rooms and chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites. A few of the rooms and chambers are closed to visitors to protect the rare long nosed fruit bats that roost here. There are also underground pools and a waterfall. The surrounding grounds are open for group events, and there are hiking trails in the area. Contrary to expectations, it can be quite warm and humid in these caves. There are numerous steep and uneven stairs that can sometimes be slippery, so a visit to the Hato Caves is not for those with walking difficulty.
There are other much smaller caves in Curacao that are mostly located along the rugged western coast and northern tip of the island. A small complex with ancient rock drawings is in the cliffs near the Kura Hulanda Lodge. There are some beaches in remote inlets around the island with caves that are little more than large indentations in the limestone cliffs, but do reveal some of the geologic history of the island’s formation. Even more caves exist underwater. Some of these provide prime scuba diving sites, especially the formations near Playa Kenepa Grandi on the southern coast. These caves can be accessed from land by climbing down the cliffs or by boat. Since this is a volcanic island formed with porous limestone, there are probably numerous other caves in Curacao on land that lie just beyond accessibility.
Top image: cphoffman42 (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0