Exploring The Venado Caves Of Costa Rica

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If you should find yourself near Arenal Volcano, be sure that you visit Venado Cave, which is located about a 45-min van-ride south of La Fortuna. Officially known in the cave registry under its original local Indian name, Caverna Gabinarraca (well, what has been explored so far) consists of over 2,700 meters and is believed to have been formed about 20 million years ago.

Although these caves were not discovered until 1945 it was almost 30 years later before any extensive exploration was done. Even to this day there are still unexplored portions, as you can see from the map below.

Map of Venado Cave in Costa Rica

Any of the local La Fortna hostels / hotels / resorts / excursion companies can arrange it for you once you are in town. Hell, they will all be fighting for your business, so don’t waste time and money and extra fees pre-booking ANY excursions online. We booked through our hostel Arenal Backpackers Resort and paid $50/person despite hearing online that others were being charged as much as $70 each. Another blogger managed to arrange transportation both ways via pirate taxi, acquire supplies and pay their tour guide all for a grand total of $30 for his entire group. However that enterprising young chap was unable to fully enjoy his part in the expedition, as he was forced to translate for the rest of his group.

Bats in the Venado Caves
Bats, lots and lots of bats. Click to enlarge.

The drive up there is only 15 miles or so but will probably take around 45 minutes or so given the road quality towards the end. The final segment is slow going but then the home stretch is a glorified dirt rut and thus super-slow going. It is a pleasent Alajuela drive though, up through farm country and then past a couple small villages, and provides you with an opportunity to see a variety small houses and farms.

After arrival — well, technically upon signing of the waiver — you are provided with rubber boots and a hardhat with attached light. Just a forewarning: those who have a shoe size above 12 (US mens) may have some difficulty here. I am a size 13/14 depending upon the brand and only with water to help lubricate and the assistance of an employee were we finally able to force my boots on one at a time. They were painfully uncomfortable the entire expedition too, but I survived. Once everyone was suited up it was a brief hike past a field of cows and down the trail on into the valley below, where the first cave entrance lies in wait. All the while we struggled to listen as our guide described the history of the cave system. I was the first person behind our guide and as such was the only one able to catch more than the occasional word, so for this expedition try to get the guide with the loud booming voice if possible!

Speaking with our tour guide before entering the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Upon reaching the entrance we paused to listen to the stereotypical introduction and warning spiel from our guide, as well as information on what type of creatures we could expect to see once inside. Basically this cave includes the usual spiders, bats, and bugs, but thanks to the water there is also an assortment of fish, crabs, frogs, and other small forms of aquatic life.

Walking through the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

From the first few seconds in all the way until the end, this cave was basically non-stop amazement. I've explored a couple cave systems before but this one by far was the best! First off, they failed to mention just how much water you really see. From the start you are standing in 6-12 inches and the water level only goes up from there. Several times you are fully submerged and swimming to the next cavern. It was exciting and a lot of fun, to say the least. Definitely beat out traditional dry spelunking.

Stuck in the Venado Caves!
My buddy Jared got stuck, I laughed.

Guess who got stuck thirty seconds later?   Yup, me.

The whole thing took about an hour-and-a-half and included lots of waterfalls, stalactites, bats, and other interesting shit. Our guide showed us some interesting rocks that appear solid but are actually luminescent when hit with a flashlight, as well as others that sounded like metal when tapped (if only I could remember what they were called).

But there are also several crawl spaces that you need to make it through, so I will warn you with this: if you are taller than my 6'2" and/or weigh more than 250lbs, you probably should avoid this excursion. Even if you could make it through all the spaces, trust me, it will not be an enjoyable squeeze. I'm tall and relatively thin yet there was this one part in particular which I barely made it through.

Additionally, the caves do close periodically due to high water levels, primarily after heavy rainfalls during the wet season.

  Below are a few photos from our expedition. Been spelunking before? What is your favorite cave system?

Derek got stuck in the Venado Caves in Costa Rica

Inside the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Inside the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Kim holding a large spider at the Venado Cave in Costa Rica

Large sections of the Venado Caves are submerged and require swimming through

  Have you been to the Venado Caves before? Know of any other hidden sights worth visiting that are nearby? Share your thoughts with us!

Derek Freal

" ǝʌıʇɔǝdsɹǝd ɹǝɥʇouɐ ɯoɹɟ sƃuıɥʇ ǝǝs oʇ ǝʌol ı "
Derek is a perpetual wanderer, cultural enthusiast, and lifelong traveler. He loves going places where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, as well as places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo (supposedly its healthier and more efficient). Say Hello On Twitter!

Website: blog.theholidaze.com


0 # pat kane 2016-10-21 00:48
You guys are so brave Derek. I got claustrophobic just looking at the pictures. But what an adventure you all must have had. Must have been challenging communicating too. Who were your travelling companions did they speak the lingo or was it hand signals for them too? :lol: Many thanks brother, well done indeed.
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0 # the HoliDaze 2016-12-10 08:10
Thanks Pat, it got a bit claustrophobic at parts. And I'm not going to lie that part where I got stuck for a bit my heart started beating faster just thinking about the millions of tons of rocks above and around me. But as soon as I slipped free the feeling vanished and I was able to enjoy the rest of the adventure (albeit with a nagging thought in the back of my head going "I hope my temporary fear didn't flash across my eyes for anyone else to see" hahaha).

I was traveling with my best friend and old travelin' buddy Jared and our friend Kim. It was just the three of us, our local guide who spoke in English for us, and the photographer. All in all a few experience, and definitely one I recommend if you ever find yourself in Costa Rica.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by, cheers from Thailand :-)
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0 # Derek Freal 2013-01-14 22:42
Thanks Delia, I really appreciate the comments, glad to help inspire you :)
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0 # Sand Notes 2012-10-22 23:08
you inspired us with these great pictures :)
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0 # Sand Notes 2012-10-22 17:15
wow impressive pictures. the place seems great but also wet and cold (and tight), brrr too scary for someone frozen most of the time (like me:)) ...but it's great story&pictures!
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0 # Derek Freal 2012-09-18 05:58
Hahaha thanks Ice, glad that pic makes you smile. It does the same thing to me actually lol.

Oh yeah, so very true! I have so many problems trying to buy clothes, shoes, and sandals whenever I'm traveling abroad..
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0 # Rome and Ice 2012-08-14 13:14
Great pictures, Derek. Everytime I see that picture of you stuck in those rocks I have to laugh, lol! It looks like the goin' got rough. We didn't get to visit venado caves when we were in La Fortuna, and it looks like we missed out. I'm a size 13, too. It's hard to find anything that fits. Especially outside of the US.
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