Exploring The Venado Caves of Costa Rica

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 the Venado Caves (Caverna Gabinarraca in Spanish) near La Fortuna and Mount Arenal in Costa Rica
Map of the Venado Caves near La Fortuna and Mount Arenal in Costa Rica

Any of the good 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.

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 pleasant 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.

Little did I know…

Derek Freal stuck in the Venado Caves (Caverna Gabinarraca in Spanish) near Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica
…that this was going to be me in two hours

After arrival — well, technically upon signing of the waiver — we were provided with rubber boots and a hardhat with attached light. Just a forewarning: those who have a shoe size above 11/12 (US men’s) may have some difficulty here. I am a size 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!

Preparing to enter the Venado Caves

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

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.

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 beats traditional dry spelunking.

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.

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

Ever visited La Fortuna or Arenal Volcano?

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

6 thoughts on “Exploring The Venado Caves of Costa Rica”

  1. 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.

    • Hahaha thanks Ice, glad that pic makes you smile. It does the same thing to me ???? And yes, so very true about the Asian sizes! A decade (mostly) here and I still have s o many problems trying to buy clothes that fit proper, especially shoes and sandals. I literally have to have new footwear shipped to Asia from the States. Yes, seriously.

  2. 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!

  3. 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? 😆 Many thanks brother, well done indeed.

    • 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 (wait where am I now) Thailand 🙂


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