Visiting Cueva Ventana After Hurricane Maria

Visiting Cueva Ventana After Hurricane Maria

Cueva Ventana After Hurricane Maria

This August James and I visited Puerto Rico and explored the beautiful island. After Hurricane Maria many tourist sites were still closed to the public, however, Cueva Ventana was not. Cueva Ventana after Hurricane Maria was in fact one of the earliest to reopen. Aventura Cueva Ventana invited us to partake in their mesmerizing hike to Cueva Ventana while we were in Puerto Rico. Hiking Cueva Ventana easily became one of our favorite things we did during our week in Puerto Rico.

About Aventura Cueva Ventana

Cueva Ventana quite literally translates to the “Window Cave.” One look at the cave explains why. Cueva Ventana opens up to a magnificent window view of the Rio Grande de Arecibo below.

Cueva Ventana View

As our great tour guide Ernesto said, Aventura Cueva Ventana provides “Education for Conservation” while simultaneously taking you on the experience of a lifetime. The 90-minute tour takes you on a hike through 2 beautiful cave sites. These 2 caves are just 2 of the 5 located on the 62-acre property. You will discover the wonders and views of Cueva Clara and Cueva Ventana. Hiking to Cueva Ventana with Aventura Cueva Ventana surpassed all of my expectations. The education provided to the general public during the tour made it my favorite hike to date. For tourists visiting Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria – options are limited, however Aventura Cueva Ventana is fully operational after Hurricane Maria.

Getting there

Driving

Cueva Ventana is a short hour drive from San Juan, located in Arecibo off of Route 10. You can take Route 22 (a toll road) to Route 10. On Route 10 you will see a large sign on the left-hand side for the caves.

Non-toll roads are available as an alternative to Route 22, however, it will add time to your drive. I will say, it was extremely easy for two tourists to get to Aventura Cueva Ventana. We also had ZERO experience driving in Puerto Rico – and let me tell you driving in Puerto Rico is not easy. It’s very different from driving in mainland USA.

Parking

When you arrive you will drive right into a free and secure grass parking lot.

Tickets

After parking, you will walk down to the ticket booth at the entrance. Here you can purchase/present tickets and sign waivers. Visitors can purchase tickets at both the ticket booth or online.

  • Residents of Puerto Rico can purchase tickets for $10.
  • Non-residents can purchase tickets for $19.
  • Student discounts are also available for residents and non-residents.

Like myself, I am sure many are curious why it costs money to hike a natural cave. As it turns out, while Cueva Ventana is a state cultural landmark, it also sits on private land. Puerto Rico has a law that states a private citizen is responsible for sites that is on his/her land. Previously the caves were free to visit but that changed due to vandalism and pollution.

 

The owner established a presence to oversee visitors through Aventura Cueva Ventana. This ticket fee funds the conservation and maintenance efforts performed by the ecologists, tour guides, and safety hosts. Additionally, these ticket fares fund necessary research for the endangered wildlife.

Hiking Cueva Ventana

Gear

The tour begins at Station 2 where visitors will meet their safety host and receive their helmets. The tour will also terminate at Station 2 where you can return your helmets & purchase souvenirs and refreshments. I would recommend wearings sneakers for this hike, regular athletic sneakers should suffice. Additionally, I don’t think hiking gear is necessary – simply wear clothing you don’t mind sweating in!

Cueva Ventana Helmets

The trails

There are two trails present; a superficial terrain and a subterranean terrain. The superficial terrain comprises of trails throughout the forestry. Currently, only a few trails are open to the public, while others are used by ecologists, biologists, and archeologists. This tour will cover 2 subterranean trails to Cueva Clara and Cueva Ventana.

Cueva ventana Forrestry

Educational Information

While walking along the trail the tour guides will stop and point out information about the wildlife. For example, we learned that termites on the trees are actually helping them. They were eating the dead wood and helping the trees grow – instead of killing them. We also learned about “Saber” trees that date back to the time of the original natives. These trees were used for various things such as making canoes. The tree below has roots that run so deeply it can be seen inside the caves.

Cueva Ventana Trees

As you walk throughout the forestry you’ll see bat boxes, used to encourage the growth of the fruit bat population. Hurricane Maria damaged many of the fruit plants, which in turn led to less food available for fruit bats. Due to less food many of the bats died from starvation. Given that fruit bats also survive on mosquitoes, this led to an increase in the mosquito population. However, mosquitoes can transmit fatal diseases and this could cause an increase in diseases spread to humans. I thought it was extremely fascinating to see the chain of events that could occur due to the Hurricane. We also learned on our tour that there are no fatally toxic animals on Puerto Rico. If bitten or stung by a venomous animal in Puerto Rico, it will not kill you. Sure it will hurt – but you won’t die from its venom.

The Caves

Cueva Clara

Cueva Clara

The first trail will bring you to a wooden staircase fitted with hand railings. This will take you to Cueva Clara, the first cave of the tour.

Cueva Clara Entrance

Cueva Clara is 200 ft wide and 750 ft high filled with bellholes as deep as 35 ft in which some bats can be found. Upon entering this cave visitors collect flashlights to use while walking through the caves – keeping in mind not to flash them towards the ceiling and the bats.

Cueva Ventana Bellholes

Cueva Ventana James

Evidence of human life can be found in these caves through petroglyphs – drawings on caves from ancient humans.

Cueva Ventana Petroglyphys

Cueva Ventana Petroglyphys

Cueva Ventana Petroglyphys

Other signs of ancient human life are shown through the presence of stalactites (formations that hang from the ceilings) and a lack of stalagmites (formations that grow from the ground). Our guide Ernesto showed us how they used these little signs as clues to determine that the current walkways were also used as walkways in the past due to the lack of stalagmites. When their growth is not interrupted the stalagmites and stalactites will eventually touch and form a column.

Cueva Ventana Caves

Cueva Ventana

As you continue deeper into the mouth of Cueva Clara visitors will descend down into the cave where more clues can be found. For example, if small seedling plants grow in the cave that is a clue that fruit bats live in the cave since they are likely to have dropped fruit seeds on the cave floor which led to the seedling.

Cueva Ventana Seedling

We also learned that based on the scent of the guano (bat poop) a guide can determine what type of bats are present without seeing them. If the guano smells it indicates a bulldog bat which eats fish, whereas if it doesn’t smell it indicates a fruit bat which eats plants and insects.

On the other end of Cueva Clara is a large hole, penetrated by sunlight which visitors can ascend to the ground level via wooden stairs.

Once you exit the hole a few feet away is a rocky trail down to the opening for Cueva Ventana. This trail conveniently has a handrail to hold onto as you descend.

Cueva Ventana Entrance

Cueva Ventana

Upon entering Cueva Ventana visitors find themselves shrouded in darkness and the trained tour guides will point out bats for you with a safe, red light. After walking for a few minutes, you will round a bend and see daylight. This light leads you to the “window” of Cueva Ventana. The view is breathtaking and truly looked like it was right out of Jurassic Park. There is nothing else like the seeing the lush green Rio Grande de Arecibo below separated by the flowing Arecibo River and bats and birds flying in front of the opening. The view speaks for itself and visitors have ample time to take photos.

Cueva Ventana

If you dare you could try flying a drone in and out of the cave, however, Ernesto warned us of the drone graveyard that lay below the 700 ft high cave opening. Not wanting to risk my drone – nor the bats and birds I erred on the side of caution.

Concluding the Tour

At this point, the tour comes to its close, and visitors exit Cueva Ventana and follow a superficial trail back to Station 2. Visitors can return helmets and purchase refreshments and souvenirs and even take photos with your guides.

Cueva Ventana Staff

However you end your tour one thing is certain – hiking to Cueva Ventana will be an unforgettable experience. While Hurricane Maria may have wreaked havoc on the island, she did not damage the beauty and knowledge that Aventura Cueva Ventana provides in its hike to Cueva Ventana.

Have you been to Cueva Ventana? Whether it be before or after Hurricane Maria I’d love to hear in the comments below! If you haven’t hiked Cueva Ventana yet and you’re interested in visiting read below for logistics regarding the hike and book tickets here!

Logistics

Hours

Tours are available every day of the week from 10 am to 4 pm.

Length & Distance

The tour itself spans 90 minutes, covering about a mile and a half distance. The hiking portions of the tour are no longer than maybe 20-30 minutes, however, due to the information provided throughout the tour, it takes longer than the time needed to hike.

Age Restrictions

I think it’s important to note that Aventura Cueva Ventana is extremely focused on the safety and well being of their visitors and guides. Keeping safety in mind there are age restrictions present for this hike. Children 5 and up are able to participate in this hike. If you have a family with younger children this may not be the hike for your family. Additionally, if you have someone that is elderly in your group it is important to consider if this hike is right for them based on their abilities.

Difficulty of Hike

Let me tell you, for someone that avoids exercise like the plague, I had no problem with this hike! It was not daunting or exhausting and with all the assistance and handrails provided it was relatively easy.

The hike is great for beginners and no hiking experience is required. The hiking portions of the tour are not quite long, maybe 20-30 minutes if that and consist of a combination of stairs, handrails and climbing over some rocks. While there are a few portions of the actual hike that are rocky, the tour guides and safety hosts provide assistance throughout if you need it. They often asked visitors if they needed a hand coming into the cave and pointed out areas in which to be careful.

Cueva Ventana Assistance

Physical Limitations

While it is a guided hike, at the end of the day the cave is still a state site and Aventura Cueva Ventana is unable to modify or construct in the cave in order to avoid potentially damaging the cave, its infrastructure, and its ecosystems. With that in mind, if you are using a wheelchair or crutches or requiring ramps and accessible staircases this may not be the hike for you.

Safety & Group Sizes

Safety is of the utmost importance at Aventura Cueva Ventana and thus tour groups are kept small, with a maximum of 25 people for a group. A tour guide and safety host accompany each group. Also provided during the tour are helmets and flashlights.

Flash Photography

Throughout the tour, it is important to note that safety is meant not only for visitors but also for the wildlife present at the caves. Therefore do not shine bright lights on the bats as it can shock the bats and potentially cause the young to fall and die. Only point flashlights at the ground – to provide assistance walking throughout the dark caves. Flash photography is prohibited.

Customized tour

One of the interesting bits we learned is that due to the nature of Aventura Cueva Ventana many biologists and ecologists perform research at this site. As a result, Aventura Cueva Ventana is cognizant of the educational opportunities present and can provide a custom tour focused on biology, eocology, or whatever area of focus you desire. In order to book a custom tour, visitors should call the office and arrange a pre-booked tour. I thought it was just amazing that this level of consideration is possible with Aventura Cueva Ventana.

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DISCLAIMER: ITINERARY SHELLY WAS PROVIDED A COMPLIMENTARY TOUR BY AVENTURA CUEVA VENTANA. ALL OPINIONS EXPRESSED ARE THE AUTHOR'S ALONE, AND ARE NOT THOSE OF ANY PARTNERS, AFFILIATES, OR SPONSORS.

2 Comments

  1. September 2, 2018 / 2:11 AM

    Loved the captures…looks very exciting !

    • Itinerary Shelly
      Author
      September 3, 2018 / 8:09 AM

      Thank you!

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