Spelunking on the Caribbean Island of Anguilla

Shoal Bay Beach on Anguilla has been named the Best Beach in the World. Photo by Bruce N. Meyer

The Caribbean island of Anguilla is renowned for 33 pure white sand beaches that consistently appear on those popular magazine “top 10 lists.” And you won’t get an argument from me.

But my husband and I have been known to approach life with a different perspective. So what did we do after taking time to enjoy Anguilla’s justly famed beaches? We left behind white sand and palm trees and headed underground to go spelunking.

In Your Bucket because…

  • You like doing something a little different. Okay, a lot different.
  • You look at things and wonder “What’s in there?”
  • Good for adventurous souls not afraid of dark, small places filled with bats.

Going Underground on Anguilla

Anguilla has just three notable caves, but that’s not bad for an island just 17 miles long, three miles wide at its widest point and only 250 feet above sea level at its highest point. The idea of going underground on Anguilla came to my attention after chatting with a person at the tourism office. One of the three caves is off-limits right now. The Fountains Cavern has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it contains some rare Amerindian cultural artifacts. One of the stalagmites (that’s the one that grows up from the ground) includes a carving of a god that was worshiped by the Arawak people indigenous to the Caribbean. This is a significant find because it indicates that Arawaks would have traveled long distances from other islands in the Caribbean for annual religious rituals here.

Darn, that would have been interesting to see. But the cave is currently closed to the public, awaiting protection, either through UNESCO designation on through a local management plan that would allow tourism while protecting the site with integrity.

Cavannah Cave

Cavannah cave was mined for phosphate during he 1870s. Photo by Bruce N. Meyer

Oliver Hodge is a native Anguillan who grew up in the center of the island near the Katouche and Cavannah caves.  Neither are well-marked so you have to have someone like Oliver to show you where they are. Mammoth Cave or Meramec Caverns these are not.

Oliver Hodge leads cave tours on Anguilla. Photo by Bruce N. Meyer

Cavannah Cave is about a half-mile hike from the roadway where you’ll park your vehicle.  As a native of the island, Oliver spends as much time telling you about the medicinal and culinary uses of the plants found near the cave openings as he does about the caves themselves.  If you are a little bit afraid of the dark and not sure you like the idea of spelunking, like me, choose Cavannah Cave.  It’s possible to see sunlight at all times here.  Phosphate deposits were mined here in the 1870s and as a result, the floor of the cave is easier to navigate and openings are a little wider.

The limestone of the cave walls are quite smooth, which means the cave was once under water.  You’ll also find coral embedded in the walls along with fossils of sea creatures.

But the creatures that get your attention are the bats.

Bats on the ceiling in Cavannah Cave. Photo by Bruce N. Meyer

Even though you see sunlight at all times while in this cave, the bats have found several dark, cool corners of the ceiling in which to hang around and sleep.  A flashlight is needed to find their sleeping spots, but guess what happens when you shine your light on them and start talking?  They wake up and start flying around and that’s a little freaky.

So talk quietly and if they do start flying around, don’t scream because that literally scares the poop out of them.  Yes, look down.  That’s guano you’re stepping on.  Did I suggest you should wear close-toed shoes for this adventure?

Katouche Cave

I’m glad Oliver was leading the way to Katouche Cave, otherwise I could have simply fallen in and never known what had happened.

Oliver was standing by to catch me if I fell. Photo by Bruce N. Meyer

Just a few hundred feet from the roadway and surrounded by a growth of white cedar and fig trees, Katouche Cave is for the more adventurous caver.  Hanging on to the roots of a fig tree, I lowered myself about ten feet down to one rocky ledge and then another.  Two or three steps further and it was pitch dark.  The cave floor was uneven and strewn with rocks large enough to trip over.  It was quite cool in here, like all caves are, and if you were quiet, you could hear the bats fluttering in the darkness a half mile or so away.

Katouche Cave meanders around about three-quarters of a mile.  Nothing is so tight or tedious that you have to be on your belly scooting around.  Most of the time you are stooped over, taking care not to hit your head on the outcroppings and stalactites. The walls here are not smooth limestone, like Cavannah, so this cave was never under water.  The cave has five rooms large enough to stand up in.

Or so says Oliver.

I admit that I got a little claustrophobic and didn’t go as far and deep into the cave as did others in our party.

They loved it and made me feel a little ashamed for chickening out.  But at the same time, I did something different than most visitors to the Caribbean do.  On the next island I visit, I’ll look for caves to explore and that time, well, I might go all the way.

Practicalities

  • You don’t have to be extremely physically fit to explore these caves, but you must be steady on your feet.
  • Wear close-toed shoes with good footing.
  • Depending on how far and deep you want to explore, you can spend as little as 90 minutes on this adventure or up to three hours.
  • Even though it’s cool in Katouche Cave, there’s no need to pack a sweatshirt.  You probably won’t be there that long.
  • The Anguilla Tourism office in The Valley or any hotel concierge or taxi driver can put you in touch with Oliver Hodge and others who lead cave tours.

 

About

From riding camels in Egypt and climbing glaciers in Alaska, Diana Lambdin Meyer has found the adventure she had always dreamed a job and life could provide. Sharing those adventures and stories with Diana is her husband, Bruce, a photographer who, if possible, has greater wanderlust than Diana. Together, they have been published in just about any medium known to human kind. Members of the Society of American Travel Writers, Bruce and Diana are based in Kansas City, Missouri. Check out their iPhone app "Kansas City Uncovered."

Copyright 2012, Diana Lambdin Meyer. All rights reserved.

Comments

  1. Informed Anguillian says:

    Yes, Oliver Hodge is the best person to lead cave or nature tours. He is not part of, but can be reached through, the Anguilla National Trust

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