A history buff’s dream and a nature lover’s fantasy, tales of Jamaica’s Green Caves echo a sense of true adventure and awe and are brimming with stories of the past that intertwine with natural formations – it’s all nothing short of spectacular in this exceptional Caribbean island paradise.
Jamaica’s Green Cavern of Mystery is a jaw-dropping attraction, serving up a slice of Jamaican history and magical underground scenes inside a mostly unexplored subterranean maze of caves surrounded by tropical vegetation. dense and fed by crystal clear water from cavernous depths.
Known by many names throughout time – Runaway Bay Caves, Hopewell Caves, Discovery Bay Caves, Cave Hall Caves, Dairy Caves, Rum Caves and Dry Harbor Caves – Green Grotto is of significant natural and cultural significance and is a must see absolute for any Jamaica-bound traveler, who not only desires to see breathtaking nature sights, but also to learn about and experience the nation’s history for real, in person.
What are Jamaica’s Green Caves?
Located on Jamaica’s stunning North Coast, the Green Grotto Caves are perfectly located between the resort gems of Ocho Rios and Montego Bay and only a few miles from popular Discovery Bay and Runaway Bay.
1,525 meters long and 12 meters deep, these naturally shaped caves go deep underground, forming an enormous limestone maze of chambers, light holes, unique rock formations, impressive stalactites and stalagmites, ceiling pockets and a multitude of various creatures living in the network. Green Grotto is also home to a mesmerizing underground lake – Lake Grotto – which connects to the ocean, with water as transparent as glass.
When exploring the chambers, it’s easy to get distracted by their beauty and awe, forgetting that a history-rich underbelly occupies every nook and cranny of this surreal underground attraction. Once upon a time, the caves served a myriad of purposes – from hiding places for pirate treasure and refuge for runaway slaves, to storing barrels of rum, nightclub parties and arms dealers. Deeply rooted in centuries past, they harbor a rich and volatile history that is undoubtedly fascinating; and the best way to experience the wonders they hold is to take a guided tour of the place, which is an enriching and unique experience for anyone visiting Jamaica.
The History of the Green Grotto Caves
The Green Grotto caves have played a big role in Jamaican history. The intimacy and solace offered by caves have ingrained them deeply into the lives of various groups of people. First, they are believed to have been used as dwellings for Jamaica’s very first inhabitants – the Arawak Indians known as the Tainos who arrived between 600 and 900 AD – who used the caves at various purposes, as evidenced by pottery fragments. and artifacts found in caves.
Centuries later, the caves were used as a hiding place by pirates, who hid themselves and their valuable loot from the authorities. In the 17th century, when the English invaded Jamaica, the Spaniards – who were being driven out of the country – also hid in the caves and used them as a refuge. Even runaway slaves sought safety and solace in the cave chambers, hiding from the English in the 18th century. Then, in the middle of the 20th century between World War I and World War II, Green Grotto saw smugglers who used it as an isolated base for their illegal arms transactions with Cuba. Last but not least, the Jamaican government also found a use for the caves; around the second half of World War II, officials stored barrels of rum at the entrance to the cave, which served as a storage room for alcohol.
However, what makes Green Grotto all the more fascinating in recent history is its time as a nightclub. Indeed, there was once a thriving nightclub established here by a wealthy American family in the 80s who owned the land at the time. The family father’s dream was to own his own nightclub, which he decided to turn into reality, installing dance floors, bars, cement benches, fish ponds and a whole range of features to revive the place as a pulsating underground party hub. . Unfortunately, the caves aren’t a great place for a nightclub; the vibrations from the loud music caused significant damage to the cavern’s fragile environment, destroying many stalactites and stalagmites, and even part of the main chamber.
Fortunately, the Jamaican government regained control of the Green Grotto caves in 1999 after seeing its potential, making the decision to protect them as part of the country’s significant history and heritage. Since then, the caves have become one of Jamaica’s top attractions, earning Green Globe 21 certification in 2003, and in 2009 achieving EarthCheck’s platinum certification – the first ever to do so in the Caribbean.
Take a tour of the Green Caves
Whether it’s experiencing Jamaican history first-hand, discovering incredible wildlife, or liberating its inner Dora the Explorer, taking a guided tour of Green Grotto is an essential part of any discerning traveler’s itinerary. The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes to an hour, and afterward, guests can enjoy a hearty Jamaican meal in the on-site restaurant, followed by retail therapy in the gift shop. Tour guides also advise wearing proper and sturdy footwear for the tour, as much of the ground is rocky and can be difficult without proper footwear.
During the tour, there are many points of interest and things to look out for. In particular, the wildlife is something to behold; visitors can spot colonies of nine different species of bats, all hanging from the ceiling, and that even includes the incredible giant fruit bat. The crystal clear Grotto Lake inside the caves is also home to many species of small fish and other sea creatures. However, the area called “wild caves” is generally off-limits to allow the natural ecology and wildlife to remain intact and thrive in peace.
Of course, it goes without saying that the prodigious stalactites and stalagmites of the caves attract the eye throughout the visit, but these are not the only majestic natural formations on the menu of wonders; the Drum Stone is another intriguing highlight, with an odd, thin layer of rock that has solidified over a hollow space, allowing it to be beaten like a drum. Tour guides normally point out this particular feature to guests, and some even use it as an opportunity to show samples of historic Jamaican music. In addition, there are also man-made facilities to discover, including seats and other remnants of the cavernous nightclub that once hosted wild parties underground.
Most of the tour involves wandering through open, easy-to-navigate caves, however, some spots require a bit of courage, especially from those who are somewhat claustrophobic. The “Limbo Hole” is one such place, and it is an extraordinary point on the circuit consisting of a natural space in the limestone through which people climb to reach the next area. However, this section is only a slightly claustrophobic experience, and the caves are of course properly lit and large enough for visitors to walk through without worry.
Finally, to really get an authentic sense of the caves and their history – particularly the times when the Tainos people lived – the guide turns off the lights to show just how dark the caves are. The lights only go out for a few seconds, but it’s a surreal experience that shows what it must have been like for the first inhabitants who once called these wondrous caves their home.
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