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Hato Caves

Natural window in Hato Caves, Curaçao
Natural window in Hato Caves / Charles Hoffman, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 12.1793 N 68.9480 W
No:354        (list of all attractions)
Category:Caves, Petroglyphs and rock art
Values:Geology, Archaeology, Biology
Address:North America, Caribbean, Curaçao, north from Willemstad, at the base of a limestone cliff near the northern coast
Name in Dutch:Grot van Hato
Length:˜ 240 m
Floor area:˜ 4 900 m³

Some of the most popular tourist attractions on Curaçao are Hato Caves. This comparatively small cave and its vicinities are rich with interesting things - beautiful cave formations, remnants of extinct animals, petroglyphs.

Spectacular karst formations

Hato Caves are located at the base of approximately 60 m tall coral limestone wall.

Rain and groundwater have created amazing formations - eerie "melted" figurines and spooky silhouettes - along this wall.

Hato cave most likely formed in Pleistocene, when seawater receded and a stream of groundwater formed its bed through this block of coral limestone. Cave starts with a single passage, which divides into two large cave rooms.

Stalactites in Hato Caves, Curaçao
Stalactites in Hato Caves / Neil Evans, / public domain

Cave is very rich with interesting speleothems (cave formations), pools and even - small waterfalls.

As it is usual in many show caves around the world, many speleothems have their own names - one can see here Pirate's Head, Sea Tortoise and some others. Best known is "Madonna" - a stalagmite which really resembles a sculpture of Madonna in church.

Curaçao rice rat

Hato Caves are very hot and humid, inhabited by bats and insects.

Madonna rock in Hato Caves, Curaçao
"Madonna" in Hato Caves / Charles Hoffman, / CC BY-SA 2.0

In earlier times here lived some more animals - in the 1930s here were discovered remnants of an extinct rodent: Curaçao rice rat Oryzomys curasaoae. This small animal disappeared after the coming of Europeans.

Amerindian settlement

A.D.Ringma discovered petroglyphs near the cave - some of the first known petroglyphs in Curaçao. One year later, in 1950 he discovered a prehistoric burial of five people - members of a single family - near the cave.

It seems, Amerindians (most likely - Caquetios) lived in the cave some 1,500 years ago. They have left many intricate petroglyphs.

Modern history

In previous centuries Hato Caves occasionally were used by runaway slaves as a hiding place. Sometimes they lived in caves for months long.

Karst formation near the entrance of Hato Caves, Curaçao
Karst formation near the entrance of Hato Caves / Ivo Jansch, / CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1991 the cave was opened to tourists as a show cave and since then is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island. Unfortunately the frequent visits to the cave have disturbed local bats - today there are fewer bats in the cave than earlier.


See Hato Caves on the map of Curaçao!

Landmarks of Curaçao

Boca Pistol, Curaçao
Boca Pistol / Lswarte, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Contrary to most other Caribbean islands, Curaçao is very rich with architectonic landmarks. Historical districts of the capital Willemstad are rich with amazing, nearly unique architecture but countryside has numerous historical plantation houses - comparatively small but distinct and elegant buildings.


Cave art in Bhimbetka caves
Cave art in Bhimbetka caves, India / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Cave is natural underground space which is large enough for human to enter.

Every year there are reported exciting discoveries of new caves and discoveries of new qualities such as cave paintings in the ones known before. But there still is a feeling that our knowledge covers just a small part of these natural monuments.

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