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Hato Caves

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
Rank:6
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
Natural window in Hato Caves, Curaçao
Natural window in Hato Caves / Charles Hoffman, / CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

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

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.

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.

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

Curaçao rice rat

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

In earlier times here lived some more animals - in 1930ies 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.

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

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.

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.

Map

See Hato Caves on the map of Curaçao!