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Hato Caves

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

WorldBlue  In short

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.

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GPS coordinates
12.1793 N 68.9480 W
Location, address
North America, Caribbean, Curaçao, north from Willemstad, at the base of a limestone cliff near the northern coast
Caves, Petroglyphs and rock art
Name in Dutch
Grot van Hato
Length
˜ 240 m
Floor area
˜ 4 900 m³

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

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.

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

Hato cave most likely formed in Pleistocene, when seawater receded and a stream of groundwater formed its bed through this block of coral limestone. The 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.

Curaçao rice rat

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

"Madonna" 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.

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