HALF MOON BAY, Calif., October 24, 2011—There’s plenty of time to laze on the beach in Puerto Rico. With warm ocean surrounding the island, water sports are the main focus here—especially surfing. But a little over an hour from the colonial-era streets of Old San Juan, adventure seekers can find something different to get their hearts racing.
Puerto Rico’s northwest karst region is home to the Río Camuy Cave System, the largest on the island. The limestone caves have been carved by a 10-mile river that regularly slips below ground and resurfaces again. Between the towns of Lares, Camuy and Hatillo, there are nearly 17 entrances to the system.
Instead of heading to the tourist park, complete with a film and a trolley through the jungle to one of the caves, I decided to take my caving adventure one step beyond with a tour from The Outside Group. After being outfitted with harness, lifejacket and helmet, my group (accompanied by guide Karel Hilversum) walked along a narrow trail through the lush jungle near a cliff overlooking the Río Camuy.
A forest soundtrack of piercing birdsong accompanied our trek, and it was easy to lose track of time. But it wasn’t long until Hilversum headed off the path, to a group of trees at the edge of the cliff. Gingerly, I picked my way closer to see the café-au-lait colored water moving slowly about 45 feet below me. From here, we each clipped onto the climbing rope and rappelled slowly down into the cool river.
We swam toward the gaping entrance of Resurgence Cave—home to the last stretch of the Río Camuy before it surfaces in the jungle. Taking turns, we waded into the dark tunnel, climbed onto rocks and out of the water for a tour of the cave. Hilversum turned on his flashlight and illuminated fossils embedded in the limestone walls. With a finger to his lips for silence, he then encouraged me to look up at the cave’s ceiling—crowded with bats.
As we turned back toward the river, the humid air fogged my camera lens temporarily. The brilliant sunlight made the muddy water outside the cave seem to glow, and we floated along with the current out the mouth of the cave. After all the subterranean fun, we were just a short drive away from the beach and a refreshing rum beverage at the end of the day—the best of both worlds in Puerto Rico.
The Outside Group offers caving adventures to the Resurgence Cave, Cueva Evaporado and Cueva Humo. (787) 898-3100/(787) 627-1866, www.outsidegroup.com.
Jill K. Robinson is an award-winning journalist and adventure seeker. Follow her adventures on dangerjillrobinson.com, her Facebook fan page and Twitter @dangerjr. Jill and her husband are avid kayakers and own Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.
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