Spending a vacation in Puerto Plata or Bavaro in the Dominican Republic sure is fun, but the Caribbean country has much more than just beaches to offer.
Cueva Fun Fun is located in the heart of the island, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the National Park Los Haitises. It's an interesting karst region, covered with tropical forest, consisting of hundreds of conical, steep hills, some rising 200 - 300 m into the air. Numerous caves, underground rivers, rare species of animals and plants are found in the park.
The tours to Cueva Fun Fun
start with an early morning pick up from your hotel and an approximately 2 hour drive through the Dominican country side to the town of Hato Mayor del Rey with bathroom and snack break somewhere in the middle of the ride. The group sizes vary - I was lucky to book the tour off the high season and we were 7 people only, but the previous day the group consisted of 40-something tourists. Ouch.
In Hato Mayor del Rey the mini bus picked the guides and the tour staff before continuing to drive on an unpaved road. The 1 hour off-road drive, including crossing a half destructed bridge, was quite adventurous and bumpy.
After arriving at Rancho Capote, the starting point of the tour, we received a breakfast and information about the tour. Next we changed into the provided equipment - overall suite, rubber boots, helmet with head lamp and climbing gear as well as a bottle of drinking water. Bathroom, changing rooms and lockers are all provided at the ranch. You can leave everything but your bathing suit and your (waterproof) camera in the lockers.
It's good to have your own socks to wear with the rubber boots, but if you don't, a pair is also provided. Wearing your own water shoes can also be of advantage over the heavy rubber boots, but have in mind that next you'll have to hike so the water shoes need to have proper soles.
At the beginning of the tour we rode for about 20 min. The horses knew the way and were automatically navigating through the river crosses and along the path. Even for an absolute beginner like myself it was no problem to ride. There was even time for a chat and several photo shots with the guides.
We left the horses at the beginning of the jungle and a staff member took them to the exit of the cave waiting for our return. Then we hiked through the jungle.
If you've been in a steam bath before, you'll know how we felt during the 45 min hike. It wasn't so much the heat, but the humidity, that sealed our sweat on the skin, which made the hike such a challenge. To make things more interesting, mosquitos were everywhere happy to feast on some fresh blood.
The guides showed us several plants along the way and explained about their usage or dangers. One plant's leaves should have served as mosquito repellent. Rubbing it on our skin helped a bit but we still got a few bites.
We arrived at the cave entrance, a hole in the ground, all sweaty and tired from the jungle trek. The team tied the ropes while we were trying to catch our breath. The 65 feet/20 m rappelling down a dark hole was quite an adventure for all of us. The instructions of the guides were very clear and easy to follow and no one had a problem coming down the rope.
Once at the bottom of the cave while waiting for the other members of the group, it was pretty obvious that the rappelling wasn't dangerous in any way, but the darkness and the unknown surroundings made the exercise seem extremer in our heads.
After the last person was down, we started navigating through hidden chambers and dark tunnels filled with incredible lava columns, rock formations and underground rivers. The guides were showing us the cave's highlights, the stunning stalactites and stalagmites, pre-Columbian pictographs and petroglyphs and cave inhabitants while sharing the history and stories about the cave. They even took care of the few cameras, which weren't waterproofed, and shot photos of the group.
The trek through the cave continued for about 1.5 hour and we covered approximately 3 mi/5 km of distance. There was no electricity, the only light was coming from the headlamps on our helmets. The path led partially through the cold water of the underground river, which had carved the formations we were seeing. At one spot we had to go under water and swim for a couple of seconds. On the other side the guides were waiting for us giving us a hand. The water was cold but felt quite refreshing after the sweaty hike to the cave.
The whole tour felt adventurous, but pretty safe due to the experienced guides and the instructions we received. It was suitable for anyone who can walk for about 2.5 hours on an uneven terrain.
The exit from the cave didn't involve any rappelling or climbing. We walked a few more meters to the meeting point where the horses were patiently waiting to take us to the ranch. We received a refreshing drink and got back on the horses.
The ride back was shorter this time as we have already walked most of the way. After about 10 min we were back at the ranch, where we cleaned up, changed into our clothes and had a delicious home cooked Dominican lunch.
After the lunch it was time to head back to our resorts. The bumpy 1 hour ride to Hato Mayor del Rey was not so much fun now that your stomachs were full but we survived. After dropping off the staff members, we continued in the direction of Bavaro and Punta Cana.
There was plenty to see along the road - food stalls with exotic fruits, schools with barb wired fences, small houses in the typical Caribbean bright colours with freshly washed clothes hanging in front of them, town markets and even the modern looking cathedral of Higuey, Shrine of Our Lady, in the distance. Another bathroom break in a large souvenir store made sure the trip was as comfortable as possible.
As we reached the hotels, the clouds, which had started gathering earlier in the day, finally unloaded and a tropical thunderstorm unleashed. Good thing we had no other plans for the day but to rest and enjoy the nice memories.
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