El Choco Caves

OFFICIAL GUIDE TO EL CHOCO NATIONAL PARK IN CABARETE

El Choco National Park
is an important tourist attraction of Cabarete, and one of the most important natural reserve parks of the Dominican Republic. Reached via the Callejon de la loma ( a local road accessed from the main highway to Sosua ) and also via the other side of Cabarete, from the Islabón side. Several tour operators offer trips to El Choco, including horseback riding tours that end in the Monkey Jungle zip line park - which is another interesting attraction for tourists and adrenaline lovers. There`s an office from the guide association of El Choco right by the entrance in front of the river, piled up with worn flashlights and old photos. Several wooden boats are anchored in the small dock, used to tour the river that ends in the lagoon.

5 million year old El Choco caves ( about 200 ) are the delight of visitors that each year hike through the park`s forest and descend into dark and narrow corridors using a guide and flashlights ( there`s on and off electrical power inside the caves ). July (the guide, a local Dominican in his 20`s) remark that most tourists prefer to visit these limestone caves using flashlights instead of the light bulbs, because it`s more exciting, as in Indiana Jones. Indeed it is, because the author was there a few days ago and there was no power, so the college group relied entirely on handy lights.

Bordered by the mountain range called Septentrional to the South and the Cabarete lagoon to the North, El choco National park encompasses 77 sq. km. ( about 48 miles ) of lush green jungle, lagoon and pasture land. Their 7.7000 hectares of wetlands, conucos, wooded hills, caves and forest remnants. Here lie birds typical of lowland, coastal and agricultural areas. Hidden by the greenery of its luxuriant vegetation, which is maintained by a good rainfall rate in the region. An exceptional site, once home to Aborigines who first inhabited the island. Its biggest attraction are its underground caves, where rivers are flowing below ground pools, of sufficient depth so that visitors undertake swimming or just a refreshing dip ( in some cases take deep dives ).

PHOTOS OF A TOUR TO EL CHOCO CAVES IN CABARETE BY SEVERAL STUDENTS OF THE CURA-UASD STATE COLLEGE


Official tour office at the Entrance of El Choco National Park
The tour office is right by the entrance
small boats docked at the river for the tours in El Choco
 Boats docked in the river for the tours
The tour guide explains before entering the first cave
 The tour guide is very experienced and kind
Descending the first cave entrance at El Choco
 Students descending the first cave
The bright green indigenous coqui frog inhabits the caves in total darkness
 A native coquí frog was a highlight of the tour
the guide explains the rock surfaces and composition to the visitors
 The tour guide explains rock formations

While taking the tour, the guide stopped every 20 meters and gave the group a botanical lesson on a given tree, such as the agave, native avocado, cacao, grapefruit, sour orange, coconut palm and other local tree names. 20 minutes later and a bit smarter on botanic, the group reaches the first cave of the tour. Native birds and tropical plants engulfed what once was a bar and gift shop, before the area was declared a national park. It seems more like the ruins of an ancient temple city, with a deep pool of water covering the mouth of a cave that few divers venture to explore: 75 meters down through treacherous turns, not really recommended, said the guide. Many large coral reef rocks are found miles inland from the present sea shore, witness to the island`s ocean submerged past. The mountains of El Choco are predominantly limestone, which is very porous by nature and act like a natural reservoir that has shaped several underground pools and keeps the constant fresh temperatures throughout the area.

Beyond that, a short walk reveals a large stone with a naturally formed side cut in the shape of a stone amphitheater, believed to be used by Tainos ( ancient inhabitants of the Hispaniola island ). The stage upper area has a stone cut ceremonial chief seat, probably added by modern man. After the stage, the narrow entrance to the cave emerges to caution the weak against going down its dark, narrow passages. Red clay steps and branch railings scarcely hold but work, and the flash lights must be on as soon as the first visitors get past the entrance. Several visitors turn back after going down the first set of stairs, due to claustrophobia. Once inside, the primitive feeling of times past takes over, and the cave shows its inner depths shaped by the hanging stalactites and rising stalagmites formed by millions of years of moisture seeping through the ancient stone.

National Forest Office in El Choco
 The National Forest Office in El Choco
Reaching the second cave
 Students pose at the entrance of cave 2
Going down the second cave
 Going down cave 2 of the tour
Underground mineral water pool in the  second cave at El Choco
 The cave has a shallow underground pool
rock formations that resemble anthropomorphic figures in cave 2 of the park
 The rock formations known as the 12 apostles
Group photo of the CURA-UASD students at the cave
 Group photo of the CURA-UASD students


Once inside the first chamber, visitors are impressed by the natural pools of mineral water, where some tourists dip and swim. Some are shallow, and others have a depth of several meters. The familiar song of a coqui frog ( a native little green frog of the antilles ) is heard in the dark, and soon all flashlights point its way. Other species found in the cave are native spiders, small fish and river shrimp. A few minutes later, the camera battery dies due to excessive drain of the night mode ( extra flash usage ) so the group can`t keep going to the second chamber. The average tour shows only 6 out of over 200 caves, and as the guide said, some are in repair. Some of the caves in El choco have bats, but these Chiroptera stay away from the most popular ones due to noise and invasion of tourists.

Some caves show signs of the earliest inhabitants, the Tainos. The group takes another forest path and  reach the mouth of the second cave in the tour, a somewhat shallower but interesting one to see. The interior is reached through a hole in the ground, fitted with steps and the usual thick branch railing. Inside, rock formations surprise the visitors with various anthropomorphic figures, like the stalagmite group called the 12 apostles, due to its fairly close resemblance to a group of religious figures. At the end of the main chamber, a shallow pool is bordered by stone shapes covered by a sparkle glow, " it`s from the minerals" the guide said. It`s noteworthy to say that these photos shown in this article were taken in night mode with very low light, and the tour was in darkness aided by simple flashlights. If you take the tour that way, you see spots of light, not the fully lighted environment seen in the photos. Using electricity might spoil the adventure, but also provide a lot of detail.

the tour guide shows some tips and expert knowledge
 The tour guide explains some rock forms
The flashlight pointing visitors see rock formations in the Choco cave
Students point their flashlights to a rock
Stalagmites formed during 5 million years of ancient history
 Inside the cave at El Choco, Cabarete
a shack serves beer and sodas near the park
 A shack stop for beverages in the park
A water hole in the cave is deeper than it seems
A deep water hole inside a cave
El Choco national park is a subtropical climate,  with a nice atmosphere
 Students relax by the small river dock

El Choco was declared a national reserve park by presidential decree No. 61-00 of February 10, 2000 which follows previous decrees No. 233-96 and 319-97 of July 22nd, 1997, and No. 2724 of 1968 that protected The Catalina river banks in El Choco, the area closer to Sabaneta de Yasica. The decree by President Leonel Fernandez establishes the geographical limits of the Laguna Cabarete y Goleta (El Choco) National Park. Both lagoons extend for 8 kilometers in the back area of Cabarete, between the hills of the Septentrional range and the Atlantic Ocean. The decree Provides specific longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates for the park. It is now a natural scientific reserve and a national park, that extends well beyond Cabarete and into Sosua, and has the two main lagoons of Cabarete and Goleta. A copy of the presidential decree ( in Spanish ) can be downloaded from this page ( see bottom ).

The caves of El Choco can be a nice place to visit with friends and family, since there`s several shallow caves that are quite safe for kids and the tour includes hiking through the forest, gardens, boat tours and horseback riding. Lessons on history, flora and fauna add a value to the experience. The tour is given in English and Spanish, and there`s an office of the National Forest Department in the park entrance. Thousands of tourists visit the park each year, specially the ones visiting Cabarete and Sosua. Exploring the jungle landscape of El Choco National Park can be a very relaxing experience, with its extensive kilometers of jungle, lagoon, caves, forest and open back country to explore.

DIVING IN THE CAVES
Diving is also possible in the Choco caves, but if you`re PADI certified for open water, think again. Cave diving requires a far different training, and it does mean the difference between staying alive or not because once you`re in, you need to get out. If you do get the training for cave diving, please follow some simple rules to preserve the timeless natural beauty that takes shape after millions of years.  A preservation note from the Dominican Republic Speleological Society resumes it all: Caves also have beautiful and irreplaceable mineral formations, called stalactites and stalagmites, theses formations take thousands of years to form, if damaged they will never grow back. Unfortunately in the DR stalactites are sold in various tourist shops as souvenirs, and as a result caves are irreversibly damaged.

-As cave divers always maintain proper buoyancy and never touch or damage any formations. Only dive caves that are within your abilities. A moment of carelessness, can ruin formations and sediment deposits that are thousands of years old.
-Do not collect anything from the cave and leave only bubbles behind.
-Pick up trash when possible and never leave any of your own.
-Always take the time to talk to people about the importance of cave conservation and
set a good example for others to follow, show an interest and understanding of caves and demonstrate the cave conservation in action.
-Do not molest the cave in any way, leave all cave dwelling fauna alone and do not harass bats, they are harmless creatures vital to the cave and surface eco systems.
Caves are not dark scary places and bats are not evil, caves are an important part of our natural habitat, caves are a fragile and beautifull environment and need your help to be protected.

DIVING PHOTOS IN THE MURCIELAGOS CAVE:


Narrow descent to Murcielagos cave in El Choco
Narrow descent into a dry cave
Preparing the dive after the dry caving
 Getting ready for the dive
underground water chamber in the choco cave
 Beautiful views inside the cave
deep dive at the bottom of the large limestone rocks
Overhead view of a submerged cave entrance
researching the cave walls
Diving inside the Murcielagos cave, El Choco
Larger than life cave interiors
The tall limestone dwarfs a diver below


EL CHOCO CAVE DIVING VIDEOS FROM THE DOMINICAN SPELEOLOGICAL SOCIETY:


Murcielagos Cave diving at El Choco National Park in Cabarete

The Cueva de los Murcielagos ( Bat Cave ):
 To gain access to the bat cave you need to climb down a dry cave, through two narrow passages with metal ladders, that give way to a fairly big and decorated cave hosting species such as bats, tarantulas and scorpions. There are two slumps, to reach the first you need to climb down a vertical rock pile of 6-7 meters. From there it goes down vertically under water. This cave offers the full exotic jungle dry cave experience too.

The cave has very nice decoration and rock formations, as seen in the video from the DRSS. The dry cave is highly decorated around the edges with crystal flow stones and cave bacon that is truly awesome, there is no exit through the dry cave. First dove by Thomas Riffaud and Phillip Lehman in 2008.

Diving at El Choco Crystal Cave, Cabarete

 The Cueva de Cristal ( Crystal Cave ):
 The access is a small unassuming hole in the ground that is easily missed,  they have installed makeshift steps and as you go down you enter a very decorated dry cave, there is a path between the decorations that leads to the entrance sump. There is also a second sump, recognizable by the fact that you need to duck under a very low ceiling although it looks really cool, this sec on sump unfortunately Does not go anywhere.

The cave is not very big and you cam see the whole thing in about 20 mins, but it is a really nice little dive. At the end of the main tunnel there are really weird looking decorations, very prehistoric looking, the water has a green tint and makes for a nice color contrast with the red silt. The cave is made up of a series of boulder collapses and has a max depth of 15 meters.


DIVING MAP OF THE BAT CAVE: Click to enlarge

Diving speleological map of the Bat Cave in El Choco National Park


THE OFFICIAL GUIDED TOUR PAMPHLET:
  • Open everyday from 8:30 am to 5:00pm
  • Enjoy a 1 1/2 hour guided tour through the national park and visit 5 million year old limestone caves.
  • Take a refreshing swim 25 meters ( 82 feet ) underground in the crystal cave.
  • Meet the scorpion spider ( non venomous native spider of the Dominican Republic )
  • See Taino aboriginal caves and learn about its history
  • Walk along the park`s trail through botanical gardens
  • Horseback riding and boat river tours

What to bring and how to dress for the tour in El Choco National Park:
- a small water bottle can be useful
- comfortable sneakers
- t shirt, jeans or cargo pants would be perfect, mosquitoes feast on bare legs
- small cash can buy you a drink or candy at the shack
- a camera with night mode capability and 2-3 battery packs
- a good flashlight, if you can ( the ones at the tour office are dim lit )
- a bathing suit if you plan to swim in the underground pools

Entry Fee / Rates for the Park and Tour:
Tourists US$20.00
Locals: US$15.00
A portion of the proceeds are used towards the conservation and preservation of the Cabarete lagoon and its surrounding areas. The park can be reached through the Callejon de la loma right across the Ocean Dream plaza, through a motoconcho or driving a car rental. Walking distance is about 20 minutes.

HOW TO CONTACT THE PARK TOUR OFFICE:
The tour guide association of El Choco National Park has several guides which can be contacted if needed, the tours
are given in 4 languages: English, Spanish, German and French. Their email is cavesofcabarete @live.com and the
4 guides in the official tour pamphlet are:
  • July        Tel. 809-984-9823
  • Levi        Tel. 829-201-4363
  • Bumba   Tel. 809-454-3072
  • Marcos   Tel. 809-907-1714

TOUR OPERATORS IN CABARETE:
Tour operators in Sosua and Cabarete offer tours to El Choco and provide transportation, beverages and useful information. It is highly recommended, specially for groups of tourists staying at resorts.

Iguana Mama
Tours Trips Trek & Travel


Google Map of El Choco National Park and its Caves - Select Sat ( Satellite ) for better views.

El Choco National Park Caves


Bibliography:

Dominican Republic by Encyclopedia
Eco Tourism in the Dominican Republic ( by Golden Treasures Villas )
Laguna Cabarete ( Spanish, by Listin Diario )
Laguna Cabarete ( Spanish by Accion Verde )
Die Tropfsteinhöhlen im Nationalpark El Choco, Cabarete ( German )
Videos of the Caves at Cabarete
Dominican Republic Speleological Society

Collaborators:
Association of Tour Guides of El Choco National Park, Alexandra Naut, Milagros Osorio, Altagracia Osorio, Keily Peralta, July Duran, Ruth Dilenia Torres
Photos by Edward Rivas
El Choco park decree courtesy of the Presidency of the Dominican Republic and the Global Legal Information Network.
Bat Cave and Crystal Cave diving video courtesy of the DRSS
Diving Map and photos of The Bat Cave courtesy of the DRSS
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Edward Rivas,
Mar 13, 2012, 9:26 PM
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