A guided tour of the Green Grotto Caves serves up a memorable slice of true Jamaican history. The national heritage site is home to two-century-old mystical underground limestone caverns, said to be former special hiding places for runaway slaves. The grottos, it is also said, were also used by the Spaniards and, before them, the Arawak Indians.
Located in Discovery Bay, St Ann, the popular attraction is open to anyone wanting to explore the Runaway Cave and the Green Grotto, which has a beautiful lake at the centre.
When LetsTravelCaribbean.com journeyed to Green Grotto Caves, we were intrigued by the beauty of the limestone caverns which, we learned, are home to nine species of bats.
What makes this natural attraction truly breathtaking are the unique rock formations which are visible even from the outside. These have formed over the years as stalactites and stalagmites have created countless columns throughout the caves.
Our visit began with our guide, Shenieka Rhoden, providing hairnets and hardhats to protect our heads inside the grottos.
Then we stepped into the Runaway Cave where our history lesson began.
“Apart from the runaway slaves that used this cave, it is believed that the Arawak Indians would also use it for shelter and they would also host rituals inside,” said Rhoden.
“When the Spaniards lost the war to the British, they would also hide in different areas and they also used an escape route that channelled them close to a port where they would take boats from Jamaica to Cuba,” she added.
While walking past an area with concrete tables and chairs, Rhoden explained that Green Grotto Caves was being used as a nightclub before the Government became the owners in 2000. She pointed out that the loud vibrations from the music caused grave damage as the caves’ main occupants, the bats, were being affected.
Green and yellow lights guided us along bridges and pathways inside the Runaway Cave. There are several openings throughout the ceilings where trees grow and bats can escape to feed each night. This, Rhoden said, are actually sink holes.
She also pointed out that there are millions of bats inside the caves and underscored their importance.
“They mainly eat fruits, insects and nectar, so you know they are definitely important for the ecosystem in terms of reforestation, pest control and pollination,” she said.
Then it was time to explore the Green Grotto where, 45 feet down, is the underground lake. The walk down to the beautiful mineral lake should be only 45 steps, advised.
“If you take 46 steps you will have to turn back and try again,” the tour guide said with a chuckle.
At the bottom of the staircase was the most beautiful scenery as the lights reflected on the stalactites hanging over the lake. Rhoden turned the lights off to show how dark the caves get.
She noted that the previous inhabitants had to find their way around without torches as the manure from the bat is combustible due to ammonium nitrate.
As we journeyed back to the outsides of the caves, Rhoden did not miss a chance to share how important it is for visitors to visit Green Grotto Caves.
“I think people should visit Green Grotto Caves because it is a national heritage site with a lot of history that some people are unaware of. And of course, the many rock formations and the beautiful lake that we have inside,” the tour guide said with a smile.