Nicole and I are no Cave virgins. We have been to around a dozen different ones scattered throughout the world, so well, we know what’s going on; walk down a million steps, dodge some dripping water and have a look at what mother nature has taken thousands of years to put together. We do love it (well maybe me more than Nicole), so we were quite excited to go and see Harrison’s Cave in Barbados. Well, we were in for a bit of a different cave experience than what we are use to.
Harrison’s Cave is located about 10 minute drive from Bridgetown and offers several different tours (prices are converted to US$ – approximate):
- Tram Tour ($30 adult, $15 child)
- Eco-Adventure Tour ($200)
- Walk In Cave Tour ($20 adult, $10 child)
We had gone there expecting to do the Walk In Cave Tour. You know, like all caves. That’s part of the adventure, climbing up and down all those stairs. However, we were somewhat surprised by cashiers response “Sorry sir, the only tours are the Tram Tours. The walking tour is only on Saturday Evenings.” “Umm what?” was our reply.
So if you are going, expect to do the Tram Tour. Now that we have completed it, we can safely say that there is a reason the Tram Tour is the one that runs all the time. Because if you completed the walking tour you would be walking for 20 minutes, see some stuff, walk for another 20 minutes, see some more stuff, walk for another 20 minutes… well you get the point. The tram gets you to each location quick and easy. And it’s not like the walk in between is very interesting. You are just walking through a man made tunnel (I’ll get into the construction shortly).
I’m not going into the history of how caves are formed. I’ll let you Google that if you are interested as we don’t want our other readers tuning out. I will however write about the history of Harrison’s Cave itself.
The actual discovery of the cave is somewhat unknown. The earliest known European notes about the cave where from 1647 when Richard Lingon noted that slaves used the cave as a hideaway. But the real action begins in 1970 when a team of locals and Danish (led by Ole Sorensen) explore the caves and map the main cave passages.
In 1974 the Barbados Government decided to commercialize Harrison’s Cave and make it accessible to the public. Using these old maps, a team led by Tony Mason dug engineered tunnels to enable easy access.
As with most things in Barbados it took a while to complete and was opened as a public attraction in 1981. When you have traveled through the tunnel you can see why it took so long. In order to accommodate the trams access these tunnels are huge and the process of constructing them would have been very slow to ensure that no damage was done to the cave system itself. The man made tunnel is basically constructed parallel to the cave passage. Imagine driving through a man made tunnel and on your right is an open window showing the cave. Now sometimes this window is very small, while sometimes it opens up into huge chambers. As an Engineer, I found this part of it quite fascinating. Photos show this better than I can explain it (see below).
OK History bit done. Let’s talk about the tour itself.
The tour is set up very professionally. It is probably the most professional cave tour we have been on. The area outside the cave is beautiful. If you know Barbados, you will know the majority of the island interior is fairly barren due to farming, but the caves are located within the jungle area of the island. Access to the front of the caves is by a state of the art elevator that takes you down into the valley. You get out of the elevator to be surrounded by jungle on each side. There are a few small stalls to buy food and gifts and there are plenty of local plants and flowers to look at while you wait for your tour to start.
The tour starts off with everyone in a room which is jammed pack with information about the cave. You can read information and listen to videos about the caves and the surrounding area. You walk around this room for about 15 minutes before you are moved on to the next room where they seat you in a little movie theater to learn some more about the caves (movie is about 10 minutes long). It is very well put together and extremely educational. It would be great for schools and children, as well as people that haven’t been to a cave before, but it is a bit boring and probably didn’t need to go for as long as it did. Particularly for the tourists that are just interested in seeing pretty things.
After the school lesson you jump on the tram. Try and get a seat on the edge for best photos. It is pretty dark down there so photos are definitely hit and miss (we deleted a lot!). The electric trams are new and run very smoothly for the journey deep into the cave. There is a presenter/guide up front that rides with the driver telling you lots about the cave and constantly points out the best things to see. He throws out a few jokes (even if you know he is telling you the same jokes as the last tour) and seems to be quite knowledgeable about the caves.
There are two spots along the journey that the tram stops and you can get off and take some pictures, as well as have a better look at the cave. The first one is definitely the more interesting stop with a nice section of cave to have your photo taken in front of. The second one is stopping for a waterfall, which is very small. It just looks like someone has turned the garden hose on. No, not that impressive at all. It is also dark and hard to get a good photo.
After about an hour of ‘tramming’ your way around the cave you find your way back up to the surface, thank the driver and head back into the valley for a bite to eat, before ascending the elevator to head off to your next adventure.
As mentioned before we have been to several caves and in terms of quality of cave, it’s only OK. We have been to caves that are a lot better. I also don’t really like the whole tram thing. There is something more real about climbing down the cave, ducking your head under a rock and squeezing though a small gap that makes a cave far more enjoyable to me. While the cave you are seeing at Harrison’s Cave is certainly a real cave, it sort of feels like you are on a movie set and as a result felt a little fake.
Now don’t get me wrong there are still a lot of beautiful things to see down there and we definitely did enjoy ourselves. As mentioned before it is probably the most professional run cave we have been to and the guides were fantastic. The cave is perfect for older or less mobile people that wouldn’t normally be able to access a cave. It is also great for people who haven’t seen a cave before or if you want your children to learn something while on holiday (just don’t let them know it’s learning!).
And as a traveler it also always comes down to dollars and Harrison’s Cave is definitely the most expensive cave we have been to. If you are visiting Harrison’s Cave with a family of 4 then you are looking at the best part of $100 before you even get transport and lunch. When you see all the infrastructure in place you will understand why it is expensive, but that doesn’t help the hip pocket.
Harrison’s Cave definitely has it’s pros and cons. I’ll let you decide if it is worth the visit.
What has been your favorite Cave you have visited on your travels?