Green Grotto Caves: Spelunking in Jamaica
Undoubtedly, Dunn's River Falls is Jamaica's most popular natural attraction. While I can't deny that the falls are worth seeing, I feel the lesser visited Green Grotto Caves on the island's northern coast are the real gem, especially for travelers looking to get away from the crowds.
Located halfway between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, the Green Grotto Caves, a largely unexplored complex of underground caverns surrounded by the lush vegetation of the jungle, are not only naturally enchanting but also deeply intertwined with Jamaica's rich history.
When the English invaded Jamaica in the 17th century, the caves were used as a hideout for the Spaniards who were being driven out of the country. By the mid-20th century, they were used by smugglers running arms to Cuba, and during the Second World War, the government of Jamaica used the entrance of the cave as a storeroom for rum.
The big claim to fame came in 1973 when the James Bond film Live and Let Die starring Roger Moore used the caves as the villain's underground base. It is most memorable for (SPOILER ALERT!) being the location where Bond kills the villain Kananga by forcing him to swallow a bullet of compressed air, causing him to float up to the ceiling like a balloon and explode.
Named for the green algae that covers its walls, the Green Grotto Caves are comprised of several large chambers with unique rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and ceiling pockets. Many of these pockets are home to bats, which you'll see plenty of during a tour of the caves, along with lots and lots of guano.
The caves themselves are fascinating, and many have yet to be explored, but I was most spellbound by the areas where the caverns opened up and collided with the surrounding jungle. Tree roots and thick vines like dangling snakes dropped down into the caves from gaps in the limestone, livened by the reach of the sun's rays and their need for water.
As I followed our small group through the caves, I tried my best to capture the magical and eerie look of the twisting vines.
What you need to know
The Green Grotto Caves are open daily from 9am to 4pm. Located directly off the coastal A1 highway, the caves are approximately an hour drive from Montego Bay and about 30 minutes from Ocho Rios. The entrance fee for adults is $20 USD and $10 USD for children (this can also be payed in Jamaican dollars at the current exchange rate at time of purchase).
Inside the caves can be quite hot and humid so visitors should wear comfortable but light clothing and proper footwear (some areas can be slippery). Hard hats plus universally flattering hair nets are provided at the entrance for all visitors.
Tours last just under an hour and each group has their own guide. Informative, witty, and highly knowledgeable, the guides truly make the tour through the caves a memorable experience for all ages.