It’s a Bat Cave Day!

For those looking for an exciting, multi-faceted adventure, full of mud, fascinating and beautiful creepy crawlies, stalactites, and lots and lots of bats, this excursion is definitely up your alley! But if instead this is your idea of your worst nightmare, give it a chance! Face your fears, nothing will hurt you in there and it’s the experience of a lifetime!

Leaving directly after breakfast, we pile into the boat and our captain drives us about 20 minutes to Bahia Honda (Deep Bay) which is situated about halfway along our beautiful island back towards Bocastown on the main island, Isla Colon.

Our able captain has “tossed” a sufficient number of kayaks and paddles into the boat with us before leaving Tranquilo. Upon arrival at a mangrove-shaded river entrance the captain unloads the kayaks and we take turns climbing in. Waving goodbye to the boat, we set off up the slow-moving river, taking in the peaceful forest of tall mangroves and the occasional kingfisher flyby.   

The kayak part of our trek lasts about a half hour or so, depending on how much the guests would like to take their time to drink in their surroundings. We keep an eye out for wildlife and sometimes a sloth might be curled up in some thick branches hanging out over the water or a troop of white-faced capuchins may pass through the taller branches in search of a fruiting tree. Yellow Mangrove Warblers can be heard singing from the treetops and a mangrove cuckoo may come out of the shadows and treat our guests to a sight of this beautiful yet skulky bird. And we’re always on the lookout for basilisks and caimans!

As the river gets smaller and turns to freshwater, we leave the mangrove ecosystem behind until eventually we find ourselves in one of the indigenous Ngäbe communities sprinkled throughout the Bocas del Toro archipelago. We debark the kayaks and set them out of the way before heading up to a small restaurant owned by the family who are the cave gatekeepers. After a quick bathroom stop, we get ready for the above-ground portion of our adventure and head into the forest.

Depending on the time of year, the trails leading to the bat cave can be a complete muckfest. There’s no need to try and avoid the mud because you’ll eventually have no choice but to wade through. Ankle-deep is the worse it gets but when it comes to unsquelching a submerged foot, you may have to go digging for your shoe! All just a part of the experience!

As we follow the trail, we’ll keep an eye out for hummingbirds called hermits feeding from the heliconias, sloths hiding in the cacao trees and Bocas del Toro’s famous red frogs, tiny and brilliantly colored strawberry poison dart frogs, around the base of trees in the moist leaf litter.

The mouth of the cave sneaks up on you, you’re cruising through the woods, taking in the forest when suddenly you’re looking into the mouth of a dark abyss. An earthy, musty, non-offensive smell along with thin, high pitched squeaks emanate from the hole. Flashlights appear and we take a big swig of water before slowly making our way down the rocks, taking our time not to slip.

This is when you realize that we’re getting into a stream, in fact that same stream we just kayaked up is now around your ankles. Slowly stepping deeper into the dark, we stop and look up. A massive crevice reaches far above our heads and every crack, every nook is occupied by masses of hanging bats, shoulder to shoulder huddled in a writhing, furry mat over our heads. Careful not to shine the lights at the bats eyes, we sweep the lights across this impressive gathering of nightlife.

Now, this is an assurance we often make at this point along the excursion, none of the bats that use this cave feed on blood, aka, YOU. They have no interest in us humans. Rather, they are nectavores, like the Orange-nectar Bat, frugivores, like the Jamaican Fruit-eating Bat and insectivores like the White-lined Bats. Not only that, these bats are not going to get tangled up in your hair or land on your back like out of some horror movie, in fact, that’s the last thing they want to do and they happen to be more than fully capable of ensuring just that. With honed sonar detection, they know full well that you’re there in the pitch black darkness and easily avoid you (and each other!) with their skilled mammalian flight. What is delightful is the light rustle followed by a soft gust of wind against the side of your face caused by a close flyby!

The cave goes in quite a distance and it’s the guests decision as to how far they’d like to go. As we delve deeper, the intrepid explorers discover a variety of interesting invertebrates on the cave walls, various spiders and cave crickets. In the water you can sometimes get a glint of eye-shine reflected from a small fish or shrimp. The stalactites are a highlight of this underground adventure, their rippled, sparkling surface commanding the darkness. Some of these geological formations have grown quite large over eons of mineral deposit as water moves through the ground above and slowly drips through the ground, carrying limestone which is re-deposited to form some impressively massive hanging structures. The limestone in the ground above is what’s left of ancient coral reefs dating back to the Pliocene and Miocene era between 5 to 20 million years ago.

Careful search of the cave walls reveals embedded shells of various sorts and the loose rocks and soil in the water running past our ankles has even been known to harbor the occasional interesting fossils or sharks tooth. As we move deeper inward, the stream gets a bit deeper (waist to chest-deep!) and the footing is a little precarious, so the going is slow. One favorite destination in the cave is a nine-foot deep pool that has formed, surrounded by a couple of small waterfalls. The more daring folks of the group might take that opportunity for a full on jump from a rock ledge into the murky depths for a plunge into the crisp waters.

Coming back out of the cave, we squint in the daylight as we switch off our flashlights. The world above ground is how we left it, and the lush greenery of the forest is still punctuated by birdsong and the brightly colored dart frogs hopping over twigs and leaves. We kayak down the forested creek and pass indigenous N’gobe paddling by in their traditional dugout canoes, called cayucos.

To spend a morning exploring an underground world is an experience unlike any other and a memory that you’ll be sharing with friends and family for years. At the mouth of the creek, our boat and captain are waiting for us, we pile in and enjoy some snacks and cold drinks while relaxing as we watch the beautiful scenery of Bocas del Toro zoom by as our captain takes us back to the lodge.

Panama Eco Adventure – Episode 8

It’s Monday, so its time for a video.  Panama Eco Adventure Episode 8 highlights the bat cave near Bahia, Honda on Isla Bastimentos.  This cave is an amazing formation in itself and then you add several bat species, an awesome kayak (not shown in this video) and a short hike through an indigenous owned farm and it makes for a very unique excursion.  Enjoy.