Tag Archives: cave

Rio Secreto : Playa del Carmen Mexico

There are numerous activities to enjoy while in Playa del Carmen. It has essentially been turned into a tourist playground of Mexico. Swimming, snorkeling, diving, ruins – you name it you can find a way to do it within close vicinity.

Where does Rio Secreto Operate?

Rio Secreto is situated directly across the street from the massive eco-park Xcarat. Whereas Xcarat has transformed into a massive waterpark, Rio Secreto retains more of its natural charm. We found Rio Secreto to be a great balance between campy fun, and authentic experience.

With that being said, Xcarat is a completely awesome experience, and I highly recommend it. I have been there many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it will be far more crowded and developed – though still loads of fun.

Benches at Rio Secreto

Rio Secreto Entry Sign

You can find it at:

Puerto Juárez, Km. 283.5, Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal, Ejido Sur, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico

Ticket Booth at Rio Secreto

It’s hours and prices can differ by the season, and so you should check for you specific times at: www.riosecreto.com. However, it always operates at least:

Sunday – Monday: 9AM – 2PM

While we can’t say that Rio Secreto falls into the category of budget travel activities – it is still certainly on the cheaper side for the region. If you can, try to arrange for your own transportation to cut costs.

Parking lot of Rio Secreto

A Recent Discovery

Rio Secreto speaks to the mystery of Riviera Maya. It was only discovered in 2006 when a landowner was chasing after a lizard and accidentally discovered the opening to a cave. What he discovered was a vast underground river and cenote complex.

Researchers and explorers then entered the caves and began mapping what would turn out to be an immense system. It was quickly developed into an ecological preserve and attraction. Tourists are able to visit about 10% (don’t worry, it’s huge!) of the cave complex, while the other 90% is preserved. All proceeds go towards further protection and understanding of the cenotes and underground rivers.

I’m In! So What Is Rio Secreto?

Rio Secreto is Spanish for “Secret River”, and it is exactly that. The whole of the Yucatan is made of very porous limestone and has no surface rivers. However, it is filled with thousands of cenotes, which are sinkholes that open to underground rivers.

In the native Mexica cultures, most notably the Maya and Aztec, the cenotes were the openings to the underworld – Xibalba. And here, you get to enter the underworld and explore the flooded rooms and rivers beneath the surface.

The Experience

Our experience was pretty awesome. We were in Playa del Carmen for a family wedding, and we went with my parents, aunts, and uncles. It begins with the standard tourist fare type stuff. We checked in, had a video introduction that went over the basic history of the place, and then we were divided up into small groups for our guide.

Our Guide Starting the Tour

A roughly twenty minute bus ride deep into the jungle brought us to the main entrance to the caves where we were then given the run down.

Rio Secreto Bus

First thing, no sunscreen or lotion of any kind. This is important for the ecology of the river system. Lotions introduce chemicals to the environment and can damage the cave formations. Plus, you’re underground – so it’s totally unnecessary.

To ensure there are issues regarding this, you have to take a quick shower to rid your body of any chemicals and oils. The shower is water taken directly from the river which also gives you a quick feel for the temperature. It’s cold.

Equipment

No worries though, you are provided with a wetsuit. The water is around 72F, so it’s certainly chilly. And the tour lasts about an hour and half underground so you will most likely want it. If you have your own wetsuit, you might as well bring it. My aunt had one, and doubled up, which allowed her to stay quite warm.

As for us, we were still chilled at the end. Our issue lies in the fact that we’re both pretty thin. Because of this, the wetsuits didn’t fit perfectly and allowed for cold water to get in. But, it still works.

You are also provided with water shoes – a must. And of course, a helmet with lights – another must. If you wish, you can also take a walking stick. I did not, but was one of the only ones who did not. If you are not comfortable with your balance, you should take the stick. However, it can be very nice to traverse the caves without carrying anything.

You can put all your stuff in a locker, and all of this comes complimentary with your tour ticket. So you don’t need to worry about paying extra for storage or gear.

Changing Rooms

A Mayan Ritual For Safety

Once we were fitted, we were led into the jungle and brought to the first stop. A local man, who spoke Mayan (Nahuatl) gave us a traditional Mayan blessing. The blessing is meant to provide safety for those who enter the underworld.

In the blessing, we were taught how to say good day, or rather “good sun” in Mayan. I forget what it is now, sadly. But the meaning is important to the Mayans, as the sun was an important deity.

The man then burned sap from a local tree that gave off a sweet fragrance and signaled that we had been blessed. Now, we were ready to enter Xibalba.

Entering the Caves

A short walk further into the jungle, and we arrived at what appeared to be a small depression in the ground. However, once stepping into the hole, it becomes apparent that the cave is much more than it appears.

The path winds down until it meets a slowly flowing body of water. Stalactites and stalagmites stretch down and up respectively and create an enticing invitation to the wonders within. Our guide, instructed us to turn on our headlights and enter the water.

Into Xibalba

Our guide expertly took us into the caves and gave a thorough tour. He explained the hydrology and ecology of the region as well as it’s historical importance.

An interesting, yet important thing he showed us was our impact on the environment. By simply being there, we did contaminate the region. This was demonstrated by rubbing our noses to get naturally occurring oils from our skin, and touching the water. Immediately, the limestone particles repelled away from where we touched, and altering the chemical makeup of the cave system.

It was explained that we would only interact with a small portion – less than 10% – of the cave system. The money brought in from the tourism, would help protect the greater water system and further fund research and conservation. An unfortunate price to pay to protect the system.

As we swam, floated, and waded through the caves, a photography took many pictures. We did not get any though, as the price is expensive. Unfortunately, this means that we couldn’t get any pictures while in the caves themselves.

Rio Secreto

Courtesy: The Mayan Gate

A highlight of our cave experience was a moment of zen. We were instructed to lay back in the water, staring at the ceiling, in a circle. All the lights were then extinguished and we were left in complete darkness, with nothing but the sound of the water. We laid here here for several minutes before coming back to ourselves.

Back to the Surface for Food and Drink

At this point, we were all getting pretty cold. It was time to make our way back out. We exited via the way we came in, and the warmth of the jungle air was welcome. Upon exiting, we were given a taste of the local liquor, an anise flavored liquor to warm our bodies and spirits.

Rio Secreto Liquor

After changing back into our clothes, we then proceeded on to a complimentary lunch. It was nothing special, but better than I was expecting. Rice, beans, chicken, soup, tortillas, and a few sides were offered. While not amazing, it was hearty and satisfactory – and the hot sauce was certainly hot.

Buffet at Rio Secreto
Soup and Pasta

Once finished with our food, we pilled back into our van, and proceeded back to the entrance.  All in all, a great excursion. We would certainly recommend this for anyone in the region looking for a little adventure, history, or nature. It’s great for adults, families, and kids. And while not budget, it is certainly a cheaper alternative to the more expensive options in region.

~K~

Kadisha Grotto, Lebanon

Qadisha Grotto

The taxi driver who found us on our walk to the Cedars of God offered to take us to our next destination: Qadisha Grotto.

Kadisha Grotto Switchbacks

So The Hike Begins

Due to construction, our driver was not able to get very far so we decided to walk down the mountain ourselves (it’s not terribly far and this was my preference anyway).

Briana Overlooking Bcharre

While it was hot, it was downhill and the we had a constant view down into Qadisha Valley.

Picture Comparison Kadisha Valley
Kyle and Briana On The Way To Kadisha
Kadisha Grotto Thistle

After a little bit we rounded a corner and saw signs pointing in the direction of the caves.

Hotel By Kadisha Grotto Path Entrance

We followed them and found ourselves walking cliffside among lots of yellow flowers.

Kadisha Path Overlook
Kadisha Grotto Cliff PathMore Kadisha Grotto Flowers
Kadisha Grotto Flowers

When we reached a gate going into a cave, we thought we had made it, but not quite. The entrance to this area was filled with noisy flies so we ran through. We exited, walked further, and found another little cave to walk through. Then, we walked through a more man-made tunnel.

Entrance To Tunnel Towards Kadisha
Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Tunnel
Briana On The Way To Kadisha Grotto

Entering the Grotto

Eventually, we came to what appeared to be the Qadisha Grotto. The water here serves many of the nearby villages and also produces electricity for Tripoli City. It looked like there was a small restaurant just outside of the caves, but we couldn’t tell if it was operating. A man asked us for our tickets. We didn’t have any so we bought them.

He told us they cost 10,000LBP/person even though we read that they cost 5,000 online. His English wasn’t good, and I wasn’t positive if that was what I had read so we didn’t feel like trying to negotiate. We also didn’t want to turn around at that point so we decided to pay the 20,000LBP ($13.20). He asked us if we had a light (we forgot one, but Kyle had a flashlight app on his phone) because the electricity (to the lamps/lights which guide/show you) sometimes would go out.

Kadisha Grotto Waterfall
Flowing Water
Water Treatment Kadisha Grotto

I have always liked caves: the smell, the chill (sweet relief in summer), the dampness. One of my favorite park attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney has it down and it always made me want to live in a cave.

Inside Cave
Briana Inside Kadisha Grotto
Inside Cave
Kyle Inside Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Grotto StalagtiteKyle Inside Kadisha Grotto

We made our way through and were able to explore it pretty much by ourselves. I believe we passed one other couple who was exiting as we were making our way inward, but that was it.

Stairs in cave
Kyle in the Cave
Kadisha Grotto
Red Room Kadisha Grotto

Mesmerizing Caves

We admired the limestone formations in the cave and took our time. I think it was all a bit more dazzling (and sparkly!) in person. While we enjoyed our tour at the Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas, it was also nice to explore independently and at our own pace.

More Rock Formations Kadisha Grotto
Rock Formations Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Cave Walk
Walking in Cave

We had a nice (long) walk down, as well.

Mountain on the way down

We had read that the Jeita Grotto outside of Beirut is far more grand but unfortunately we were not in Lebanon long enough to venture there as well.

Info:

Hours:

The caves are closed from mid-December to mid-May. The rest of the time it’s open from 9:30am until sunset (though I’ve read the hours can be a little irregular).

Cost:

It’s supposed to be 5,000 LBP/person (but they may try to charge you more). It’s also supposed to be cheaper for children.

How to get there:

Follow signs to L’Aiglon Hotel (or look up its location on GoogleMaps and find it) and you will see signs directing you to the grotto from there (about 1.5km away).

~B~

Hospital Cave Cat Ba Island

Hidden deep within the karst, limestone mountains of Cat Ba island lies a cave that remained hidden from outside eyes for many years. It served the Vietnamese as a secret hospital and safe house during the “American War” as they call. Today you can visit Hospital Cave easily.

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Hospital Cave

Getting To Hospital Cave

We made our way to Hospital Cave by what is quickly becoming our favorite method of transportation – motorbike. Our AirBNB host on the island rented us a bike for $6/day and we went out in pursuit of the once hidden cave.

We picked up 2 liters of gas on the way out of tiny Cat Ba Town for an agreeable 40,000 Dong (~$2) and proceeded on our way. Compared to our trip out to Cu Chi Tunnels, this was a far easier ride. It was also a ride with gorgeous views.

Bike Ride there
Beautiful Cat Ba Island

Not counting the tiny side streets, Cat Ba really only has two main roads: one from Cat Ba Town in the south that cuts straight through the center of island and ends on the northern tip, and a second that connects to dock from Haiphong on the western tip of the island and follows the coast until it meets up with the first road. There are a few other service roads, but honestly you’d have a difficult time getting lost on the island roads if you tried.

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Hospital Cave is located near dead-center of the island on the central main road. I don’t think it actually has a name. Just as we crested a small hill, situated between two cliffs, we came across the sign for the caves. I actually overshot it, and had to turn around.

Across the street from what appeared to be a hiking trail was a small cafe with parking, and here a few locals were selling tickets to the caves at 30,000 Dong each, for a total of 60,000 (~$3).

Climbing Into the Caves

We dropped our bike and helmets and made our way up the short, but steep trail. The trail winds it’s way for a few hundred feet, and climbs about a hundred feet up, through rough rock, stairs, and a few rickety ladders.

Before entering the caves, we took a few moments to see the valley we ascended from. We saw pretty breathtaking scenery of rural and secluded Vietnamese life. The valley was very much enclosed by the rough cliffs rising abruptly, and it actually reminded me of Yosemite, though much more tropical.

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Climbing up to the caveView from Hospital Cave

Turning into the cave, we were greeted by a tour operator. He offered to give us a tour or let us wander through freely. Ultimately, we decided to just wander in and explore the caves ourselves. The caves are pretty well lit throughout and easy enough to explore on your own. Though if you want a tour guide to help explain a few things for you, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to accept the guide’s offer.

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Eerily Alone

The cave was constructed in 1963 and 1965 as a secret hospital. It consisted of 17 rooms, all of which now stand eerily empty. Walking through the rooms, every step and sound echoes and booms. I can only imagine how bad it would have sounded during the war, with patients screaming in agony.

However, due to it’s location deep within the mountain, it remained safe from even the most powerful of bombs. Not that it needed to prove it , it was never found. Continuing on we came into a grand natural cavern that towered almost a hundred feet over head and could easily have held a couple hundred people.

This chamber was actually used as a cinema and there was even a small swimming pool there (though currently it is drained). The cave remained in constant use until 1975.

Exploring the caves
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Many Chambers To See

We spent a few minutes exploring the cavern before heading back down into the hospital chambers. We were the only ones in there to the time and the place was fairly large. It was really fun and exciting to explore the place just on our own and by ourselves. We were able to choose which directions to go inside.

Eventually we made our way forward until we could start to see natural light again. Stepping out, we found ourselves on a small opening in an alcove of the cave. We had made it to the other side of the mountain. This part of the mountain seemed less hidden than the main entrance. But among these mountains, it’s easy for everything to remain hidden.

We made our way down a few dozen stone steps, and walked a little further until we came of the jungle path nearly where we began. We jumped back on our bike and continued on through the island.

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This was a really awesome place to explore!

It is one of Briana’s favorite activities we have done so far while traveling.

~K~