A history buff's dream and a nature lover's fantasy, tales of Jamaica's Green Grotto Caves echo a sense of true adventure and awe and overflow with stories of past that intertwine with natural formations - all that is nothing short of spectacular in this exceptional paradise Caribbean island.

Jamaica's green cavern of mystery is a breathtaking attraction, serving up a slice of Jamaican history and magical underground scenes inside a mostly unexplored subterranean labyrinth of caves surrounded by dense tropical vegetation, and supplied by crystal clear water from cavernous depths.

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Known under many names throughout time - Runaway Bay Caves, Hopewell Caves, Discovery Bay Caves, Cave Hall Caves, Dairy Caves, Rum Caves, and Dry Harbour Caves - Green Grotto is of significant natural and cultural importance and is an absolute must for any Jamaica-bound traveler, who, not only desires to see jaw-dropping spectacles of nature but also to learn about the nation's history and experience it for real, in-person.

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What Are Jamaica's Green Grotto Caves?

Resting on the sensational North Coast of Jamaica, Green Grotto Caves are perfectly situated between the resort gems of Ocho Rios and Montego Bay and are only a few kilometers from the popular Discovery Bay and Runaway Bay.

1,525 meters long and 12 meters deep, these naturally formed caves go deep under the earth, forming an enormous limestone labyrinth of chambers, light holes, unique rock formations, impressive stalactites and stalagmites, ceiling pockets, and a wealth of diverse creatures living within the network. Green Grotto is also home to a mesmeric underground lake - the Grotto Lake - that connects to the ocean, with water that's as transparent as glass.

When exploring the chambers, it's easy to get distracted by their beauty and awe, forgetting that an underbelly of rich history occupies every nook and cranny of this surreal subterranean attraction. In previous times, the caves served a myriad of purposes - from hiding pirate treasure and refuge for runaway slaves, to rum barrel storage, nightclub parties, and arms smugglers. Deep-rooted in centuries passed, they house rich and volatile history that's undoubtedly fascinating; and the best way to discover the marvels they hold is by taking a guided tour of the place, which is an enriching, unique experience for anyone visiting Jamaica.

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The History Of The Green Grotto Caves

The Green Grotto caves played a large part in Jamaican history. The privacy and solace offered by the caves saw them deeply entrenched in the lives of diverse groups of people. First of all, they are thought to have been used as dwellings for Jamaica's very first inhabitants - the Arawak Indians known as the Tainos who arrived between 600 AD and 900 AD - who used the caves for various purposes, as evident in the fragments of pottery and artifacts found in the caves.

Centuries later, the caves were used as a hideout by pirates, who hid both themselves and their precious booty from authorities. During the 17th century when the English invaded Jamaica, the Spaniards - who were being driven out of the country - also hid in the caves and used them as a refuge. Even runaway slaves sought safety and solace in the caves' chambers, stowing themselves away from the English in the 18th century. Then, by the mid 20th century in between WWI and WWII, Green Grotto saw smugglers who employed them as a secluded base for their illegal arms deals with Cuba. Last but not least, the Jamaican government also found a use for the caves; towards the last half of the Second World War, officials stored barrels of rum in the entrance of the cave, which served as a storeroom for booze.

However, what makes Green Grotto all the more fascinating in recent history is its time as a nightclub. Indeed, there was once a booming nightclub established here by a wealthy American family in the 80s, who owned the land at the time. The family's father's dream was to own his very own nightclub, which he decided to turn into reality, setting up dance floors, bars, cement benches, fish ponds, and a whole range of features to rebirth the place a heart-thumping underground party hub. Unfortunately, though, caves aren't an ideal location for a nightclub; the vibrations of the loud music caused significant damage to the fragile cavern environment, destroying many of the stalactites and stalagmites, and even some of the main chamber.

Luckily, the Government of Jamaica regained control of Green Grotto Caves in 1999 after seeing its potential, making the decision to protect it as part of the country's important history and heritage. Since then, the caves have become one of Jamaica’s top attractions, winning Green Globe 21 Certification in 2003, and in 2009, achieving EarthCheck's platinum-status certification - the very first to do so in the Caribbean.

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Take A Tour Of Green Grotto Caves

Whether to experience Jamaican history first-hand, discover incredible wildlife, or unleash one's inner Dora The Explorer, taking a guided tour of Green Grotto Caves is an essential part of any discerning traveler's itinerary. The tour takes around 45 minutes to one hour, and afterward, guests can tuck into a hearty Jamaican meal in the restaurant on-site, followed by some retail therapy in the gift shop. Tour guides also advise wearing appropriate, sturdy footwear for one's visit, as much of the ground is rocky and can be challenging without proper shoes.

During the tour, there are many points of interest and things to look out for. In particular, the wildlife is something to behold; visitors can spot colonies of nine different species of bat all hanging from the ceiling, and this even includes the amazing Giant Fruit Bat. The crystalline Grotto Lake inside the caves is also home to lots of small fish species and other marine creatures. The area referred to as the 'Wild Caves,' however, is usually off-limits to allow the natural ecology and wildlife to remain undisturbed, and to thrive in peace.

Of course, it goes without saying that the caves' stupendous stalactites and stalagmites catch the eye throughout the tour, but they're not the only majestic natural formations on the menu of marvels; the Drum Stone is another intriguing highlight, boasting a strange, thin layer of rock that solidified over a hollow space, allowing it to be beaten like a drum. Tour guides normally point this particular feature out to guests, and some even use it as an opportunity to show samples of historic Jamaican music. In addition, there are man-made installations to check out as well, including seating and other remnants of the cavernous nightclub that once hosted wild parties underground.

Most of the tour involves strolling through caves that are open and easy to navigate, however, there are some spots that require a little bit of courage - especially from people who're somewhat claustrophobic. The ”Limbo Hole' is one of these spots, and is an extraordinary point in the tour consisting of natural space in the limestone through which people climb in order to reach the next area. However, this section is only a mildly claustrophobic experience, and the caves are of course properly lit and large enough for visitors to pass through without worry.

Lastly, to really get an authentic sense of the caves and their history - specifically the time in which the Tainos people lived - the tour guide turns off the lights to showcase just how dark the caves are. It's only lights out for a few seconds, but it's a surreal experience that demonstrates what it must've been like for the early inhabitants who once called these wondrous caves home.

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