Given its landmass, Eleuthera has a surprisingly large number of caves. The karst topography has contributed to a large number of sinkholes, cenotes ("ocean holes"), and caves. As rain passes through the atmosphere, it picks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, forming a weak carbonic acid. This acid then dissolves the island limestone, creating a Swiss-cheese appearance in some places and forming calcium carbonate. Indeed, there are thousands of sinkholes on the island (historically known as "banana pits," as they tended to collect rich, decaying vegetable matter and thus were ideal enclosures for growing banana trees). Such eroded enclosures are typically devoid of any formations since they are small, shallow, and open to the elements. Deeper karsts, such as Hatchet Bay Cave, are home to a wide variety of impressive formations, including stalagmites, stalagtites, columns, drapers (waterfalls of stone), straws, and other geologic curiosities. These speleothems (the geological term for cave formations) are formed by calcium carbonate, iron oxide, and other minerals being deposited on the cave ceiling and walls by the groundwater as it drips downward.
As per their Arawakan roots, the Lucayan people believed that caves were the gateway to the afterlife, and thus buried their dead in caves. Centuries-old Indian remains (evidenced by the forehead elongation practiced by the Arawak tribes, who would bind boards to the foreheads of their infants soon after birth) are still occasionally discovered in remote caves.
The caves of Eleuthera support an impressive ecology which encompasses at least four unique species, along with bats, cockroaches, and some unusual plant life which seems to thrive in the caves. (Check out this link for a guide to identifying bats found in the Bahamas.)
As with any cave, visitors to the more substantial caves of Eleuthera should bring at least two sources of light per person (e.g., a primary and a backup flashlight). A bottle of water is also a good idea, since the ground temperature is much higher at this latitude than many cavers are used to; coupled with the still air making perspiration less obvious, you can get seriously dehydrated without even realizing it!
Click on the purple symbols on the satellite image below to see photographs and information for the individual caves.
Download the Caves of Eleuthera .kml file for use with Google Earth.
Hatchet Bay Cave is the most extensive cave system discovered on Eleuthera thus far.
It was first described in the November 1874 edition of Harper's Monthly magazine as "a cave extending 1100 feet under-ground enriched by stalactites of a brilliant brown hue. It is really worth visiting." The cave spans at least three levels and at least two exits separated by 1/5 mile on the surface. With over a mile of twisting passages, this cave system has yet to be fully explored. However, a direct walk between the two entrances is fairly straightforward, with limited opportunities for an adult-sized person to get lost.
This cave is home to several unique species which are found nowhere else on earth, including the ostracods Danielopolina bahamensis and Deeveya jillae, and the copepods Speleoithona eleutherensis (click here to read a paper on this species) and Troglocyclops janstocki (click here for the abstract of a paper on this species). With a flashlight and some patience, one can observe small, whitish, transparent, oval-shaped, creatures belonging to one of these species swimming around in the pool at the base of the second ladder. Even the mud of this cave is biologically diverse: a 1964 survey revealed 55 different species of microfungi, representing 30 genera.
Visitors should be aware that many formations in this cave are still growing, and thus touching any formations with bare skin must be avoided because the oil from your skin will permanently halt the growth of the formations. The cave is home to hundreds of what appear to be leaf-nosed bats. The bats are generally more active after sunset, so if you're not a fan of bats, mid-day is probably the best time to explore. After sunset, you'll want to make your movements slow and deliberate so the bats can easily sense and avoid collisions with you. If you see a sleeping bat, try to avoid shining your flashlight directly at it. Light tends to wake them up immediately, and having their sleep cycle disrupted can lessen the energy the bat has available to gather food later on and thus endanger the life of the bat. These bats practice estivation, meaning that during times of prolonged dryness and heat, they will enter a dormant state similar to hibernation until more favorable conditions return. Thus, it is especially important for visitors to avoid rousing the bats during such times.
The middle part of the second level of the cave contains serifed graffiti made from carbide lamps, some dating back to the 1870's. The older graffiti is perhaps understandable given how few people visited the cave (or really, caves in general) in the 19th century, and when one imagines the challenges associated with getting to the cave before the era of automobiles and aircraft. The newer graffiti is little more than destruction of a millenia-old speleological treasure by fools with spray-paint.
Each visitor to this cave should have a primary flashlight, along with a backup flashlight.
The third (wet) level is full of deep mud, pits, small, fragile formations, and low passages which barely clear the surface of the water which rises and falls with the tides. As such, it should only be attempted by experienced cavers, and then only when the Caribbean tide is falling. Also, be aware that the red mud in this cave can permanently stain visitors' clothes.
"Front" entrance (stairs):
Actual: N 25° 21' 59.9”, W 76° 31' 12.8”
In Google Earth (actual-to-GE correction factor: +0.68” N, +0.26” W): N 25 22' 0.58”, W 76 31' 13.06”
"Rear" entrance (ladder through a square, hand-cut shaft):
In Google Earth (actual-to-GE correction factor: +0.68” N, +0.26” W): N 25°21'57.18"N, W 76°31'21.06"WThis historic cave almost needs no introduction, it being the home of the first European settlers in the Bahamas whose ship was wrecked on the nearby Devil's Backbone reef in 1640. The cave was also used as a home and a burial ground for some of the early Lucayans, with charcoal remnants from fire pits found in Preacher's Cave radiocarbon-dated back to as early as the 8th century AD, and as late as 1430 - 1650 AD thus establishing a long period of usage.
Preacher's Cave has been extensively excavated by archeologists, and included:
17th century kaolin pipe stems and pottery
Five Lucayan burials
Five colonist burials
6 Lucayan fire pits for cooking which contained burnt seeds, Palmettoware sherds, bones, and shells
4 colonist hearths containing cow and pig bones, kaolin pipe fragments, ceramics, and even some rodent bones (perhaps dating back to some of the more difficult periods of early colonization)
The Lucayan graves in the cave included at least one cacique (a shaman/chief), a body which was beheaded with bound feet and buried facedown (likely a criminal), at least one set of cremated remains, and an individual with Laron Syndrome (a type of congenital dwarfism that has long been observed at the nearby settlement of Spanish Wells -- genetic tests have confirmed a link between current residents of Spanish Wells and Lucayan remains found on Eleuthera). Graves from the original Bermudan puritan settlers included a very old man (likely a leader), two children, a 30-week old fetus, and a young woman in a wooden coffin.
The cave includes many features carved by the original colonists, including carved stone steps up to Pulpit Rock and to a back room in the cave, a pair of carved seats facing Pulpit Rock, and grooves for a bible and several other objects for religious ceremonies on and around the pulpit
A petroglyph near the cave entrance includes two black concentric circles which resemble the bulls-eye patterns observed in Taino petroglyphs in other parts of the Caribbean including Puerto Rico. The petroglyph also resembles Lucayan petroglyphs found on Rum Cay and Crooked Island.
The cave itself is 20 meters across, 34 meters deep, and 16 meters high. Aside from its historic interest, it features a cathedral-like entry room with a large skylight with various passages back to smaller skylights, one of which can be ascended using a rope. The cave roof has a karst topology and thus does not contain any stalactites or other formations.
Actual: N 25°33'26.7”, W 76°41'46.3”
This small but impressive cave is located behind the ocean hole across the Queen's Highway from the African Methodist Church just south of Rock Sound. The short rock-lined trail to the cave goes around the left (south) side of the ocean hole, then continues beyond it to a slanted wooden ladder. This cave is a karst formation not unlike Preacher's Cave, and thus lacks speleothems. The cave itself is fairly short, but the roots cascading down from the trees on top of the cave, along with the majestic rays of light cast through the ceiling on a sunny day are quite breathtaking. If you liked Preacher's Cave, you're certain to love this cave as well.
No flashlights are required for this cave.
For those interested in learning more about the natural and cultural context of the cave and the surrounding area, ecotours are offered by Mr. Lyle Brathwaite (242.334.2796) of Rock Sound.
Actual: N 24° 51' 11.3”, W 76° 09' 24.9”
Bats Cave, also known as Ten Bay Cave, is located south of South Palmetto Point just north of Ten Bay Beach. The cave system is fairly extensive, with at least six separate entrance areas. The cave curls around quite a bit, and so its charted areas all seem to fall roughly within a tenth of a mile wide circle. As its name suggests, this cave is more spectacular for its resident bats than its formations. It is home to at least two colonies of leaf-nosed bats, and the overpowering smell of the guano from the primary colony (which is quite densely occupied) can be felt even at the main entrance to the cave.
The best way to spot the cave is to look for the "Bahamas Heritage" sign along this stretch of the Queen's Highway (update: this sign is now missing; look for a dirt road heading west just north of the Ten Bay Beach turnoff, maybe ~3 miles north of Savannah Sound, beginning at approximately N 25°07'31.8", W 76°08'44.2").
Each visitor to this cave should have a primary flashlight, along with a backup flashlight. While cave is free of mosquitoes, a massive swarm of them tends to linger near the front entrance ladder. Visitors should thus use bug repellent, or simply have all their gear arranged before making the final approach of the cave entrance.
For video footage of two of the bat colonies in Bats Cave, click here.
N 25° 07' 32.5”
W 76° 08' 52.0”
This small cave is located along a cliffside behind the back (ladder) entrance to the Hatchet Bay Cave. It's next to the floor of an old fireplace which is all that is left of a rather remote old house and a set of old, badly-eroded stairs which are only wide enough for a single person to walk down. A ramp has been cut into the rock down to the right of the house toward the cave, and after a brief discontinuity, the cave starts. You can see some holes in the rock around this area where wooden posts have long-since rotted away. Presumably there was some sort of bridge between the carved ramp and the cave such that it could be used for storage of goods received from, or to be loaded onto, a boat moored at the bottom of the stairs.
In some places (including the entrance), Smuggler's cave is only wide enough for a single person to crawl. The cave is only about 35 feet deep, and likely gets washed clean by the surf during some of the larger storms. It's a neat little cave, although it lacks any formations due to the eroding effects of the surf and/or a lack of fresh water flow.
A single flashlight is required for this cave.Note: “Smuggler's Cave” is an arbitrary name I gave this cave due to its likely use to store goods; hopefully further research will reveal the age of the former house, and whether that corresponds to a time which spanned alcohol Prohibition in the United States, the American Civil War, or other time of Bahamian blockade-running or supplying goods to blockade-runners. This may primarily have been a place to temporarily store goods salvaged from shipwrecks in the area, as “wrecking” has historically been a common occupation in the Bahamas. Location:
Actual: N 25° 21' 51.9”, W 76° 31' 24.5”
In Google Earth (actual-to-GE correction factor: +0.68” N, +0.26” W): N 25°21'52.58", W 76°31'24.72"
Actual: N 24°49'49.30", W 76°09'48.30"
In Google Earth: N 24°50'01.48", W 76°09'39.50"
This cave is only a few feet from the road, and is a fun one to visit especially if you've got some climbing rope handy.
For a video of the bat colony in Rum Bottle Cave, click here.
This small, one-room cave can be found near Bannerman Town.
W 76° 9'57.40"
We are currently investigating reports of a number of unverified caves, including a cave on Royal Island, a deep cave somewhere near Gregory Town, some caves near Bannerman Town, a large cave somewhere on Current Island, and one on Cape Eleuthera.