Our favorite excursion at Tranquilo Bay surprised me. It was our trip to the bat cave! If you had asked me before traveling to Panama what I was most excited to see, nowhere on that list was a bat cave. Since it was a rainy day, Ramon our guide suggested the bat cave as a good alternative to the beach. The other guests opted for a more low-key excursion and decided to walk around the jungle for some wildlife watching. And so Ramon, Matt, and I headed off with our boat driver into the jungle. After about 45 minutes, we drove into the mangroves and put the kayaks in to continue up a small channel through the jungle.
As we kayaked through the mangroves you could hear the click click click sound of the small crabs as they climbed ran up the mangroves away from us. We spotted several other animals along the way including white cranes and a two-toed sloth! Every bend seemed to produce a new discovery so what should have been a short 30-45 minute kayak ran into a two hour expedition. We didn't mind and enjoyed the attention Ramon gave to each question we asked. We arrived to a dock up the river and stashed the kayaks on the bank before beginning the hike into the jungle.
The bat cave was located on private land so Ramon paid the owner for entrance to it. We walked through their property where several families lived and cultivated the land for their livelihood. Their houses were basic but Ramon explained that this was one of the richest families in Bocas and the surrounding area. We walked through and continued deeper into the jungle as our guide told us about the flora and fauna we passed. He was barefoot (which he did not recommend to guests) but halfway through our hike I was envying how he didn't get stuck in the mud like we did. I don't think my sensitive feet could have made it however.
At the entrance to the cave, Ramon offered us a snack and we paused to get out the waterproof flashlights he brought for us. Then we descended into the mouth of the cave where we were greeted with the sound of hundreds of bats just feet above our heads.
After a few minutes I relaxed and became used to the high pitched sounds they made along with the rush of air to your face as they flew and darted past you at the last moment. I captured the photo below of Matt and Ramon as several bats flew on either side of them. I asked Ramon if he had ever been hit by a bat and he said no. Whew!
The farther we explored into the cave, the deeper the water became. The footing was very uneven and at time difficult to navigate with sharp rocks. Part of the way in we had to stash our backpack and cameras to continue with just our flashlights. A few times we swam along the canals in the waters or wedged ourselves like a climber with feet on either side and our arms bracing and pulling us forward. I was surprised and relieved that I never lost hold of my flashlight into the water and down to the bottom of the cave.
After about an hour of exploring we climbed up a waterfall and into a small chamber with a small pool and another waterfall above. Ramon called it the "hot tub" because of its size and invited us to set our flashlights on the ledge to explore it. It was a small but very deep pool where you could not touch the bottom. Once Matt and I were swimming in the pool he turned off all the flashlights and let us experience the complete darkness of the cave. It was an adrenaline rush for sure as my mind conjured up images of alligators and cave monsters grabbing our toes and dragging us into the depths of the water. At the same time my imagination was running wild, I felt a sense of peace and awe at our surroundings. Who knows how many people had swam right were we where and experienced the awesomeness of this same pool over the last hundred years.
Time passed way too quickly for us as we explored the cave and soon it was late in the afternoon. As we emerged from the cave a large group of Spaniards was walking up the path. We were so lucky to go early and have it all to ourselves. The hike and kayak back to the boat was spotted with wildlife sightings. The two-toed sloth finally showed his face for us. What an amazing day of discovery.